Every now and then a rapper becomes so famous that anytime he associates with someone unknown, that said unknown gets thrust into the spotlight. Think Diddy and Biggie, Dre and Snoop, Eminem and 50 Cent, Kanye and Kid Cudi and so on. Rap fans have been currently living in the era of Drake, so naturally his association with other up-and-coming musicians would draw attention. The artist formerly known as Jimmy Brooks established his own record label in 2012, OVO Sound, and held the door open for various upstarts like iLoveMakonnen (“Tuesday”), PARTYNEXTDOOR (“Recognize”) and more recently, Majid Jordan (“My Love”). The duo is Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, who met at the University of Toronto and have been making dark beats with mournful vocals since 2011. They entered the world of Drizzy after producing and singing background on the 2013 hit, “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Thanks to that monster hit, Majid Jordan signed to OVO and were given the blessing of the 6 God. Time to put their money where their mouths are.
The duo’s self-titled debut album hit shelves this week, hoping to bridge the gap between Disclosure’s rubber house-funk and the sorrowful lyrics of the label boss. All 12 tracks and 51 minutes are written and primarily produced by Majid Jordan (with executive producing duties under Drake’s buddy/producer, Noah “40” Shebib), so all eyes rest on the duo. For the most part, the music is dripping with atmosphere and sharp synth-laden production. On stuff like “Shake Shake Shake,” “Pacifico” and “King City,” the beats alternate from two-stepping dance to slow-burning grooves showing influence from legends like New Order and newcomers like Chvrches. But since we’re in the era of trap rap and faded club music, Majid Jordan’s primary mood is a dizzying drunken feel that’s meant to get lost in more than turn up to, not that that’s a bad thing. “Something About You” and “Every Step Every Way” have a hopping beat backing it with ghostly background vocals and effects. Like Disclosure’s recent LP Caracal, the darker and slowed down tempos make for music to vibe out and relax whether alone or with a significant other, more likely the latter as most of the songs here have a strong sex appeal to them.
While Majid Jordan’s sound may be refreshing, their vocals and lyrics need a touch-up. Al Maskati is the voice of the duo, though he sounds a bit too much like another Canadian R&B crooner, The Weeknd. On tracks like “Make It Work,” “Small Talk” and “Pacifico,” his falsetto and aching vocals are nearly identical (if not a bit lower) than the man sleeping around in “The Hills.” Other tracks like “Learn From Each Other” have him trying higher notes but never quite reaching them, like he’s too embarrassed or in need of a cough drop. He does have his moments, particularly on the slow jam “Warm,” the minor club hopper “Day and Night” and the albums two singles “Something About You” and the Drake-featured “My Love.” The lyrics feel very by the numbers in terms of alt-R&B. There’s the mysterious come-on (“Drawing lines on your skin with my fingertips/Tracing shapes, on my feelings, once again”), the numbing repetition of words on “Small Talk” and some rather sloppy and awkward delivery of the chorus to “Shake Shake Shake.” There are moments of solid wordplay, of course from their label boss on “My Love” (“Even though you sleep in my bed/I know you’re not mine officially”).
There’s nothing inherently bad about Majid Jordan, especially with Ullman’s engrossing beats. But something feels missing or just lost on some of the tracks, especially in the album’s first half. It’s redeemed by a much groovier and bouncier closing half, but one gets the sense that the duo doesn’t know what they want to be: a darker EDM group shifting towards house music or a full-fledged pop/alt-R&B force. As a result, the album feels stuck between the two genres and being pulled in both directions. Nothing breaks, thankfully, but it doesn’t gel enough either. Maybe a lesson on mixing the two from their label boss would help make their next album a better flowing experience. Otherwise, Majid Jordan have a good party that just needs a little more kick to it.