Majid Jordan Are Ready To Bring The Noise

29 January 2020
Culture, Music, R&B, Majid Jordan, Drake, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Saint Laurent
Photography: Chndy & Cheb Moha
The Bahraini-Canadian duo have cultivated an epic, sun-drenched R&B, sound all of their own. Now, they’re about to get loud

The sky is on fire – an ’80s, vapewave explosion of dusty pinks and angry orange, one of those sunsets that drag out slowly and have these wispy clouds that stretch out like fairy floss.

It’s a sunset that feels of this moment. Scratch that. It’s a sunset that feels like a Majid Jordan sunset.

In the musical era we’re living in, where songwriting and production tools have proliferated and been made accessible to the masses, where new playlists are hand-picked by algorithms, where damn near anyone can access the crispest 808s drums or a pitch-perfect Phil Collins synth, the artists that have rose to the top – and stayed there – are those whose vibe is proprietary. Those who can’t be mistaken for another, and who certainly cannot be replicated in a ProTools session. Think of Lizzo’s brash waviness, or the midnight bass of a Drake track (more on this in a bit), or the ear-hugging vibrato of an Ariana Grande hook.

Vibe isn’t just a layer anymore. Vibe is the song. Vibe is the brand. And the Majid Jordan vibe is this sunset. For years now, the Bahraini-Canadian duo have been refining a brand of synth-drenched R&B which is at once sentimental and cool, romantic and breezy.

But “cool” is all about a moment we exist in. “Cool” is temporary. And now, Majid Jordan want to go for more.

That journey to more sees them here in Dubai, in the last month of the decade, overlooking a never-ending horizon from a rooftop in downtown.

“I can’t even explain how happy it makes me to be here. After all this time, I realised I’ve been living away from home for 10 years in Toronto,” says Majid Al Maskati, the 29-year-old singer. “Now, it’s this connecting of these two worlds because I have people that I love and care for on this side of the world and Jordan and our friends over there.”

It’s not a little bit surprising that the birth of Majid Jordan came at a time when the internet and the music industry were feeling as open and communal as they ever had. It was 2011. SoundCloud was on the brink. The Hype Machine was feeding a wave of influential blogs into an online chart that showed which tracks would take fire in the near future. BBM (that’s BlackBerry Messenger), like a trailblazing precursor of iMessage and WhatsApp, was where friendships were formed and deals went down.

From left on Jordan: Jacket, sweater, trousers, sunglasses, boots, prices on request, Alexander McQueen On Majid: Jacket, shirt, trousers, sunglasses, boots, prices on request, Alexander McQueen

“I think it was perfect timing,” says Jordan Ullman, the producer and songwriter who gives Majid Jordan its dreamy, danceable beats.

“Technology was getting to a point where it was easy to discover artists a lot more than before…[we met] in a community of Toronto that was on the brink of become really international.”

Jordan, born and raised in Toronto, had a knack for forming a wildly diverse circle of friends.

“His group of friends was from everywhere, background wise, you know. And I think that’s such an important thing,” says Majid. “Now that the world is so connected with technology, design, music, fashion, I think it’s ready now, more than ever, to embrace music and art from anywhere, not just the Western culture or in North America you know?”

Majid and Jordan met in late 2011 – two students at the University of Toronto, though they came to be there in totally different ways. Jordan grew up about an hour outside of Toronto. At age 17, Majid – sweet, softly spoken, razor-sharp smarts – left Bahrain to study overseas. “When I moved to Toronto, because everyone is from everywhere, you just say, ‘Listen, I’m from Bahrain,’ and they get it. Okay cool, what do you do? Music. Whereas, if I’m on this side, they’re like where you from? Like, oh I’m from Bahrain. You’re Bahraini? You don’t look Bahraini...”

From left on Majid: Coat, $2450, Sweater, $1400, Trousers, $1950, Boots, price on request, Bottega Veneta On Jordan: Coat, $2450, Bottega Veneta. Sweater, stylist’s own

The two crossed paths at the Beaconsfield – a bar that seems totally innocuous at a glance, but has, over decades, been witness to many of Canada’s best musical exports, from indie-royal Feist to Broken Social Scene, the Weeknd to Drake (who, The Fader reported, once brought a round for the entire bar). After bumping into each other at the bar, they had another chance encounter a few weeks later. Jordan was with a friend on the streets, when the lanky figure of Majid emerged in the distance from the snow. The two had already talked about music. Now it was time to see what was up.

They retreated to Jordan’s tiny, makeshift studio: his dorm room. The space would soon become seminal in the sound they would create, even if it was maybe-kinda-sorta inconvenient.

“Insulation? Nothing. We used to get knocks on the walls,” says Jordan.
“From the neighbours,” adds Majid.
“My neighbours,” says Jordan, shaking his head. “Savage.”
“But, we knew we were on to something. It was almost straightaway.

We were kind of raw,” says Majid. “Jordan wanted to make music for a very long time in his life. For me, I was always looking for that…that freedom of expression. In the end, music gave me that.”

But, hold up. It’s one thing to have a great day, a neat songwriting session – and altogether something different to put your name to it.

“Well, I had an ultimatum, too. I was leaving the country,” says Majid.

With his visa running out, and his university studies almost done, Majid really didn’t know what would happen next.

“We didn’t know we’d ever see each other after,” says Jordan.

Coat, $3920, shirt, $1060, trousers, $2205, hat, $400, bowtie, $490, socks, $135, sneakers, $925, Gucci

“So we’re like, we’ve got to finish something before I go, and that was what led us to complete it,” says Majid.

Majid moved into Jordan’s parents’ house, and the pair finished tracking everything. The songs were, for all intents and purposes, done. “The Afterhours EP” was out.

“I have the picture somewhere in my house of us with the demo just before I left,” says Majid. “I took that CD. I said, ‘Alright man, I’ll see you.’ And I left. I took a flight…I flew back to Bahrain.”

Majid settled into a week off: a much-needed one. And then, just as he was getting his bearings back in Bahrain, an email came in.

It was from Noah Shebib – the record producer known ubiquitously in Toronto as 40. 40 was already working with another Toronto artist, Drake, helping him refine soundscapes that would eventually become iconic. But right now, 40 was interested in Majid Jordan.

From left on Jordan: Jacket, $1090, shirt, $1090, trousers, $1225, rings, prices on request, sunglasses, $510, slippers, $710, Gucci On Majid: Jacket, $2425, shirt, $625, trousers $1060, hat, $910, rings, prices on request, boots, $1210, Gucci

“I was like, this is crazy. He actually e-mailed me while I was in Bahrain,” says Majid. “I told my dad, my dad looked him up, and was like, ‘This guy’s legit. Wow. Crazy. You should talk to him.’”

The next day, Majid flew to Dubai to visit some friends. It was Ramadan. It was late – after hours, if you will. Everyone was outside breaking fast. And in a dark room, on a laptop, 40 and Majid got talking.

A heartbeat later, Majid told Jordan to add 40 on BBM. A bit after that, Jordan was in the studio space that would soon become synonymous with OVO Records, the label that the duo would sign with. It didn’t take long for Majid to get back to Toronto. It just took a little blessing.

“I just I told him: ‘Majid, I think you have to come back. I really do,’” says Jordan about the split.

“So my dad,” says Majid, “he went and did a Google search. He saw 40 had an interview on CNN. I just told my dad, ‘Listen, this is a job. If I do it well, I can make a career for myself.

Jacket, $2890, vest, $395, trousers, $1190, Saint Laurent. Necklace, Majid’s own

“It’s a risk you’re taking. I respect it. You got your education. If anything goes wrong... That’s what parents from this side of the world say. They’re like, ‘Make sure you have a plan B, make sure you get a plan C. Because yeah, that’s the way anyone who moves anywhere is, always… So I flew back. Now I’m almost going to become Canadian. That’s my home now, and I made a life there. I got my family there and I just wanted to just connect the world more than anything.”

A little bit after that, the duo were pulled into the studio by 40, and tasked with doing sessions for a new album Drake was putting out: “Nothing Was the Same”.

“And it was basically going to the studio, working there for a little bit. Going home. Working for as long as I could so that the next day, I was bringing a whole new thing,” says Jordan. “And we would do that for a while. Because I had so many ideas, I was 18 years old. I was so happy that I didn’t go back to school. So I had time: all the time in the world.”

There was jamming. There were good days. There were average days. Most importantly, the pair learned to let it loose – to take a mood that was a blip in a dorm room, a spike on SoundCloud, and embrace it as their future.

Jacket, $1090, shirt, $1080, trousers, $980, scarf, $435, rings, prices on request, sneakers, $860, Gucci

“I was just like, this is what I can do. If I sound horrible on it, that’s the worst that can happen. You know what I mean?” says Majid.

And one day, the best that can happen, did. Majid Jordan co-wrote and co-produced “Hold On, We’re Going On” with Drake and 40 – a track that would move over four million units. That’s Majid’s voice you hear on the bridge; Jordan’s ear woven through those beats. It was good for the #1 track of 2013 on Pitchfork, the home of the world’s grouchiest music critics.

“It’s crazy,” says Majid. “You hear from people you haven’t spoken to in years. But now we’re at this point where we want to do it again. We’re ready.”

That readiness has taken the form of a killer EP (“A Place Like This”, 2014), a full-length debut (“Majid Jordan”, 2015), and a retro-future follow-up (“The Space Between”, 2017). Then, 2019 brought with it the hook-heavy “Superstar”, and “Caught Up”, a late-night car ride of a track, which featured an attention-stealing verse from Khalid.

Their next LP presents as a clutch moment: a chance to put the pieces of the sonic puzzle together to form a new whole – to go from a duo that, yes, command millions of YouTube views and packed gigs from Coachella to Jakarta, London to Bahrain, to an act that can smother radio stations for months at a time.

Shirt, $1090, t-shirt, $395, jeans, $590, scarf $795, boots, $945, Saint Laurent

“The next album is going to have a lot of diversity of tempo and diversity of lyrical content. But the feeling, the main core of us, is still going to be there,” says Majid. “And that’s what me and J were talking about – it will always move us. We’re able to move ourselves, but now we just want to be able to communicate to other people that might not know the way that we move and reach them as well. I think we’ve got to reach everybody.”

For Majid, the questions from Bahrain never stopped entirely.

“I remember calling my mum. ‘What are you doing? What are you doing in Canada Maj? Are you okay? Do you have food to eat?’ My dad didn’t tell my grandmother that I was a musician for four years while I was over there. Even when we were popping off and touring around the world, but my grandmother’s not stupid.”

Majid’s parents would eventually fly out to see the pair perform in Europe.

The scrappy, DIY energy that founded the band still remains very much intact. It’s an egoless, experimental, vibe-y energy that the two carry with them more-or-less anywhere they go. This, as much as anything, might be the signature of the Majid Jordan generation – the SoundCloud, Hype Machine and BBM generation: the ability to do it, your way.

“I think we’ve made this album almost in every continent in the world. We have made it in hotel rooms,” says Jordan.

“Superstar”, they’ll quickly remind you, was recorded in a Los Angeles hotel room.

“With noise gate technology and stuff like that, it works,” says Majid. “We got like the room service dining table opened, put a keyboard on there, the laptop was on the thing...”

And the best part is that this egoless energy is, naturally, ripe for two people that have to travel and collaborate together on a month-to-month basis.

From left on Jordan: Jacket, sweater, trousers, sunglasses, prices on request, Alexander McQueen On Majid: Jacket, shirt, trousers, sunglasses, prices on request, Alexander McQueen

“He teaches me that a lot, you know, because I think it goes both ways. I think having two people is a great thing. Two is always better than one,” says Jordan. “I think that also goes for when we travel anywhere. The more people you can meet the better, which I learned from him because I can be very introverted...Two is always better than one. People together is always better than people apart.”

“Now it’s time to be ourselves,” says Majid. “We’re comfortable in our own skin more than ever. We’re not afraid to mess up and own up to it, you know, even   amongst each other. And we admit our shortcomings, our strengths and weaknesses. We know what we need to work on, what to aim towards. But we still don’t have it all figured out. And we’re ready to admit that as well.”

If there was ever a moment in time for the brash-but-humble, the cool-but-approachable, it’s right now. And, as Majid Jordan have shown us, there’s a vibe for that, too.

Words: Adam Baidawi

Photography: Chndy & Cheb Moha

Styling: Rusty Beukes

Hair: Carmelo Cannata 

Make Up: Emer Morrison 

Fashion Editor & Set Design: Keanoush Zargham

Producer: Amira Elraghy 

Production Assistant: Malaika Naik 

 Fashion Assistants: Zeyad Elkady & Monalisa Wahba