Majid Jordan’s dream is to make an album that’s unskippable. It’s not so much about the quality of each individual song—although of course they strive for front-to-back bangers. But what they’re really going for is a journey. A narrative. Something whole.
These guys want to make an album so coherent, so self-contained, that it demands to be listened to from beginning to end in one sitting. “More than ever, Maj and I keep wanting to make that album, all cohesive, that you really don’t skip,” Jordan Ullmann, one half of Majid Jordan, explained to me at a nightclub in downtown Toronto—prior to the COVID-19 crisis—where he and Majid Al Maskati were set to perform. (You know, back when concerts were still a thing.) “You can just play it for 40 or 50 minutes, and it takes you somewhere, and there are ups and downs. We think about this stuff constantly.”
It’s fitting, then, that they should be associated with fellow Torontonian Drake, whose first mixtapes and albums were praised for their deliberate pacing and sequencing, and who helped shift the hip-hop album away from the somewhat meandering, skit-laden structure that had previously been the genre’s dominant form. Drake effectively discovered Ullmann and Al Maskati, signing them to his label, OVO Sound, after he and producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib heard, and were impressed by, the pair’s Soundcloud EP Afterhours, which they’d recorded in Ullmann’s parents’ basement. After guesting on Drake’s ubiquitous 2013 single “Hold On, We’re Going Home”—which Ullmann and Al Maskati also co-wrote and co-produced—the name Majid Jordan had real, almost overnight cache.
Over the last seven years, Ullmann and Al Maskati have made strides to step outside Drake’s long shadow. They seem reluctant to talk about him; a publicist, prepping me for the conversation, politely requested that I keep questions about Drake limited. This seemed reasonable, in light of the career they’ve built for themselves. What Ullmann and Al Maskati are doing these days has almost nothing to do with Drake. “When we first started making music, it was in our dorm room. Next thing we know we’re signed to the biggest artist in the world’s record label, and they need us to make this album,” Al Maskati told me. It’s the closest either of them came to touching on the issue. “We were still learning. We’re still learning. We’re learning as we go.”
“How do we find simplicity? How do we make the world a better place for everybody?”
Majid Jordan released their self-titled debut in the winter of 2016. At nearly an hour, it sounds warm and engrossing. If it sometimes drags a little—almost every song taps out at just under five minutes—on the whole, it is remarkably consistent and unified, and feels like the expression of a specific vision. “That first album, the cohesiveness of it, a lot of it was just songs made in a day, one-take things, that Jordan would take and produce around,” Al Maskati explains. “You have an original idea that we riffed on, and then he would take the song and arrange it, and put it with something else, and smooth it out. He was a DJ. We were constantly thinking about BPMs.”
“And not only BPMs,” Jordan chimes in. “The feelings. The depth of emotion.”
That emotion is one of the first things that strikes you about Majid Jordan’s music. It’s sombre, plaintive, moody; like the Weeknd and labelmates Dvsn and PARTYNEXTDOOR, they make R&B that’s thoughtful and pensive rather than blithely upbeat, touching on the sometimes brooding undercurrent of the house party or the dancefloor. This vibe has been ripe material, but after exploring it on Majid Jordan and its follow-up, 2017’s excellent The Space Between, the guys are ready and willing to move on from their own trademark aesthetic. “We do make this moody R&B,” Jordan admits. “But if you aren’t in a moody R&B mood, you don’t have to make it. You can do other things. You have to ask yourself how you really feel. You have to ask yourself what kind of music you really want to make.”
As it happens, this makes things even easier. “It’s less work,” he continues. “It’s less thinking about the same thing over and over again, and starting to do what you really want to do.”
This past October, Majid Jordan released their latest track “Superstar,” which will be the lead single from an as-yet untitled new album. They’ve been working on it for the better part of a year now, and are currently slaving away in their studio, striving for something like perfection. As always, it’s about that dream of unskippability. “We’re trying to take everything we’ve done and learned and focus on what we want to do,” as Al Maskati puts it. “And what we want to do is make this album.”
They seem extremely pleased with the results so far—and extremely optimistic about the finished product to come. “Our other albums, as cohesive as they are, can be even better. This album is going to have that feeling,” Al Maskati says. “It’s going to be that much more polished. It’s going to have that much more energy. It’s going to have that much more intention put into it. It’s simple, it’s pure, it’s honest. We’ve collaborated with people on this album who are not only artists we love but who have become friends in our lives. The whole experience has enriched us.”
For Jordan, it hasn’t been a matter of simply making better music. It’s been about finding a new approach to the art—“a whole new way of looking” at things, at how they “reverberate” throughout the world. He’s changing his perspective, holding himself to higher standards. “That’s been even more of a learning curve than keeping it fresh musically,” he says. “How do we find simplicity? How do we make the world a better place for everybody?” That might sound like a tall order for an R&B duo from Toronto. But as Jordan points out, he and Al Maskati are living proof of the good that one can find in this world. “We’re best friends. We’re from opposite sides of the world and came together in Toronto. I want people to relate to that. I want that to come through on this record.”