Majid Jordan is an innocuous enough name. On the surface it appears straightforward and self-explanatory, but in reality, not so much.
Many of us got our first introduction to Majid Al-Maskati, 25, and Jordan Ullman, 22, when the relatively unknown duo featured in Drake’s smash single, “Hold On, We’re Going Home." Despite going on to make a cameo in the song’s music video, the majority persisted in believing Majid Jordan was a one-man show. It’s an understandable oversight considering Al-Maskati provides the group’s velvety vocals while Ullman sits on the less visible but equally important production side.
It’s unlikely the confusion will last much longer. Come Friday, February 5, the two will step out from under the city-wide shadow cast by friend, mentor, and OVO founder, Drake, to debut their first studio album. But before that, they stopped by our office to chat.
So who are Majid Jordan?
Not so long ago they were two students at the University of Toronto, then a chance meeting led to a collaborative project that eventually fell into the hands of Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shebib. From there, their lives changed more quickly and irreversibly than either expected.
The two first crossed paths at Al-Maskati's 21st birthday party. Ullman, who was underage at the time, discovered he and Al-Maskati’s shared love of music while the latter was attempting to sneak him past venue security. It’s a moment they recount with much laughter and a tangible, almost familial sense of affection.
“I was in my last year at the university; I’m originally from Bahrain,” explains Al-Maskati. “I moved to Toronto for school and when we met at the birthday we just clicked. I told him, look, I sing and I’m graduating soon so I don’t know if I’m going to get a chance to make music before I go home.”
Having almost wrapped up his collegiate career, Al-Maskati was facing the countdown to visa expiration. “The reason we even started working together was because Maj didn’t have much time here,” says Ullman. That night the two agreed to get together to make music but neither followed through.
Months later they ran into each other again and set aside some time to work together. Ullman had already laid out the track for what would go on to be “Hold Tight” on the afterhours EP -- the very same EP that goaded Drake’s most prolific producer to track them down and arrange a meeting. “I heard the track and I was like this is exactly what I was referencing,” explains Al-Maskati, “that day we sat down and finished two tracks.”
Throughout the summer of 2012 the two continued to piece together afterhours, before finally releasing the project under the name “Good People." The EP’s release was the beginning of the veil of anonymity that would follow Majid Jordan. Previously Ullman had produced music under the moniker “Class Act”, and Al-Maskati had also dabbled in singing on his own. However their individual projects hadn’t made the same impact as afterhours.
“Starting the project was really more something we wanted to do for ourselves,” confesses Al-Maskati. “We wanted to make music we felt should exist for both of us and our close friends. We released it anonymously because my plan was to go and get a job with a young company. At the time I was planning on moving to Europe and maybe working as a strategy consultant.”
Al-Maskati’s future in the traditional workforce changed a mere 24 hours from when afterhours went live on Soundcloud. Although no one knew who was responsible for the upload, people quickly noticed that “Good People” were based out of Toronto. Not a day later they received an email from "40" Shebib congratulating them on the project’s success and requesting a meeting. “Neither of us knew who 40 was at the time,” says Ullman. “We didn’t know Drake’s whole team because he’s such a private person.”
“When I got the email I showed it to my dad,” Al-Maskati pipes up (he had already returned to Bahrain to prepare for post-graduation life). “My dad was like, ‘who is this?’ So we’re wondering if I should go back to Toronto even though I just left.” In the end, Ullman handled the first in-person meeting while Al-Maskati made his introductions via Skype.
“He [Shebib] basically just told me to come back when I was ready,” says Al-Maskati. “So I flew back and met with him and Drake in the studio and they basically decided to sign us that day.” When the two describe the experience it seems surreal, almost as if it happened over night. In reality, the process took about six months. First they had to contend with Al-Maskati’s immigration status and get him a work permit for Canada. After that came the lawyers and the process of hammering out a contract for “two young guys with nothing to their name,” as Ullman describes.
Nevertheless, the moment the ink dried the two became fixtures in the studio, working collaboratively with Drake’s team on Nothing Was the Same, which of course resulted in their feature on "Hold On, We’re Going Home." During that time they also soaked in what both call an “amazingly collaborative environment.”
“It was eye opening to see how his team operates. We were at this studio called Metal Works and there were a bunch of producers in different rooms. Drake would sort of come into each one and listen to what they were creating. We were really just working together as a team to produce a really great album.”
Shebib also encouraged them to spend time developing their own sound independently. He even facilitated studio sessions and made introductions to a number other influential artists in the Toronto scene. “We got to meet Chilly Gonzales,” Ullman shares enthusiastically, “he’s a really dope classically trained concert pianist. He collaborated with Drake on “Marvin’s Room” and worked with Daft Punk on their albums. He was actually one of the first people we met in our career; we worked with him in the studio before we even worked with Drake directly.”
Between soaking in these new experiences Al-Maskati and Ullman also started to build the framework for their eponymously titled debut album. “This album is really our chance to introduce people to our world,” says Al-Maskati.
It’s an understandable desire. Despite the success of projects like afterhours and A Place Like This, up until recently, Majid Jordan has often been thought of purely in the context of Drake and OVO. “Our sound really varies and the more we work with each other the more our music becomes a conversation between Jordan and I,” continues Al-Maskati. “We sit down in the studio and just build off of each other. I’m excited for people to hear that.”
The conversational aspect of their creative process is only one step in a multi-layered method that announces itself in a dreamy sound quality marked by a fusion of influences. “There are no samples on this album,” says Ullman, “a lot of our process is just Maj and I going in and cutting a track and remixing it the next day and then the next day and then we just keep going deeper and deeper and deeper. It's like a purgatory of the Majid Jordan sound -- a place where everything finally feels cohesive and timeless."
Coming off of the nerves and excitement of finishing their first full album, Majid Jordan’s “dream-like sound” has opened up a pretty fantastic new reality.