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Interview

The Majid Jordan Cinematic Universe

By Hershal Pandya on

Majid Al Maskati, one half of the Toronto-based pop/R&B duo Majid Jordan, is telling me about the music that inspired Jordan Ullman—the group’s producer—and himself during the creation of their forthcoming album. Suddenly, he launches into a monologue, sketching out the type of vivid scene that often plays out in his head when he listens to music.

“You’re steering a car,” Majid says. “And the wheel has a wooden finish. You’re driving up a one-way street on the side of a mountain. There’s a tail behind you. When you break away from the tail, a train cuts in front of you. Now, the villain who’s chasing you is stuck looking at the train…”

These are the types of scenes Majid Jordan wants listeners to picture while listening to their new music, he explains.

Majid Jordan’s music has always been cinematic. Since bursting onto the scene in 2013 with the Afterhours EP and signing to Drake’s OVO Sound label, the duo has put out three absorbing projects, each of which pulls listeners into their unique orbits: the slinky, UK-inspired R&B of 2014’s A Place Like This, the glossy grooves of 2015’s Majid Jordan, and the ‘80s synthpop revival of 2017’s The Space Between. As a producer, Jordan excels at crafting textured, ornate worlds for Majid to inhabit.

The duo’s forthcoming, still-untitled album—their first in four years—isn’t just an extension of the Majid Jordan brand; it’s an expansion of the Majid Jordan universe. To make it, they went back into the lab to craft a new sound, they collaborated with Toronto producer Koz—best known for his work with Dua Lipa—to add a different perspective, and they took a step back to figure out precisely what they wanted this corner of their universe to look like. Their catchy new single “Waves of Blue” offers listeners a glimpse of what’s to come, but realistically, it’s just one wave in an ever-expanding ocean.

You’ve talked about reshaping your sound on the upcoming album by collaborating with a producer named Koz. What does Koz bring to the table sonically that you don’t, or that complements your style?

Jordan: I think everybody brings their own originality to the picture. Koz has been a part of some amazing albums and songs. From a songwriting point of view, he’s incredibly gifted. Working with him to find a sonic balance was a fun and enjoyable experience. We didn’t have to put two things together and force them to co-exist because when you work with people who are on the same page about music and life, those conversations just unfold organically.

Majid: And because we know each other, we were having conversations together, like, “Yo, where do you see this kind of song? I see a desert. I see this being purple and dark.” Conversations started very visually, and then they moved into conceptual conversations.

That’s interesting. Would you say you have synesthesia? Where you see songs in visual representations more strongly than you hear the audio elements?

Majid: I think it’s less seeing it through the music and more imagining it with our minds. In today’s world, there’s so much bombardment of information and imagery that sometimes it’s hard to step away and allow your mind to create those images itself. That’s something this past year has given us time to do. It’s given us time to step away from everything—TV, telephones, flying around, looking at screens, all that—and just kind of sit with ourselves to imagine and create our universe.

If you look at the artwork for “Waves of Blue,” there are different rooms on it. We believe that each song is a room of its own. You walk into one, and this is the palette, this is the wallpaper, this is what’s on the floor. Then you walk into another room, and there might be different settings and different furniture inside.

I want to go back to the start of your career for a bit. When you listen to your Afterhours EP now, how do you feel about it? Do you listen back and get mad about all the things you’d want to change? Or do you just enjoy it for what it was at the time?

Jordan: It’s a bit like looking at a picture you’ve taken. When you take a picture in the moment—some people are uncomfortable taking pictures, but when you look back at it in 10 years, you don’t really care how you look. You care about who you were with, the memory of that image, and how that picture makes you feel.

Majid: When we made Afterhours, we had no idea we were going to have a career after. It was a moment where we just wanted to come together and create something with no idea of what would happen. Ten years later, it’s our third album. We’ve been on two world tours; things are playing on the radio in the US, in Canada, around the world. Even in Bahrain, where I’m from. The local radio station I grew up listening to as a kid is playing “Waves of Blue” every hour on the hour. It’s so crazy. I get so many videos from kids over there.

The two of you have worked together more or less exclusively since you started releasing music. A lot of relationships might rub raw when two people spend that much time together working and touring. What is it about your dynamic, musically and personally, that makes your relationship work?

Majid: I’ve been living in Canada now for 12 years, and Jordan really took me into his family home, and he’s been my family there in Toronto. He made me feel like this is where I can live my life and create my future. There’s nothing that can come between us.

Jordan: Yeah, when you take the time to understand somebody and not define it as work, they become a friend, and that person becomes a family member. You definitely see that reflected in the music. But it’s grown into something much more than that. Music is just one component.

Majid: We’re lucky we get to make music together, but it’s not the be-all-end-all of our relationship. We allow each other to be whatever we want to be in every moment. If, for example, Jordan wants to work on a mix that’s 20 to 30 minutes long, I don’t stop him. If I want to just write a song on a guitar and track that, I can do that, too. Then we bring it to each other, and we share a conversation about it.

How do you navigate disagreements if they ever pop up? Like about which songs to put on the album, or something like that?

Jordan: Instead of disagreeing, we’d just be like, “Let’s talk about it. Let’s have the conversation.” If we ever had a life-changing disagreement about what songs were to go on one album, it’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. We’re just grateful we’re able to make music professionally.

Majid: Think about the world, man. It’s crazy right now. Look at what’s going on in Toronto right now, with young people priced out of the housing market. If we’re going to disagree about what songs go on the album, that’s a small thing. It’s a crazy time for young people. We’re very aware of what’s going on, and we don’t want this generation to have to struggle so much for basic necessities.

Our next dream is to build something that will foster a community to encourage the coming together of artists. There’s this one studio in Toronto called Studio AM that’s really cool. It’s run by Anil Mohabir, and his whole thing is bringing together members of his community, whether they’re musicians or artists, and giving them the resources to do whatever they want to do. We want to be able to do that as well. We want to build a studio where people [can] come and record and have access to tools in order to represent themselves and their voices. We think this new album is going to be able to take us there.

Photo by Lawrence Cortez.

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