Jords: The UK rapper who’s challenging the status quo
As part of our Soho Rising series, in partnership with Bowers & Wilkins, the south London artist tells us how his roots have shaped his music and why he’s launched a new initiative for schoolchildren
Wednesday 25 May 2022 By Emmanuel Onapa Photography by Seif Ali Umaar Videography by Jonangelo Molinari DOP Kyle McFazdean Styling by Bevan Agyemang Styling Assistant Yves Alawe Makeup and grooming Rita Osei Kusi
If you hopped in a time machine and went back a few years to tell multidimensional singer-songwriter and rapper Jordan Edwards-Wilks (aka Jords) how his career would be bubbling up today, there’s a very good chance you’d be rebuked on the spot. While always talented, there was a period – as there is for everyone – during which he was still finding his way; still trying to navigate the tricky path between what he, as a young adult, knew he wanted and what those closest to him considered best for him.
The British rising star from south London, who first shook the scene with his debut mixtape ‘Means To An Ends’ in 2016, has come a long way since then. His music merges thoughtful lyrics with raw emotion, all deeply grounded in his experience of being a young Black man growing up in the inner city. And his discography has evolved as he has grown. In 2020, Jords released his debut full-length album Almost An Adult, an extended coming-of-age tale that he narrates with the kind of well-crafted penmanship that invites listeners to envision and feel his story as it unfolds across the album.
The bright and nourishing personality that’s soaked through Jords’ music is immediately evident when we meet in 180 House. ‘I like your hair,’ he says of my newly formed twists by way of greeting. We then spend what feels like a full two minutes hyping each other up and dishing out compliments – hardly the typical interviewer-interviewee dynamic.
When we do settle into the business at hand, Jords is similarly focused and engaging. He has never, he says, taken his craftsmanship light-heartedly, always pushing it that extra mile in his creative process. ‘For me, everything I do I take seriously,’ he says. ‘I love doing it, and I’ll continue doing it until I don’t have time to do anything else.’
Dabbling in higher education helped give Jords the confidence to recognise what he already knew. ‘I dropped out of university twice,’ he explains. ‘I went to the London School of Business and Finance for a year. At the end of it, I got a qualification, but everything I was being taught I kind of already knew. So I thought, why can’t I just apply it and make money from it, instead of taking out a student loan and running up debt?’
Deciding a music qualification might be more useful, Jords attended the British Institute of Modern Music (BIMM) the following year. ‘I stayed for four months,’ he says. ‘I quickly realised that everything I learnt I already knew; I just got to apply it to real life.’
Jords’ desire to shape a world that was truly authentic to himself was more important than sticking to the traditional routes he was encouraged to take. ‘It got to the point when I realised that I was doing university for my parents, and I didn’t want to do it for them, because I felt like I wouldn’t be doing it with the right intentions,’ he explains. ‘Your parents are worried and want you to have a safety net – it comes out of love, but at the same time, I want to take a risk because it’s my life. And I want to see how things can go, as they can always go better than expected.’
Which is not to say that Jords was turning his back on his family or any other part of his past. He remains community-centred, spending most of his time in Croydon and embracing all aspects of the culture that has always played a profound role in shaping his music. The influence of his inner and wider circle on his artistry is indisputable: ‘Straight after this interview, I’m going back to the south, and we’re going to chill and talk,’ he says. ‘We have conversations, and conversations turn into stories, stories turn into verses, verses turn into tunes.’
Jords grew up listening to Black artists across different genres, from grime rappers such as Ghetts and Wretch 32 to R&B artists like Kelly Price and Brownstone, and reggae musicians such as Buju Banton, much of which, he says, ‘came from my parents’.
His dad was a musician in The Jazz Defektors, who released one album (on the legendary Factory Records) in 1988 and went on to support celebrated artists such as Sade and Paul Weller on tour. Jazz especially, Jords says, taught him some important things. ‘What I admire about jazz is the freedom that comes with it,’ he notes. ‘Nowadays when we talk about songs, it’s a 16-bar and an eight-bar chorus, and so on. That’s not music and that’s not art – the artistry is about being in between the lines and off the grid, and having the freedom to do this, but a little bit different; about throwing a little switch up.’
The range of musicians that had an impact on Jords’ youth has also helped enable him to dig deep into his identity. He feels both the catharsis and vulnerability of being a young man exploring Black masculinity. ‘As soon as I do a song and it’s off my chest, I feel better about it, and that’s my therapy,’ he says. ‘I feel exposed putting it out into the world, but it’s all about my immediate loved ones.’
On the song ‘You’re Welcome’ (from Almost An Adult), he takes direct aim at the government and the police for the injustices that affect the communities he holds dear to his heart. ‘There’s so much wrong,’ he says. ‘And the people that try to police the people for doing wrong are doing wrong, so how does it work? When you look at how the system is and what it’s for and who benefits from it, you realise that thing isn’t for us.’
‘I want to take a risk because it’s my life, and I want to see how things can go, as they can always go better than expected’
He is equally scathing about the criminal justice system: ‘There’s profit to be made from prisons and jail – it’s a profitable industry. I’ve seen many success stories, but they’re not the same when they come out. I know many men who went to prison. There’s always PTSD that doesn’t go.’
That Jords is so willing to speak his mind and challenge the state of our nation when it comes to social issues shouldn’t come as a surprise: his views are evident in his music. But he is not just a critic, he’s a doer, too. As he says, ‘It’s all good for me to say this system is finished, but if I’m not trying to build another system, what’s the point?’
Jords recently set up Pickni Uniforms, an initiative that strives to offer free school uniforms to as many children who need them as it possibly can. ‘Pickni Uniforms felt like the right thing to do and the most manageable thing to do at the time,’ he says. ‘We’re still in the process of doing more and expanding it beyond school uniforms.’
Jords is now gearing up to release his second album. It is ‘90% done, it’s almost ready’. Its themes, he says, are about growing and manoeuvring through life ‘with your brothers’. He quotes a line from it about ‘caged birds singing in rooms with glass ceilings’. That, he says, ‘sums up the whole thing. You escape the cage, but you must smash the top, so you’re cutting yourself, and there’s the pain you go through trying to be the first one through to help everyone else. I’ve always intended to push the mandem on, but now I’m in the position I am in, how do I do it?’
As he navigates Black male identity, loss, sorrow and love, he pursues the heights he could only dream of as a child. In the meantime, Jords is still on the search for the deeper meaning of life. ‘I have my tangible aims, but then you have other types of dreams. I’m on a search for purpose.’ If past behaviour is a predictor of what lies ahead, he won’t just find it – we’ll all reap the benefits when he does.
Presented in collaboration with Bowers & Wilkins, Soho Rising is our platform for championing the best emerging talent around, giving you the chance to see the stars of tomorrow first. Previous guests have included Arlo Parks, Griff, Holly Humberstone, serpentwithfeet, and Moses Boyd.