Q&A with Jordan Stephens
We chat to one of our generations most interesting communicators Jordan Stephens about the release of his debut solo album Let Me Die Inside You
When Jordan Stephens bounced into the warehouse studio for this shoot and conversation last year; coffee in hand, chatting away, smile beaming - I felt an overwhelming satisfaction. It was evident within two minutes that the public persona I have been so fond of for a decade, is as authentic as can be. First acquainted to most of us as part of hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks who conquered the charts in the 2010's, Jordan has gone on to become a mental health advocate, a leading voice in unpacking masculinity and the presenter of ITV's Don't Hate the Playaz. The first UK TV show to have an all-Black female panel. Without self-proclaiming or being sanctimonious, Jordan has been at the foreground of discourse that has seen the intersections of mental health, race, class and identity start to be discussed in the mainstream. Empowering and formative not only myself, but a generation of young people in the U.K. who don't want to be confined by archaic tropes. Maybe this universality and interconnectivity is what inspired the line "Got chaos in my brain, got the universe in my teeth" in his jumpy teaser single Wicked (although I'd be lying if I claimed I was entirely sure).
His new album Let Me Die Inside You is the product of seeing the world from "behind the curtain" on a level that most of us will never be prithee to. Enormous fame from a young age is not something many of us have to navigate. Considering that adolescent men's self worth is often (stereotypically) contingent on wealth, image and sexual gratification I was surprised when I first saw Jordan talking about mental health issues in the public eye. One might naively imagine that having the things we are socialised to yearn for would make someone happy. On the contrary Jordan tells me "Nearly anybody who becomes successful young, specifically young, will be as a direct response to feeling like they need to escape something"
He goes on to further problematise superficial pursuits as a route to enlightenment telling me "I don't really think the material world relieves anybody of anything". On the ballad-like recent single Star he perfectly encapsulates this notion sonically, as he sings "You were trying to be a star and you got it so now what? What's left? Every superstars gone, every superstars dead". Perhaps macabre to some, it's impossible not to respect the candour of someone who is speaking directly from lived experience. The earnestness that is present throughout our entire shoot and subsequent interview is consistent with this project's musical offering. Having had the pleasure of speaking to Jordan personally and listening to the album, I can confirm the consistency between the man and the art. Rather than posturing or framing, his music is used as a vehicle to turn an worldview into something you can vibe to at pre-drinks.
The Miraa May assisted Big Bad Wolf is perhaps the best example of this. The duality of it's appeal as both a highly skank-able club banger and an indictment of capitalism, colonialism and the political class is an artistic feat hard to verbally do justice to. I wouldn't have imagined a song could make me want to overthrow Parliament and hit the Dougie in equal measure, but here we are.
Interconnectivity is a prominent theme throughout Jordan's music and persona. It's difficult to pin down or categorise the genre of most of the songs that contribute to Let Me Die Inside You but the eclectic collection somehow manages to feel cohesive. To me, this reflects the plethora of ways people can express themselves and find common ground. It's by finding different forms of messaging that we're able to unify as people. For all our similarities I do wonder if someone can truly strive to make art that relates to everyone. I ask Jordan if he thinks that people receive his musically differently depending on their race, class, or socio-economic background, as these positionalities directly shape our frame of reference for what we consume. After some serious consideration he responds "Just as a disclaimer, you're pushing me beyond my norms here, but I would guess how we interpret art would be an amalgamation of what the artist is trying to say and what emotions we're choosing to project at that moment in time".
Something else that's clear about Jordan's path both musically and as a presenter on Don't Hate the Playaz is his commitment to being an instrument for legitimate change. For all the progressions we've made in society, we've reached a weird space where even the notion of "progressiveness" has been mutated so it can be commodified. "Self love" has been flipped to "self care", so that cosmetic companies can sell more bath bombs and candles. #bekind has become a celebrity PR's dream riposte to legitimate criticism. High street brands rush to release "sustainable" lines, when the best thing for the environment would be to buy less. Adverts would have you believe every family in the U.K. is of mixed ethnicity, whilst the racialised criminal justice system remains unchecked. On this topic Jordan expresses his frustration about ITV's hesitancy to renew Don't Hate the Playaz. "When I'm at carnival, it's mandem coming up to me saying 'Yo! I love that show you know' nothing to do with the music" it's clear from the passion with which he speaks that the show meant a lot to him and gave him a sense of acceptance in Black spaces that aren't always welcoming to men who are flamboyant and expressive. Something I've also had to navigate throughout my adolescence. I also sense a frustration about the inconsistency between the network's public commitment to the Black Lives Matter cause in 2020 versus their willingness to actually push an authentically Black show.
It's exhausting enough to maintain your personal life, then add the responsibility of trying to be an agent of change, without also having to suss out if the organisations you're working with are acting performatively to boost their bottom line. I ask him if he feels a sense of duty to impact the world with his music. "You know what right, I'm just gonna say this in this interview. I don't know what I'm dealing with in terms of why I don't say this normally. I think I've got a sense of being wrong or fear of being abandoned by my creative peers, but I actually don't make music for myself man I'm gonna be straight up about it". He goes on to to explain that his yearning to put music out is due to it's capacity to help someone else.
"I make music because I enjoy the process. I release music because I want other people to feel good". To close out our conversation (which I honestly could've continued for hours) I ask if he feels a sense of confinement attached to the dutifulness of making art for other people's benefit. He explains that he does somewhat feel a compulsion to use the gift of communication he's been given. "All the writing I do comes from a part of me I call little Jordan and little Jordan is like the purest form of me. He says whatever is coming into his mind and I don't think he ever lies. I don't think I've ever heard him lie. Ultimately I write a song and I have to decode it as adult Jordan". Little Jordan and adult Jordan have combined to create a beautiful piece of work in the form of Let Me Die Inside you. It releases on February 11th via all major streaming platforms.
Article and photography by Martyn Ewoma
Styling by Nathan Lee
Creative direction by Jewel Kaye
Shot at Cherrybomb Studio
Follow Jordan Stephens on Spotify below
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