The Croydon rapper artfully mines grief, heritage and duality on his debut album...

On the opening track from his debut album ‘Dirt In The Diamond‘, Jordan Edward-Wilks, better known as Jords, calls on the spirit of his “ancestors” to guide him through the forces that cloud his journey. This dimension inspires the rest of Jords’ full-length; it’s both a missive addressing his place and dominion over British rap’s most poetically discursive storytellers, and a searching, probing prayer for inner peace amongst the chaos.

‘Dirt In The Diamond’ builds on the sonic premise of Jords’ pandemic-era project, ‘Almost An Adult’. Older, wiser and battle-hardened, the Croydon artist uses the technicolour palette of Jamaican history – reggae-fusion, colonial rebellion, swaying bodies, mythic folklore and machismo – to paint a parallel picture of contemporary black identity in flux. The 15-track album is Jords at his most spiritually-aligned; it’s Jords experiencing and dancing to the riddim of euphoric desire; it’s Jords dipping into the archives of 70s Black Britain, preserving a message of hope and dignity birthed in shared marginalised spaces.

On the eve of his release, Jords speaks to Clash about the inter-generational cycle of grief and trauma informing his latest masterwork, the tangible display of Jamaican mythology in the accompanying short film, and why he creates with the intention of opening doors for next-gen rappers coming through.

Anyone that’s listened to you since you debuted in 2016 will recognise that you draw from a rich diasporic musical lineage. What did you grow up on and when did rap go from being an interest to a passion?

RnB and reggae were the two dominant influences but my Dad also played a lot of salsa and soca. Michael Jackson was huge in our household! As I grew so did the hip-hop and grime influence. In year 6, I was making makeshift rap songs for show and tell – we were called the Young Temptations. In year 8 or 9, my brother was spitting bars and doing the grime thing, so I emulated everything about him. In year 11, rapping was starting to become a real outlet; a real means of expressing myself. Since then, it’s defined my life. For a long time, I didn’t see it as a career path, I just wanted to keep releasing and growing.

Name three projects from other artists that have soundtracked your life thus far?

I’ll go by how I’m feeling today: ‘Retrospective’ by Wretch (32), ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ and ‘True Reflections…A New Beginning’ by Jah Cure.

Your first project ‘Means To An End’ established this amalgam of soulfulness with more trenchant storytelling, but it felt more like a collection of songs. How do you view that era now that you’ve grown into your artistry more?

That release still means a lot to me now. It was me throwing paint at the wall, trying to create a body of work. I was winging it in a way but my mind was opening up to new styles of music. I started getting into jazz and saw how that form of music complimented rap. I was on the cusp of my twenties and was listening to ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ every day. ‘Means To An End’ was about leaving the ends; it was a means to an end. I haven’t listened to it in a while but a lot of what I wrote then pre-empted where I am now.

‘Almost An Adult’ followed in 2020. This is you on the precipice of actual adulthood, exploring the darker side of the human condition. ‘Almost An Adult’ feels like a real companion piece to ‘Dirt In The Diamond’…

Definitely. Grief played a big part; it was probably the main thing that defined that release. I lost a lot of people in 2018, I was grieving and I was watching my parents express their grief as well. I was the shoulder for my parents to cry on. That project was me working out what it means to be an adult, and coming to terms with growing pains. I made that project before I was signed, so I didn’t have budgets or resources at my disposal but I actually had no fear when I made it.

Jacket by Mulberry x Axel Arigato; knit by C.P. Company; jeans by Dickies; boots by Timberland; watch, artist’s own

How are you feeling now that ‘Dirt In The Diamond’ will no longer be just yours? 

I’m of the mindset now that I’m letting go and letting God. I’ve done all the work to make the best possible project that it could possibly be. Some artists crave instant gratification and instant success, I’m thinking way beyond that. This is one important chapter in a long journey, that’s my perspective at least.

The build-up has been deliberate and you’ve not rushed the process. You’ve conceptualised something audio-visual with ‘Dirt In The Diamond’, is that why it took you longer to release an album?

I have such pride for my first two projects that I wouldn’t call this my debut even though it technically is. All my projects feel like albums; my thinking is these songs are original, it’s not an EP, therefore it has to be an album. My plan is to make six albums as Jords and I feel I’m at the halfway point of that journey.

I agree this feels like a progression because I’ve levelled up in terms of the storytelling and visuals. People are afraid to call a body of work an album because so often it falls flat after a big build-up, but the people that I look up to are album artists and they took their time creating. Michael Jackson put ‘Off The Wall’ out in 1979, ‘Thriller’ out in 1982 and ‘Bad’ in in 1987; he took time in between eras. When you want to create something that defies time and is timeless, it has to take time. I had to learn patience, for sure. There were moments I wanted this to be out but I’m grateful for the journey that I went on making this album.

What sparked the creation of ‘Dirt In The Diamond’? What was on your moodboard, what were you reacting to and wanting to memorialise?

This album is three years in the making: the first demo I created was ‘The Pot of Gold’ back in 2018, but I started intentionally making the album in 2020. The title came to me whilst I was creating, from then on in the theme started to solidify. So, it was about keeping the songs consistent with the theme. Coming out of lockdown, I was finding out who I was from the other people’s perspective. My profile went up a bit but it was hard to define or measure because we weren’t allowed outside. When I did go outside, I experienced an energy shift. When you’re drawing from your life experiences you have to continue to live your life and seek inspiration, that’s what this era is defined by.

Shirt and trousers by Nicholas Daley; t-shirt by Mulberry x Axel Arigato; shoes by Nike; watch, artist’s own.

The opening track captures this deference to ancestors that permeates across the rest of the album; the lessons, wisdom, dreams and trauma passed on between generations. Why was it important you honoured your ancestral roots from the off, but in quite a charged way?

We go through life and we hold a lot in, especially anger. Me personally, I’ve got a short temper and I don’t think I’ve ever displayed wrath and anger in my music. ‘Ancestors’ and the entire album, is a statement. It was important I started on something instantly purposeful, impactful and actually a little bit confrontational.

You talk about this wrath inside. What did you want to purge in order to reach a healthier plane?

When I made ‘Ancestors’ and the rest of the album, I was letting out my frustration at entitled behaviour. I would get taken for a boy or for a delinquent when I was a young adult. I received a lot of advice that was unsolicited. That is a real pet peeve of mine: that people who don’t know you can tell you who you are. When you’re figuring out who are you it’s best not to be told who you are, you know? When I’m in the zone of creating I need space to myself. Post-lockdown there was a lot of noise, new noise. These people didn’t see that I had an identity all on my own. I just needed to get that shit out my system. As a black man, with all that happened in 2020 and even predating that, I had to work through unresolved trauma. so I had to let go of the anger.

Confessional moments are made communal on this album; it’s personal but it’s also collaborative. Talk me through the collaborative process on this album and why it was important your community was on full display…

As much as this is mine, so much of the album came from dialogue and conversations. It’s the exchange of traditions, wisdom and experience that makes this body of work what it is. When you shine a light on a diamond, it separates – a prism refracts light and it beams onto other things. With my music, it’s my light and it opens up the world for other creative people to shine theirs. I made ‘Halos’ about my Grandma, but when you listen to it you’ll think of someone in your life. I’m so ready to see how people interpret ‘Dirt In The Diamond’. It’s refreshing and necessary.

Jacket by Mulberry x Axel Arigato; knit by C.P. Company.

On ‘iPray’, prayer, devotion and relinquishing control to a higher power is the focus. Where are you in your journey with faith today?

I’m a Christian-agnostic, if that makes sense? It’s a personal take on faith. I ask questions and when the answers don’t satisfy me, I’ll go out searching for them. I’m spiritual; I believe I’m here because of my ancestors. Scientifically, we’ve been taught to believe energy doesn’t die. They are here, there and everywhere. I believe in life after death based on logic and what I’ve been taught, but I think organised religion can be a place of hypocrisy, a place for man to control and influence people unwittingly.

Sonically on this record, the devil is in the details. The outros to these songs are well defined and sometimes to pivot to another place all together; the Interludes are considered, and part of the flow of the story being told…

Every second of this album was intentional. There’s a moment at the end of ‘Nervous Riddim’ which transitions into ‘iPray’; you go from a heavy dancehall number to a place where I say “live today, forever ain’t certain”. You’re going from madness and chaos – a beef or something – to me running into a Church. That’s where ‘iPray’ begins. It’s movie-like. We really thought the details through. It’s a lived experience and all-encompassing.

Who designed the album cover art and what does it symbolise? It feels like a nod to artwork from iconic rap and soul records…

I always wanted a picture of me shaking my locks and I wanted it painted. My first inspiration was Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Want You’ artwork, which was an image Ernie Barns created called ‘Sugar Shack’. Ernie was an American football player who retired from the sport and became an artist. I appreciated that a masculine figure in a masculine sport retired and tapped into a more sensitive side, and created something so inherently black and iconic. I like showing the sensitivity in masculinity.

My label put me in touch with this South African artist Anathi (Hadebe Khanya Phansi). He just got what I wanted to express. My brother took the actual photo of me swinging my dreads, and Anathi brought out the vibrancy, power and freedom in letting go. It showcases beauty in strength, and that our locks are our crown. It’s the juxtaposition of the masculinity of strength and the femininity attached with hair. I fuck with it all.

Shirt and trousers by Nicholas Daley; t-shirt by Mulberry x Axel Arigato.

What was behind the decision to filter the storytelling on this album through the medium of a short film, and with that, capture different eras?

It was one of the first decisions I made. I always wanted the visuals to be episodic, like a limited series that tells this wider story. I was inspired by Small Axe which beautifully portrayed the same cycle of things we go through today as black people. I toyed with the idea of a contemporary setting but we see the same shit being depicted on screen all the time; the same story with different details. I felt it would be more poignant if I focused on the 70s, and frame the story in that time period. A lot of my friends were in the video and it was nice to see them dress up and be part of something bigger than us. The director Renee (Maria Osubu) visualised the storytelling and understood it through someone else’s eyes. Also, The main characters were actual actors –

Special mention to the grief-stricken Mother in the film. So stoic yet so expressive…

Honestly! It was all in her expression. It’s honing in on this thing where women – specifically black women – are having to stifle their emotions and contain all of this inner turmoil. They say so much without saying anything. There was so much feeling in her face, movement and actions.

One part of the film is shot technicolour, the other is in black and white. It transitions back and forth. What was the reasoning behind that stylistic choice?

Showing the contrast was key; the vibrancy of ‘MoBay’ juxtaposed against the funeral sequence in the Church which is stripped back. ‘iPray’ in black and white doesn’t distract the viewer because you’re zoned into the procession and the people. Whereas with ‘Mobay’ you think of warmth, beauty and colours; you go from a party sequence to parents crying outside. It’s powerful because of that contrast.

As a black British man, as the child of black immigrants, your conception of home and belonging is in flux. How did you want to portray that in this album and in the film?

It’s been a real journey. Home is a feeling and not a place at the moment: it’s in the company I keep. I’ve been a Jamaican man in Britain and I’ve been a British man in Jamaica, so the physical sense of home is a fusion of both. I find home in people; in my relationships, the mandem, my family. I’m alive when I’m with them.

A sense of manufactured pride and nationalism is rife in the country at the moment. Are you proud to be British? Is Britishness something you can even define?

They’re not proud of us being British, are they? They can move the goalposts when they want. I don’t call myself British because I call myself Jamaican. My roots lie there. I have a British passport, which is conflicting. There’s more home in the journey than reaching a particular destination. I associate my identity with where I find peace, and my peace is in the process. I implore artists coming up to stop feeling like you have to go somewhere. You’re already there. By doing that you’re actually wishing away your future.

What song captures the core message on ‘Dirt In The Diamond’?

‘Fists in the Sky’ because it’s three songs in one; it takes you from the sombre feeling of ‘iPray’ to ‘Enemies’ which is more upbeat. It’s a needle mover, a mood shifter and a real transition point between important parts of the album experience.

What’s your view of the trajectory of UK rap at the moment? Musically who are you enjoying right now? Who within the scenes emerging is interesting or innovative to you?

I think some of it is in a great place and some of it is samey. I think we’re seeing new rappers bringing their communities with them, which is nice to see. I still feel people need to push the boundaries of what rap is and how it looks. I’m doing it, Jim Legxacy is doing his thing, Knucks is a big one. We’re all waiting on J Hus to steer us to somewhere crazy.

There needs to be a proper changing of the guard. Some new rappers are coming or cutting through, and not leaving the door open behind them. Wretch is doing the right thing because he’s showing the generation after him how to thrive in this industry without compromising who you are. You lift as you climb, that’s something I want to try and emulate in my own way.  

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

Photography: Sophie Mayanne

Fashion: Sabrina Soormally

Styling Assistant: Ana Lamond

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