Timing is everything for Jordan Ward. Whether it’s the time it takes him to run five miles — religiously logging each training session in his Nike App — or the five years in which he says his life “cycles,” the St. Louis native’s rise to stardom is seemingly right on cue.
Along with opening for JID and Smino on their nationwide “Luv Is 4Ever Tour,” the versatile singer-rapper-dancer landed himself on another lineup clad with rap titans this year. Performing at J. Cole’s coveted Dreamville Fest in April, Ward is not only a sonic anomaly with burgeoning mainstream appeal, but has ultimately laid the foundation for his future — pushing FORWARD with everything still in front of him.
Leaving south St. Louis at 18 years old to pursue a career in professional dance, the growth he’s experienced in the decade since moving to Los Angeles inherently ties his proper debut album together. LA brought forth tons of opportunity for Ward early on, eventually becoming a part of ensembles for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and one of his idols, Janet Jackson. Now 28, Ward’s god-given gift for dance has been a baseline of his transition as an artist. Coincidentally, it was on Bieber’s “Purpose Tour” that Jordan found his voice and his purpose — utilizing downtime in hotel rooms on the road to initially hone his craft.
“By the time I was 19 or 20, I started dancing for some artists and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live that lifestyle,” he said. “Like, ‘damn I don’t want to have a bunch of people telling me what I can’t and can do. I don’t want my personal likeness to be a brand. I don’t want to have all these fake people around me.’”
“Fast forward, I was on tour with Bieber and I was dancing on the road with my bro Ru AREYOU — a fire artist and beatmaker from Sacramento,” he continued. “We still always cook up. Back then, he was making beats all the time on Ableton and shit, and I would just be in the hotel room getting high and freestyling. He was like ‘bro, that’s hard’ and it became regular… It was a gradual thing. But for me, the defining moment was when I truly realized I just want to make great music — and everything else unfolded. I knew I wanted my music to be held in a certain space.”
Years removed from “getting high and freestyling,” Ward’s discography has proven to be potent — touting sultry R&B cuts, groovy pop performances, immersive love anthems and Bryson Tiller-esque trap soul. Past records like Valley Hopefuls and Remain Calm are not only honest mantras for Ward’s life, but poignant depictions of his emotive storytelling and undefinable level of artistry. Influences of gospel hymns and modern contemporary ballads blend with the gritty bounce of blog-era rap and contemplative R&B, as Jordan’s sound is an amalgamation of genreless intent that constantly flows through him.
“For me with my sound, you gotta put a hand in the trap soul, you gotta put the J Dilla, Knxwledge hip-hop shit, you gotta put my hand in underground shit, my body in the alternatives, my legs in the soul and R&B and my feet in some pop shit.”Jordan Ward on his sound
With FORWARD, it’s an ode to evolution as much as it sees him round into form. Singles in “IDC” with Joony, “WHITE CROCS” with Ryan Trey — which has become a sure-fire banger in recent weeks — and “CHERIMOYA” initially drew fans into his iridescent, addicting soundscape. Lush harmonies and irresistible song structures encapsulate each part of Jordan’s sonic allure — both past and present — as FORWARD means more than just a metaphor for betterment. “For Ward,” family is at the heart of his debut record. “I do this for y’all,” he croons repeatedly on its self-titled closing track, peering into how important family is to him.
“I’m the youngest Ward, so everything I’m doing is for the future of my family. My goal when I’m old is that I want to be big papa, a caretaker for everyone. I want everyone to come over for the holidays. I want to be the one to keep my family going.”Jordan Ward
He speaks on a few personal favorites in “0495,” “FAMJAM4000” and “PRICETAG/BEVERLYWOOD” where themes of blood bonds flood through vivacious yet soothing melodies. Each instantly injects you with nostalgia, tying his sentiments together with whirly synths and introspective wordplay — which Ward applies heavily throughout the record. On the woozy, B-side standout “THINK TWICE,” Ward gives greater context to the environment that surrounded his upbringing, loosely rapping “Troops chasing after youths, OD for the bounty / kids dying everyday where I’m from, and it’s crowded / Never thought I’d need a gun but now I’m thinking bout it.”
“FAMJAM4000” is an undisputed hit. A personal nominee for song of the year, the groovy drum progression seamlessly blends with hazy, upbeat synths and Ward’s high-pitched vocals — sending you to a cookout in his backyard. “And as we get older it’s hard to reach an understanding / I left with no plan-B / Can we bring the love back? / I know you been waiting so long,” he says calling back on leaving his native St. Louis. The track isn’t just another sizzling cut off the record, but certifies Ward’s inimitable range alongside others in “SIDEKICK” featuring Joyce Wrice and the dreamy “DANCE MACHINE” — which he interestingly made before his breakout hit “Lil Baby Crush.”
It doesn’t take long to realize how expressly talented Ward is. Timeless yet timely, FORWARD showcases Jordan arriving at the cusp of his capabilities, reaching a sense of clarity cultivated through years of reflection. A foreword in itself, it’s a wanderlust of emotion and pure-hearted intent, as Ward isn’t asking for the record to be a fan-favorite. Rather, he wants the music to speak for itself — and it does just that.
“A lot of these songs are catchy, but they aren’t really asking to be your favorite song. Instead of being your favorite movie where you can recite every word, ‘FORWARD’ is something where you sit back and watch.”Jordan Ward on ‘FORWARD’
Ahead of his first-ever headlining tour later this year, we caught up with Jordan to speak on his debut album FORWARD, his collab with Joony, his inspirations, transition to music and much more in this Our Generation Music exclusive.
Read our full conversation below!
JB: St. Louis’ roots reside in music… How did the sounds of your hometown shape your ear? What’s the foundation of your sound?
JW: “I’m glad you’re hip to St. Louis being a music city. because it definitely is. A lot of those blues, Ragtime and those negro spirituals caught a new wind in St. Louis [from the Great Migration]. That’s honestly where I got my first foundation of music in the Lou, which was gospel music. I came up going to church every Sunday and the music [there] still affects me. My mom was a singer in a music ministry — to this day she still is. Before I had my own thing going on, I was around a lot of different sounds in different churches. I also got involved with musical theater early on. St. Louis has a strong theater scene at all levels, so being around church and theatre kind of just brought something out of me.”
JB: Aside from gospel and theater, what were your other influences growing up?
JW: “I grew up on the South Side of St. Louis on some hood shit, typical shit, but I came up in the era of real mixtapes. Like I’m going to school spinning the Drought 3 on CD, or getting the Yo Gotti tapes, Gucci Mane etc. When I got older, I realized St. Louis broke a lot of these artists in the club scene. Artists like Lil Boosie and Jeezy, so there was always a synergy with the street shit. Then I was also in the performing arts, so half the day I’d be in the city and the other half I’d be in the dance studio listening to The Fray, Kings of Leon, Bjork and other contemporary modern dance… and I love both.”
JB: Obviously you and Smino are both from St. Louis, and now you guys are on tour together. Was there any inspiration from him as you were coming up?
JW: “There’s like a fresh wave in St. Louis because of Smino. He brought the lingo, history, social context and our swag to Chicago, you feel me? He re-livened it up. I was super inspired by this too, and even after the blog/mixtape era when I first started making music, I was inspired by Smi, Matty Wood$, Pink Caravan, Dylan Brady and 100gecs… That kind of made me in a sense.”
JB: Did you two ever meet at home before the music took off? Is there a story here?
JW: “When I was 18, I moved to Los Angeles in 2013. About two and a half years in, and my girl told me ‘yo I’m listening to someone from St. Louis.’ I’m like, WHO from St. Louis? WTF. Sure enough, I got hip to Smino. A lot of people didn’t know Smino, but when we got hip to him, it felt like everyone from the city knew who he was. He was speaking our language, he reminds me of my cousins, or if you went to high school with someone — that type of feeling. I didn’t actually meet him until a few years after just randomly passing him in LA. We saw each other a few times and it was always cool vibes, I was a fan. It came together at the right time, you know?”
JB: What were some of the emotions being invited on tour with JID and Smino? Such huge co-signs for you early in your career — especially with your debut album being released…
JW: “I was so f—king hyped. I was actually talking to Smino about a tour like almost a year ago. But he was working on his album, I was finishing up ‘FORWARD,’ the timing wasn’t right yet. Then when it got close to tour, I found out it was JID and Smino. I was like ‘what the f—k? This is actually crazy.’ It worked out better than I ever could’ve imagined. I’ve been working in entertainment since I was a kid, and I’ve always been conditioned to hearing ‘this might happen’ or ‘might not happen.’ I didn’t believe until it HAPPENED — like when the news broke. I was on a run and Eddie [my manager] texted me and posted it while I’m on my run, not even thinking about it. It wasn’t until later that it really sunk in.”
JB: You mention going on a run, and your album flyer pictured you on a jog in some street way of some sort… You moving ‘FORWARD’ on your run is a cool overlap to the record, have you always gone on runs? Is it important to you?
JW: “Honestly I just love training. I’m a dancer so I just have a certain synchronicity to my body. Obviously ‘FORWARD’ being the title of the album plays into that, but what really made it a thing for the project was my creative director Ricky. We’ve been brothers for like 10 years, we danced together, went to the gym, worked out and one thing we always connected on was running… he got me on the Nike app. When I saw him transition into creative directing and I transitioned into music, we’d always talked about doing a run club and having merch be like a run club-theme. When the album came together, it was just the right time.”
JB: Most of the time, artists make music solely for themselves. Your debut album ‘FORWARD’ not only sees you moving your career forward, but also it’s “For Ward,” or for you! Was this intentional? Is there underlying meaning behind the album title? What can you say about the concept of the record?
JW: “My idea was to do a self-titled project ‘JORDAN,’ but it just evolved into ‘FORWARD’ over time. It has a bunch of meanings: there’s obviously the metaphor of evolution, moving forward and just telling my story of how I got to this point. There’s alway this desire to push forward and improve. Creatively, I’m pushing myself forward, pushing my sound forward. I feel like since my last EP, I’ve introduced a lot of new elements and [FORWARD’ was the first time I was working with an executive producer, LIDO. Also, there’s the ‘FOR WARD’ and the baseline for that is for my family. I’m the youngest Ward, I don’t have cousins or brothers — everything I’m doing is for the future of my family. My goal when I’m old is that I want to be big papa, a caretaker for everyone. I want me and my girl to be big papa and mama, I want everyone to come over for the holidays. I want to be the one to keep my family going, you feel me?”
JB: I feel the same. I’m the oldest in my immediate family, so you and I share that desire of being that caretaker type person your family can rely on. If ‘FORWARD’ centers on family, what songs hit home the most for you?
JW: “There’s certain songs where I’m really talking to my family members — talking to people that I haven’t spoken to in a minute because we fell out on some certain shit. I’m an adult now, growing into the problems with my relatives that my mom was facing when I was a kid. So I have songs like ‘FAMJAM4000’ or ‘PRICETAG/BEVERLYWOOD’ where I’m talking to certain family members. On “0495,” I talk about me and my mom going to visit family in North County.”
JB: Each single you dropped for the LP brings forth a different vibe. “IDC” is a barbershop anthem, a Saturday morning, get shit done around the house type jam. It’s nostalgic but of-the-moment and can be played anywhere for almost anyone. With Joony, how did your friendship play into making this record? Did y’all know it would turn out as special as it did?
JW: “I was stuck on his album ‘Silent Battles’ for so long — I couldn’t get enough of it. I honestly be apprehensive about hitting up people up. I’m really just cool with being a fan… But I was working with LIDO a ton and he heard me talking about this dude Joony so much that he was like ‘bro you just gotta hit him up.’ I did and all I told him was that ‘Silent Battles’ was my AOTY. And he hit me back! He started peeping my shit was like ‘bro, you hard too!’ He wanted to make some music and I said SAY LESS… We tapped in when we were both in NYC in like Sept. 2021 when I was opening for DUCKWRTH, and ‘IDC’ was the first song we ever made. We got kicked out the studio as soon as we finished it too, and I’m glad we did. Me and him got a really easy chemistry.”
JB: “WHITE CROCS” is the hit of the three singles. You and Ryan really showcase how important it is to be able to sing and rap in today’s music landscape. However you take things to a whole new level — even drawing comparisons to Bryson Tiller. What are your thoughts on its reception as well as the comparison of you and Tiller?
JW: “I love Bryson Tiller, bro. I literally started making music because of TRAPSOUL. He pioneered a sub-genre that I have a full arm in. For me with my sound, you gotta put a hand in the trap soul, you gotta put the J Dilla, Knxwledge hip-hop shit, you gotta put my hand in underground shit, my body in the alternatives, my legs in the soul and R&B and my feet in some pop shit. I pointed out the Bryson comparison to get ahead of it. To be real, I don’t even trip off it because I’ve heard this since my first song, like ‘oh you sound like Bryson Tiller bro.’ It’s mad love, though. Shit, I’m trying to get Bryson on the remix!”
JB: You’ve danced on Justin Bieber’s “Purpose Tour” earlier in your career, what can you say about that experience and how it impacted you to pursue your dreams of being an artist? What was the biggest takeaway for you personally and professionally being on that tour?
JW: “To give perspective, I literally been working since I was like 10 years old… Like, missing school to do theater and get paid for it and shit. So I feel like I’ve done a lot of development in a few areas as far as dance, singing, writing and acting too. But I’ve always wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. When I started making music, though, I don’t know what connotation I had towards it, but I just really wanted the music to speak for itself. There’s a huge connotation around dancers doing music, specifically within the dance community… To be real, we don’t we don’t show a lot of love to to dancers who start to make music because ‘we’ might feel like it’s corny. I think as I started to put more music out, I felt more confident. Like ‘the music really does speak for itself.’ I started realizing that I’m getting into a space where people want to do it all, like ‘Yo, I want to play instruments, I want to write for other people, I want to creative direct, I want to work on stage design.’ But I want to reach my full potential. I can’t sleep with a full belly and potential, so it’s important to me. I’m not in music to necessarily get like the maximum recognition or be the biggest artist or go diamond or whatever. I more so just want to have creative freedom and ultimately create financial freedom for me and my loved ones. But If I can dance a little bit on a song and a video and reach more people, and empower everyone around me — f—k it. God gave me this gift. Let me get out of my own way.”
JB. Describe the moment you knew music was the path you needed to follow?
JW: “When I moved to LA at 18, by the time I was 19 or 20, I started dancing for some artists and I kind of got a bad impression from them. Like, ‘damn I don’t want to live this lifestyle and have a bunch of people telling me what I can’t and can do. I don’t want my personal likeness to be a brand. I don’t want to have all these fake people around me.’ Fast forward, I was on tour with Bieber and I was dancing on the road with my bro Ru AREYOU — a fire artist and beatmaker from Sacramento. We still always cook up. Back then, he was making beats all the time on Ableton and shit, and I would just be in the hotel room getting high and freestyling. He was like ‘bro, that’s hard’ and it became a regular thing. It just kind of became like, I’m gonna get some equipment and record in these hotel rooms we were staying at on tour instead of going out every night for the next year. After I did that, I wanted to put out a tape and I wanted it to be good for me. It was a gradual thing. But for me, the defining moment was when truly I realized I just want to make great music — and everything else unfolded. I knew I wanted my music to be held in a certain space.”
JB: Would you give any advice to your past self, perhaps five or 10 years ago? What would you say to a younger Jordan trying to make it?
JW: “It’s crazy that say five years because I really feel like my life works in those cycles… I always see the maturation of where I was at five years ago. I don’t know if I’d give myself any advice. Could I have maybe avoided some financial struggles if I would have kept dancing a little bit while I was making music? Sure. But with music, I’ve always had the same hunger and passion behind it. I would probably say to be stressed less, but I don’t know, I felt like that stress was all necessary to grow. I had to be extremely anal and fucking obsessed with this shit to make it possible in the end. Everything has its trials and tribulations. So I’d say just enjoy the moment and continue to have fun.”
JB: What would you say to Our Generation?
JW: “I’ll just say be present because everything is always fluid and changing — your friends are going to change, the music is going to change, the fashion is going to change, the climate is going to change. So all we have is the memories, all we have is what we can take from, learn from, and the love and the people we have with us — and even that changes, you know? So just like stay aware of ourselves and be as present as we can because, shit, five years ago, that was a whole different era and it felt like it was forever. But everything has changes. Let’s just enjoy this movie while we have it. Make it a moment, we don’t need to live in the past.”
Listen to ‘FORWARD’ below!