In the years that have followed his 2020 Almost An Adult mixtape, south-east London rapper Jords has not only harnessed the themes of diaspora and his translation of the Black British experience, but he’s employed these to explore his wants, needs and morals unapologetically. “It’s been a journey of stepping into myself, really looking into the mirror and asking myself what do I want to say, that’s been the reason behind the gap over the years. I needed to explore,” he says tenderly.
As the world shifted month by month due to the pandemic, Jords released modern protest anthem Black & Ready inspired by the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020. The artwork for the track is a powerful picture taken at the historic BLM protest in London on June 6th. Backed by prolific heavyweights like Apple’s Ebro Darden and wider platforms including BBC 1Xtra and NME, Jords sees this same spirit as emblematic of his Jamaican roots. “I’ve always been made to know where I came from and wearing your heart on your sleeve is a very Caribbean thing, fighting for what you believe in is also a very Caribbean thing.”
As a co-founder of initiatives such as Pickni Uniforms, giving free school uniforms to children from low-income families, and launching alongside his childhood friend Jamahl Rowl a podcast series ‘Almost A Conversation’, naturally, Jords is becoming a socially cognisant artist in his own right, aligned with political leanings whether he’s always explicitly conscious of that or not. “I’m not too much into formal politics, but when something feels right to me, I lean into it, standing up for what is right is important, I can’t just sit around,” he rationalises.
Leading his life with inquisitiveness and in odeing those that gave him that insight, inquisitiveness and passion, Jords will always be led with an instinctive ability to do what’s right. Spearheading that aspect of identity informs the beginnings of his debut album Dirt In The Diamond. The album closely anchors tradition and lineage from its inception in the album opener “Ancestors”. Cushioned in violin runs, Jords interrogates himself with a vigour not felt before. “Are you down for the cause?” he questions, before revelling in his ‘badman’ status like his ancestors. Speaking to his grandfather throughout, the track is an example of intergenerational dialogue that permeates Jamaican culture.
Still wholly embracing of not only London, but Croydon — he’s the self-proclaimed prince of the region — Jords is quick to circle back into his home-city, building on remnants of past projects. This time, he uses musicality and the genealogy of sub-genres within the wider UK hip-hop landscape to smartly contextualise his commitment to lifting as he climbs. Statement single “Drill vs Grime” is the strongest example of this message, as Jords utilises the next generation of drill talent in his first artist feature Lil Sykes. “Lil Sykes went to my school,” he shares. “When I was in year 11, he was in year 7, I’ve always liked him and watched his journey from afar.”
Taking a moment to digest drill as a holistic sound, and then eventually connecting with Lil Sykes in January 2022, the pair discussed grime and drill and the evolution of music between their age-groups. It was only after they both did their 16 bar verses later that same night, that Jords assisted on the production of “Drill vs Grime” and shared the song with ZDot in this capacity. “I showed them both how to really craft the sounds of grime, it had to be a true collaboration of both sounds.” From the tophats that make UK drill so globally renowned to the ominous, bold and sometimes hollow character that’s come to define grime, Jords is able to build a bridge of synergy between both guiding the next generation.
Dirt In The Diamond has seen several phases in its meticulous construction such as coming of age and a constant growth over the years. Jords’ debut album saw its final metamorphosis across quarter one of 2022, alongside the guidance of prolific producer, drummer and MD Joshua McKenzie (MckNasty). MckNasty was able to aid Jords out of a block in his creativity, urging him to head to Friary Studios in Milton Keynes, where a prolific collaboration took place. “I was meant to be heading back out to Jamaica, but Josh got me to agree to head over to Milton Keynes after, but only if he promised Wretch would be there to grace one of the album songs,” Jords shares of the cathartic “I Pray”. Sharing some synergies with a Shaggy “Angel'' sonically, “I Pray” manages to augment hip-hop and reggae-fusion, with Wretch 32’s signature story-telling and introspective approach to rap and singing helping to solidify and cosign the slower, pensive sides to Jords that make him appealing to both an inquisitive millennial but also a nostalgic-fuelled Gen-Z listener. “That conversation is like Simba having a conversation with Mufasa,” Jords notes, using an iconic Lion King analogy. As the first rapper who made Jords pick up a pen, “I Pray” marks a full-circle moment for the ascendant rapper.
With London’s Black populus continuing to infuse their wider diaspora into the sonic makeup of the city through variant movements such as afroswing and UK rap at large, Jords’ Dirt In The Diamond is an effortless reflection of this musical zeitgeist unapologetically beyond the previously released Masego-assisted “Enemies”. Overarching reflections of the harmonised sound across the project lie its second phase — which hones in on romance, love and vulnerability thematically.
The dancehall heavy “Stay Close” sees Jords experiment in innovative ways compared to former releases. He wholly embraces the audacity of the Jamaican sound, taking a calmer approach in his cadence to entice his romantic interest. “If I teach you then I won't be patronising” he remarks, with Jamaican-juggernaut Kramium’s instinctive yearns felt across the songs chorus, translating the authenticity of the “Stay Close” collaboration throughout and contributing to the zest of Toddla T’s backing production.
“It was really special to have Kranium on the album,” Jords says. “I had to share that part of my identity with the world in a way that meant something real. It was such a smooth process getting him on board and he killed it.”
“Mo Bay” follows behind, its flirtatious composition feels adjacent to the slow wines that Kranium croons about seconds before. This time, Tay Iwar graces the mic, adding to the playful components of this section of the album, with a rhythmically fluid approach to his vocals. Laced in patois, an already confident Jords morphs into an intrepid lyricist, his deepest desires translating with an urgent potency packed with love, passion, decisiveness and flair.
But the piercing embodiment of Dirt In The Diamond sits with the copious “Fist In The Sky”. Instantly tinged with gospel, the song - which is placed almost half-way into Jords’ debut album - acts as the reference track to Jords entire musical proposition as an artist. The heart and veracity in the song’s instrumentation forms alignment with Jords’ childhood, obsessed with his father’s roots in jazz, soul and R&B, whilst his lyrical prowess is an example of Jords embracing his skill here, packed with affirmations and unwavering inoffensive cockiness. “I walk like I talk and I talk like a champion. Sexy and handsome” he chuffs. It's here that Jords convinces listeners of the growth as an artist today, that shows with ease and articulates that he’s arrived on his debut album, and finally believes in himself as a complete artist. “This song is my favourite, it’s just the one I go back to every time, to me, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever made. I knew it as soon as I was done.”
As the first UK rap album to be released on Motown Records, Dirt In The Diamond is the convincing tale of Jords himself. Amidst the tumultuous climate socio-politically across Britain, and intrinsically relating to Jords fortifying his emotions, the alchemy here begins to brew for audiences. Jords has embraced the lessons of early adulthood — reckoning with responsibility and in his lineage and the triumphs and losses in that — emerging as both an urgent artist and man capable of stepping into the glory. “I just want this album to touch people,” he shares. “I want them to understand who I am and why I’m here.”