By Adam Depollo, Online Arts Editor
Published July 23, 2014
There are few record labels out there today that have a collective output as sonically cohesive as Drake’s Toronto-based outfit OVO Sound — both the “Started from the Bottom” rapper and labelmate PartyNextDoor produce hyper-modern, R&B-tinged Hip Hop dripping with luxury-induced apathy and unapologetic romanticism. But while OVO Sound’s latest signee Majid Jordan maintains the label’s melancholy sound on its first official EP A Place Like This, it brings in a generous helping of deep house and footwork influences to produce an aesthetic all their own.
A Place Like This
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The duo, made up of vocalists and producers Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, released their first unofficial EP Afterhours on Soundcloud under the pseudonym Good People in 2012, blending touches of reggae, house and ‘80s dance pop into a compelling product that, while not as well-polished as their latest release, caught Drake’s attention going into 2013’s Nothing Was the Same. He collaborated with the relatively unknown duo on what would become one of the album’s most successful singles, the standout ballad “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” before adding them to the OVO Sound roster.
Going into A Place Like This, then, Majid Jordan was faced with the equally daunting tasks of establishing an identity for themselves and living up to the success of their collaboration with Drake. With this release’s brooding instrumentals and luscious vocals, it’s safe to say that the duo has succeeded on both counts.
The minimalist opening track “Forever” outlines the building blocks of Majid Jordan’s sound: layers of reverb-heavy vocal chops over a pulsating deep house beat. The vocals, provided primarily by Al Maskati, are rich and resonant, with lyrics describing a forceful but tragically ephemeral love.
On the remaining four tracks of the EP, the duo expands on the foundation laid by “Forever” with more densely packed instrumentals and echoing vocals. The ‘80s dance pop elements present on Afterhours reappear in the bright keyboards and lush synthesizer melodies of “All I Do,” while the subdued kick drums and popping snares on “Her” and the title track “A Place Like This” belie influences from West Coast post-Dilla producers like Flying Lotus or Knxwledge. Liberally applied low-pass filters reflect the feelings of detachment in the duo’s lyrics, while Al Maskati’s vocal delivery invites comparison with deep house-influenced groups like Toro y Moi or Washed Out.
The lyrics on A Place Like This are where the influence of OVO Sound appears most strongly, with a vague, menacing sense of dissatisfaction lurking under the EP’s exploration of fleeting relationships. Phrases like “searching for you,” “I’ve been waiting” and “all I ever do is think of you” pop up so frequently in Al Maskati’s lyrics that they border on monotony, but fortunately the EP’s five track length keeps them from crossing over that line.
Where this release is most successful, however, is in its crystallization of Drake’s upper class ennui into a more introspective form. It is clean, modern, detached and yet deeply emotional, hoping that the tedium of luxury can be resolved by finding the right woman but haunted by the suspicion that she doesn’t actually exist. While none of these tracks will be chart toppers, A Place Like This is a fine addition to the OVO Sound oeuvre that establishes Majid Jordan as a compelling companion to Drake’s radio-ready Hip Hop and Partynextdoor’s trap-heavy palette.