The other week, I threw my first concert at Manhattan's Webster Hall. Entitled “Sold Not Told,” the show was positioned as an up-and-coming New York artist showcase, featuring Brooklyn rappers Stro, Dyme-A-Duzin, and Godbodywati. Apprehension forbid me from enjoying a solid night’s rest for two-weeks leading up to the event. Anxious about every conceivable factor, my nerves intensely peaked on April 27th—the day of the concert.
My audible heartbeat muffled the soundcheck. Sips of champagne moderated my stress while coordinating the pre-show activities, but a text from Stro’s manager alleviated that anxiety almost instantly: “Yo, Stro is bringing out a couple of guest performers—Taylor Bennett and Jordan Bratton.” My eyes lit up, and my heartbeat spiked. But unlike my heart’s earlier pounding, this kick drum planted inside my chest was beating to a different rhythm—excitement. With Jordan’s charisma, talent, and wisdom beyond his years occupying the stage, I could breathe easy.
Despite only being 22-years-old, Jordan Bratton has a mature perspective that stems from soulful lyricism, and soars with his captivating sound. The RCA-signed R&B artist pairs a velvety voice with insight to create dualistic music whose thought-provoking writing comfortably resides inside Jordan’s melodic excellence. On his 2015 standout hit, “Prisoner” featuring Chance The Rapper off his EP YOUTH, Jordan perceptively describes a girl suffocating in a mirage of superficiality, sinking deeper and deeper into life’s quicksand with every materialistic acquisition. She is lost—unsure of her purpose and sense of self. This identity crisis perpetuates a false euphoric exterior, concealing her depressed soul. She is trapped in a Potemkin village; a prisoner of her own life. Jordan’s conceptual depth might be surprising given his youth, but understanding his background explains this impressive maturity.
Jordan’s journey has unfolded quite unconventionally. At only 11-years-old, he was selected to play Simba in Broadway’s The Lion King, which lead to roles as young Adam and young Harpo in The Color Purple. Consistently performing under Broadway’s bright lights aided Jordan’s entertainment ambition by teaching him that lofty dreams are achieved through a resolute work ethic and fierce determination—a sentiment that propels him daily. On Broadway, he grew as a person, and flourished as a performer. But above all, he learned that acting wasn’t his destiny, pivoting him towards his current musical pursuit. Trial and error is one hell of a teacher.
In between touring and working on his new album, Jordan found time to hop on the phone with ZeusWolf to detail his background in more depth, talk about opening up for legends, his relationship with God, the upcoming project, and much more. Catch Jordan at New York’s Meadows Festival this September, headlined by Jay Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Gorillaz, and read below to get acquainted with one of R&B’s exploding stars.
P.S. He killed his set at my show.
Hey Jordan, how’s it going man? Thanks for talking with me tonight.
Oh yeah, no problem!
I appreciate you coming out to my concert the other night to perform “New York Nights” with Taylor Bennett and Stro.
Yeah man, I had a lot of fun. I didn’t even know it was your event! That’s dope—congrats.
Thanks man. So I know that you’ve also worked with Tay on “You” off Broad Shoulders. How did you guys get in touch in the first place?
My guy actually got me in contact with him. I think he had heard some of my songs, and when I was on tour in Chicago we met up, kicked it, and ended up recording “You” off his last project. We did a couple of songs, but from then we just hit it off—we clicked ever since then. He’s like my brother. That guy’s killing it right now.
Is that how you got the feature on Stro’s Grade A Frequencies?
No, actually I was doing a show with Nas and Isaiah Rashad for Sprite, and he was in the audience. He saw my set, told me I was dope, and we kept in contact ever since then. I was actually a fan of his before we’d even met, so when we met in person we hit it off right away—it was lit. We exchanged information, kept in contact, and then when Taylor came to town we all hung out. That’s when that song happened [“New York Nights”]. But we’d hung out mad times before the song. I was actually kicking it with Taylor and Stro on separate occasions. I would see Stro at some parties, and I would see Taylor doing a show or an event in New York, and we’d always chill. It would actually be really organic sometimes how it would happen.
You performed with Nas and Isaiah Rashad? I need to hear more about that.
I loved it. Watching Nas was a dream come true for me because I’d never seen him live. My guys and I definitely enjoyed that very much. My manager Daniel did a great job setting it up by getting in contact with them to make it happen; it was such a big opportunity. I had so much fun during that show. Isaiah Rashad really did his thing though. His music is incredible. After the concert I was able to kick it wit them [Isaiah Rashad and SZA], and our whole squad went to get sushi together. My manager and my big bro K texted me saying that they were already there, and I just pulled up. It was cool. Both her and Isaiah gave me their numbers after dinner. I honestly only spoke to them a handful of times though; very "hi and bye"-ish if you know what I mean. Although I congratulated her on joining RCA.
You’ve worked with a decent amount of artists so far. From marquee artists, like Chance and Fabo, to unknowns like Koda Kem on “Roll”. How do you determine who you’ll collaborate with?
I love making music with people who have the best attitude, people who have the best heart. I love making music with people who I fuck with on a personal level. Music always comes out the best that way. It’s also so much more fun, and you don’t even have to think about it—it’s just natural. I remember the first real session I ever had was with Estelle. I was making the beat or whatever, she was sitting right there, and I felt so free. In that moment I realized I’m actually doing what I love doing: making music with people that I grew up listening to. That’s been a way for me to gauge how my life is going—like how far am I trying to take it. I always want to push myself everyday, and I ask myself, “What can I do today?” And I’m not trying to gas myself up or anything, I just feel like I’m striving man, and that’s something to talk about.
Do you enjoy stepping outside your comfort zone to make yourself grow?
Yeah! I’ve read some books that say it’s good to surprise yourself everyday; do something that you normally wouldn’t do. I’m not saying be reckless, I’m saying do something that will push your horizon outward. Do something that expands your mindset a little bit. That’s what I try to do everyday because I know that’s something that will get harder to do as I get older. I don’t want to fall into a pattern where I get complacent as I get older. I also want my fans to hear that personal growth through my music. I want my music to sound better as time goes on. I always want to improve, and have people notice me stepping into the darkness to explore the unknown—pushing myself.
Well you’ve been singing for awhile, dating back to your choir days in kindergarten. How do you think that early exposure helped your growth?
One thing I would say is that I had to grow up fast. I had to realize what a work ethic was, I had to realize what it takes to do what you want to do in life. Not just do what you need to do, do the things that you dreamt of doing as a kid. My parents did a great job of telling and showing me exactly what it took to pursue a career. They didn’t force it on me—they gave me the tools to make the choice for myself. That really helped me a lot. A lot of kids who want to be rappers now who graduated from the same high school as me, I talk to them and they tell me that their parents aren’t very fond of their musical dreams. I’m blessed to have parents that understand that lifestyle, and let me pursue my dreams. It’s not a constant fight, like, “when are you going to go to college?...when are you going to get a real job?”.
I read that you’re a multi-instrumentalist (drums, piano, the organ, guitar, bass, and clarinet). Were your parents the ones who pushed you into that?
Well, my dad was a musician at heart, so we always had the instruments around. My brother and I wanted to be just like him, and we still do. We just want to be like our dad. So we started playing instruments to mimic him—watching him really rubbed off on us. Honestly, watching some really great musicians play their hearts out week after week at church was very inspiring for me and my brother. That caused me to learn instruments, as well as my brother, and my sisters all sing too. It’s just one big, musical, happy family.
That’s great to hear. Was Church one of your big early influences?
I think it is. But I think more so God—my relationship with Jesus. I believe in Jesus, and I go to church every week not because it’s something to do—it’s who I am, who I was raised to be. Essentially, I want that to reflect in my music. I don’t want to come off as a gospel artist as much as I want to be viewed as someone who has some belief and is not afraid to say it on a song. Maybe some people might not like it. But I would like to think that hopefully I can make it come across in a way that’s appealing to people; I don’t want people to feel that they’re being preached at.
I think Chance did a good job of balancing his loyalty to God without it coming across as preachy on Coloring Book.
Right, right. He made it more about being happy, and about being in a great place in your life. That’s something that all people can connect with. He did an amazing job of including his moral standards in that too, because not a lot of artists look to do that. But he did, and that speaks volumes. No matter what my relationship is with him or Taylor—we can be the worst of enemies—and I would still say this about Chance. He is a solid dude. He really sets the tone for our generation. We need someone like him to push us forward as kids, as people who are dreaming to achieve what we want: like a Grammy, or a number-one single.
Speaking of Chance, I initially heard of you back when you made “Prisoner” with Chance in 2015. How did you two link up for that, and what is it like working with Chance?
Taylor [Bennett] and I are really close friends, and we were always making songs together. My guys caught wind of that, so we were trying to get a hold of Chance for the EP [YOUTH], because it made sense at the time. I was really planning on dropping Taylor’s feature first, and then have Chance featured, but it just didn’t work out like that. I was actually on tour though when we got his feature, so I wasn’t in the studio with him. I had recorded the song, and then went right back on tour.
Is balancing the tour life with recording songs difficult?
No, it’s not difficult if you put your mind to it. I did my song “Frank” on the van on tour. It’s doable if you want to do it. If you can get a studio and sit down, that’s great too, but for a lot of songs that I write nowadays, I find myself in the car. So you can definitely do it. A lot of songs that I’m going to be releasing this year were written on the van on tour.
You have a very awesome, unconventional music introduction through being on Broadway at a young age in The Lion King and The Color Purple. How did you land these roles?
For Lion King, I was in church and the minister of music at the time, Stanley Brown, had actually referred me for an audition. Ever since then—I was about nine at the time—I’d been auditioning for like two or three years until I landed the part. So that took a lot, but when I got the role I realized whatever I want in life, it’s going to take real work to get it. And I realized at that age that I’m willing to do it. It’s kind of crazy how The Color Purple happened because one of the musicians that was playing at the same church referred me for the audition. I was on tour with The Lion King during the first audition, so they had just invited me to the call back. So after I went for the call back, I was in school and my dad came by to tell me that I got the part. I was so excited, man. The Color Purple was a movie that me and my sisters always watched because they always made me watch it against my will. A lot of those moments with my family rubbed off on me, so it hit home when I got the part of playing young Harpo and young Adam. I was also able to work with Fantasia, which was pretty cool. Watching her was like heaven, and she’s just as good in person as she is on TV, trust me.
What did you learn about yourself during your time on Broadway?
How to play a role. So many people come on Broadway wanting to be the end all and be all, and if you’re that type of person then you can handle that responsibility. But for the role players, it’s just playing your role night in and night out and being consistent, making sure that you do your job to the best of your ability. And I hadn’t known what that meant before my theatre career. At the time, I actually wanted to be an actor—that was my dream. That’s what I was going to pursue. But after awhile, I started getting into making beats and writing songs, and I fell in love with that, and the pursuit became music.
Would you ever go back to acting?
I don’t know. Those questions used to bother me because people find out about what I did in that sector, and they ask why I’d want to leave that life. But sometimes you want to experience the warmth of other suns, you want to feel what it’s like pursue a different avenue. During that time I felt a pivot happening, and I just wanted to pivot.
Completely hear you. You’ve really solidified that pivot with your 2013 album, The Grey Area, and your 2015 EP, YOUTH. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new project. I was going to call it something, but coincidentally an artist released a project with the same name so I’m going to go with something else. Luckily I have a back up name that I’m just as passionate about. I can’t say what it’s called because I don’t want it to be released just yet. I’m definitely on the finishing ends of it—I’m on the last song. I’m definitely putting it out this year. But honestly, I recognize that the fans have been patiently waiting, and I see all of that and I will respond. All of their frustrations are valid, and there needs to be accountability. I really care about my fans, and want to get this project done and make sure that I give them the best product.
What kind of aesthetic are you going for?
I would say that it’s alternative R&B. To most people it’s just soul music. It’s really music from the heart. It’s definitely eclectic, but not too abstract.
Did you produce it yourself?
Most of it. I’m really trying to get 88 on there. It’s been really difficult—we have something—but I want to work more with him because we have so many ideas, but we didn’t have enough time during our recording session. I really want to work together for a couple of days, and really pick his brain—just work with him heavy. He produced “No Sin Allowed” on The Grey Area, so we have a bit of a history. Whenever we work I want to make sure that I learn as much as I can because essentially we’re from the same town [West Hempstead], so we level on such a different dynamic than everyone else—his old house is literally five-minutes from my crib. We actually have the same barber.
That’s got to be one of the cooler connections that I’ve heard. Are you releasing it through RCA?
No, I think I’m just going to be releasing it on SoundCloud, and then hopefully they’ll fuck with it and be behind it. But this is something I’m doing on my own, I did this in my crib—I did this project real relaxed. I didn’t really have a lot of resources for this one, so I’m just trying to do most of it on our end. Making sure it sounds the best takes time. Sometimes when I hear someone’s project come out I will delay mine to rethink some things and get it right. But it’s not frustrating, it’s part of the game. It happens. It’s something that’s not new to me; I’ve done this before. And there’s really not that much to be done: just some editing, changing a word or two, messing with some different rhythms—little things. They’re minuscule, but necessary nonetheless.