Jordan Ward yearns for inner peace. In an earnest attempt to reach this achievement, he begins his day with a simple routine: drinking water, meditating and reading Eckhart Tolle’s spiritual guidebook, The Power of Now. The 24-year-old crooner’s search for self-actualization effectively bleeds into his newest album, Valley Hopefuls, a project dedicated to presentness.
Ward’s earliest musical inspiration came from his mother, a singer with whom he spent the majority of his childhood. The artistic gene in the family was inherited by Ward, who then went on to sing in a choir, participate in musical theatre, and dance—a passion which eventually led to his relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles three years ago.
“When I first started making music, I was just rapping,” Ward says over the phone. “I’d be rapping over your typical hip-hop beats, soul beats. Then I started singing on the beat, and then it became the sound you hear on my new material.”
Ward’s leap of faith, which he took in 2016, was inspired by his desire to tour and teach classes, which resulted in him joining Justin Bieber’s 2016 Purpose Tour. While on the road, he met Ru AREYOU, a fellow dancer who would eventually become one of Ward’s producers and closest friends, ultimately culminating in the release of Ward’s debut EP, A Peak at the Summit, in 2017.
The five-track project served more as foundational groundwork than a complete artistic statement. Ward showed unwavering vocal potential while his beats proved soulful R&B is right in his wheelhouse.
In the two years between his EP and his album, Ward stayed perfecting his sound. Valley Hopefuls is not a reinvention; it mirrors his blissful, stress-free attitude immaculately. This quality is most noticeable on “Okok (Hibachi),” a song perfect for a summer road trip to an unknown destination.
The song with the most significant exclamation point on Valley Hopefuls is “Sandiego,” co-produced by Arin Ray, Camden Bench, and the legendary No I.D..
“My manager works with No I.D., [who’s] been helping me with my music for the past year,” Ward reveals. “He’s helping me develop as an artist, and we’re having in-depth conversations. ‘Sandiego’ was the first time he touched one of my songs.”
With or without a co-sign from a hip-hop icon and production assistance from one of R&B’s rising stars, Ward’s music exudes a surprisingly high level of confidence and maturity. He knows it all comes down to him.
“I have to build my own identity, be my own priority,” he says. “It’s like a balancing act. I try to channel everything through the music.”
DJBooth’s full conversation with Jordan Ward, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How long have you been involved in music?
Jordan Ward: That’s a weird question to answer because I’ve been making music for maybe three years, but I’ve been singing and dancing and performing my whole life. I grew up dancing and doing musical theater and singing choir at school, and I grew up in the church. My mom was a singer, so I grew up always being with her.
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You’re from St. Louis, but you moved to Los Angeles. Why the change in location?
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for a little over six years now. I’m a dancer, so when I moved to LA, it was originally just for that. I moved there intending to be a dancer, going on tour, teaching classes. I love it.
Aside from your mom, who has influenced your music the most?
Kanye [West] was always one of my favorite artists, if not my favorite of all time. I grew up listening to a lot of his work, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu. As far as older shit goes, though, I’d listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder. I grew up doing musical theater; I grew up singing. I also always was a hip-hop head, listening to Nas’ Illmatic, 2Pac’s Me Against the World, and Biggie’s Ready to Die.
You’ve developed a very soulful sound.
It’s progressing to that now. When I first started making music, I was rapping, and I’d be rapping over your typical hip-hop beats, soul beats. Then I started singing on the beat, and later it became the sound you hear on my new material. I’m big on my hip-hop beats, lo-fi beats, soulful beats. I also love alternative music, indie music, pop music. I love all kinds of music, so it’s blending everything that I like into what I do. But it’s not even necessarily about me intentionally blending sounds; it’s just more so about me making my music any way I want. I also worked with some really dope producers, so I can’t take full credit for my sound. A lot of my stuff out right now is from my brother Ru AREYOU. He produces a lot—Kojo, the homies ESTA and TK.
How did you grow your relationships with your producers?
Ru AREYOU is pretty much my big bro. I met him about three years ago. We both dance and were both going on tour with [Justin] Bieber. I met him on [tour], and we just became best friends. So he helped guide me where I wanted to go sonically. And it’s all organic, too. I could pull up to his crib whenever and make some shit. You got Kojo who produced “Holdin Me Back,” “Consolation,” and “Candid.” He runs this imprint that I was working with for a while called Hard Pink, and I learned a lot from those guys and how they put stuff together.
On the song “Sandiego,” the producer credits list both No I.D. and Arin Ray. Talk about how that collaboration came to pass.
My manager works with No I.D., and he’s been helping me with my music for the past year. He’s not necessarily getting on the boards, but he’s helping me develop as an artist, and we’re having in-depth conversations. “Sandiego” was the first time he touched one of my songs. The song itself is produced by the homie Arin Ray. My manager set it up. She had him come through to the studio. Afterward, he and I just stayed cool; he’s a real homie. I feel like everybody I worked with; I have to have a personal relationship with them too. I’m not one to force anything, so any time I work with someone, it has to develop organically.
Your song “Mews” touches on mental health. How has your mental health impacted your artistic development?
As human beings, we can feel so many things we’re not even aware of. Being an upcoming artist, and not having the resources to do what you want to do or have to do, it can create stress in your mind. And then dealing with real-life shit, like having relationships, dealing with them, whether it’s with your girl or your friends or whatever the case may be. And then on top of that, I have to take care of myself, build my own identity, be my own priority. It’s like a balancing act. I try to channel everything through music.
On your website, you have a section dedicated to dancing, and in your video for “Okok (Hibachi),” you’ve incorporated your choreography. Do you have plans to include more dancing in future music videos?
I don’t think so. Well, at least not right now. I don’t like to plan too far ahead; I take it one step at a time. I love dancing as it is. I always dance to music whenever it’s playing, it’s something I love. But as far as merging my dance and music, I’ll have to see. If it works, it works, but I can’t say I’m trying to combine them both. They coexist for now.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Arin Ray features on “Sandiego,” when in fact he is a co-producer on the record alongside Camden Bench, who was previously unmentioned.