FYI: Jordan Ward is from St. Louis, not Los Angeles.
As he ensconces himself in New York City’s Dover Street Market—which triples as a high fashion clothing store, jewelry joint, and contemporary cafe—the 28-year-old artist asserts that he is unmistakably a product of his Missouri upbringing.
“I’m so St. Louis,” he says. “That’s the location I carry with me everywhere. I’m a byproduct of that sh*t through and through even when I relocated to L.A., my roots are still with me.”
Much like the bustling marketplace he is currently perusing, Ward is also multifaceted; he’s an entertainer who can sing, rap, and dance. He’s also breaking through as one of R&B’s most refreshing new acts.
Ward’s debut album FORWARD adds to the singer’s profile, which has steadily expanded since his first project, 2019’s Valley Hopefuls. One of the album’s standout cuts, “IDC” featuring Maryland rapper JOONY, has garnered attention from Billboard, with the song finding a home on the outlet’s Fresh Picks of the Week. FORWARD was also featured in VIBE‘s weekly New Music Friday round-up, where Ward was praised as “as a force to reckon with.”
Valley Hopefuls and his 2021 project Remain Calm have racked up millions of streams across Spotify and Apple Music, catapulting the young crooner into the R&B conversation. His single “Okok (Hibachi)” earned tens of millions of streams, and he even snagged No ID production for his single, “Sandiego.”
While Ward basks in his current success, he isn’t letting go of the past that helped to mold his artistry. In fact, FORWARD was born out of a sense of responsibility to remain faithful to his roots. Especially in the face of people believing he’s from the West Coast — an assumption he isn’t a fan of. For Ward, going forward with his purpose means he must first go backward.
“I’ve done a lot to get here: driving across the country from [St. Louis] to the West Coast with mom, going from dancing to singing/rapping, sh*t, starring in Prince’s video for ‘Breakfast Can Wait.’ But this album? This album was to be honest with people listening, to provide a chapter of my life that represents who I truly am,” the singer confessed. “I’m not this L.A. dude, no offense to them, but St. Louis is my heart, where my story begins — and this record is definitely a tribute to that.”
On the eve of his album’s release, VIBE caught up with Ward to discuss his new project and his journey from his hometown to the City of Angels. He also discussed his responsibility to his family and his own evolution.
VIBE: Can you tell me when the first time you realized that you fell in love with R&B and Hip Hop?
Jordan Ward: The most impactful was for R&B, that movie, Love and Basketball with Sanaa Lathan [and] Omar Epps and that scene when Zapp and Roger song, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” comes on. That song right there is straight. That’s one of the first times I was like, “Okay. This song is not even crack. That’s heroin.” That song, I feel subconsciously, has always been a part of how I see sh*t, and that may have started my love for this whole sh*t. And then taking road trips to see my family, and my mom would be playing Confessions by Usher. One of the first CDs I remember having in the house was Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I used to put that on the [speaker] when I was four or five and fall asleep to it. And that’s an album that grew with me.
[For] Hip-Hop, I remember my mom wouldn’t let me listen to the Hip-Hop station (laughs); she would play Radio Disney. I f**k with Radio Disney. But then, I remember my auntie got me Ludacris’ Back For the First Time and [Nelly’s] Nellyville — the dirty versions. But then my mom took them back and got the clean versions. That and Lil Romeo, Lil Bow Wow. But the moment I fell in love with Hip-Hop was in grade school, I started getting into Pac and Big, and Nas. I started doing my research. Going back to the old school, understanding where the sh*t came from.
So how did you get from J Dub, the fan, to Jordan Ward, the rising star?
I was the only child, a kid with a good mom. She kept me busy. My mom put me in a Montessori. She made me creative, put me in that direction, and pushed me to get into the performing arts. She saw that I was an active kid, but I wasn’t like most kids in my neighborhood who wanted to play basketball and football. I was the kid dancing, getting up in the middle of the room, trying to write raps and sh*t. Trying to [dance and rap] battle. Trying to wear my clothes funky. Trying to sing at the talent shows. So, my mom was like, “Hey, you should go into musical theater. You should audition for this musical theater.”
And then she put me in theater along with dance. I [was] doing dance competitions, and I would be competing and rehearsing all week for dance, doing ballet, Jazz, musical theater, contemporary, and tap at my studio.
I started doing conventions when I was 12; I started traveling, my mom and I, and we would take road trips to these [events]. But I’d say when I was 15, I started pretty much every other weekend from the time I was 15 till the time I left high school; I was flying out of town to travel to a workshop and train under choreographers. If I was in school 35 hours a week, which is five, seven-hour days—I was dancing seven hours every day and 10 hours every day on the weekend. So I would be dancing 50 hours of dance in a week…dedicated to dancing full-time. I also had a mentor named Redd Williams on the dance side that gave me direction toward becoming a dancer. When I was 18, I moved to L.A. My last day of high school was May 13th, 2013. My graduation was on May 14th. I drove home, picked her up, and then my mom and I drove; that was Wednesday night at 11:00 PM. And we drove to L.A.; we got to L.A. Friday at 1:00 AM, like 26 hours. And now we’re here.
And then you began singing. Talk to me a bit about your ambitions as a dancer and how you shifted to focus on making music.
By this point, I’m not trying to be an artist. I just want to be a dancer. I’m like, ‘I’m moving to L.A.. I want to dance for Janet Jackson. I want to dance for Usher.’ My goal was if I could be a touring dancer [until age] 30; that’s my version of success because I loved the crowd. I only did one arena tour with [Justin] Bieber for his Purpose Tour, but on that arena tour, I started making music, and it was like I didn’t want to dance anymore. And respectfully, I’m trying to speak graciously, the dance sh*t kept going. I could have kept doing more tours. I just had to focus on music.
You’ll also be doing a show on Friday night (March 3), opening up for Smino. Can you tell me how your relationship with him blossomed?
Smino is the hometown hero. I’m from St. Louis and have been a longtime fan. We’re from a small city and make music, so we had mutuals. In L.A. we linked through our industry and our teams and had some mutuals. It organically came together; I had hit him a few times as a fan. And then we connected in the studio last year. I’m honored and grateful that he gave me the platform to be on his sh*t.
On this album, although its title is based on looking to the future, you’re simultaneously drawing on experiences from the past. So how much did your connection with your family history, your roots in St. Louis, and your experience there inspire the creation of this project?
With this record, I wanted to [try] my best to [paint] a picture that gave a good portrait of who I was. So, for example, the album starts with ‘BUSSDOWN,’ where I’m 13 in the car with my friends. We are going to the mall, probably about to get some Hollister and see a funny movie or something. My mom’s dropping us off, with the little money that I saved up from dancing, assisting tap classes, I just wanted to start with that, a pure memory. At that time, I still wanted to keep looking ahead, keep looking forward. Deep down, I got a good feeling. I’m thinking about four or five years from now, like, ‘damn, am I about to be in this dance sh*t?’ Where am I headed? So, that’s where my past met my future, but also how the title connects me to my family — it’s FORWARD, but for Ward. A letter to my loved ones.
And where do you think you are after FORWARD? Where are we going next?
I’m always thinking in increments of five. I’m trying to land at a certain place when I’m 50 right now. I wake up and think, ‘How do I want to be when I’m 50?’ When I’m 50, I want to have bright-ass brown skin. I want to be running three miles a day. I want to be drinking smoothies. I want to be having a backyard with greenery and s**t, smoking weed and sh*t. Making music, playing the bass, being creative, dressing cool, [and] not forcing it.
God, energy, I want to have energy. That’s the most important thing in life because we share energy. I want to share and continue to build with and for the people that I love, sh*t, for the world.
Listen to FORWARD below.