Let’s take it back to 2014: Rochelle Jordan was poised to become the third star from Toronto to make it big. Drake and The Weeknd got all the fanfare, but Rochelle’s sound was quietly influential. Where Drake took from the 808’s and Heartbreak Kanye and Aaliyah, Rochelle combined Control era-Janet Jackson with fluorescent British house and 2-step, and the moody Toronto music then starting to take off. Then, the bullshit of the music industry intervened.
Rochelle went from next up to having to wait seven years to drop her new album, Play With the Changes. Born in Great Britain, Jordan’s family departed for Canada when she was young, but you can still hear those UK sensibilities in her music. There’s a balance of an imaginative nostalgia for the ghosts of rave past while never sounding anything less than modern. She effortlessly switches between sub-genres without losing her sense of cool. Think something like Aaliyah produced by MJ Cole and you start to get the idea. There’s a sense of introspection in her music, an artful approach to storytelling that always leaves you wanting to know more, but without ever seeming corny. She sings about her emotions with depth, but never becomes melodramatic. She’s just cool.
The song that hit me the most on Play With the Changes, the new Rochelle Jordan album released in April, was “Lay.” Produced by KLSH, it hits with hard 808’s and UK garage rhythms that would have once owned pirate radio. Rochelle writes a love letter to a Black man she is worried about. In a society where your life can be taken from you, with no rhyme or reason, Rochelle watches the news longing for her man to come home safe. On the surface, that line sounds like what it is. Rochelle wants her love to return home. The long R&B tradition of the woman longing for her dude has been in our music since Aretha told us that we made her feel like a natural woman. However, this time, it felt like there was something profoundly impactful for me. Maybe it reminded me of the women in my family always making sure that I got home safe in the police state New Yorkers live in. Or maybe it was something even deeper. Something akin to the The Five Percenter notion that the black woman is the earth. That the black women will always take care of us, honor us, and be the light in our time of darkness. That song is unconditional love for me. The type of love that a Black man searches for his whole life. The woman who loves you and wants you to come home to her, in spite of yourself, the world around you, and the tragedies that occur when you are away.
Play With the Changes is a profoundly soulful album. “All Along” boasts unabashed New Jack Swing that could’ve been the standout track on a classic Nancy Meyers romantic comedy. She doesn’t make the type of R&B that you listen to after a breakup, it’s the music that you listen to when you are waiting for the person who you have a crush on to come over. Now that the industry drama has ceased, Jordan is poised to continue building on the already impressive body of work she’s already created. In conversation, she is confident, knowledgeable about music history, and shows humility. A few months ago, me and Rochelle spoke about growing up in Toronto, her musical influences, living in Los Angeles now and much more. – Jayson Buford
What was it like being born in England and growing up in Toronto?
Rochelle Jordan: I still have very, very early memories of being in England. I was so young, but I can still see my old house. Most of my family still lives in the UK and I often travel back and forth so I’m pretty much rooted in the UK as well, but was raised in Canada, just outside of Toronto on the east side, a place called Durham Region. It was a great upbringing, I mean, being raised in Canada… Or in Toronto, I would say, or Ontario where it’s very much a melting pot, very diverse, wasn’t problematic. I didn’t have any issues in school really, not much racial tension, it wasn’t something that I dealt with comparing it to the things that are happening in America and stuff like that. It was quite peaceful. And then not to mention the West Indian roots as well, that I have, very much embedded into Toronto culture.
Toronto reminds me of New York in a lot of ways. What’s really funny is the West Indies both have a footprint in Toronto and in England, which is very interesting.
Rochelle Jordan: There was a lot of uprooting from Jamaica, from Guyana, and just the Caribbean just in general.
What was Toronto like around the time that you blew up?
Rochelle Jordan: At that point I was traveling back and forth from Toronto to LA often. I would spend months in America and come back and forth. But first and foremost, that was the era of the blogs, right, the era of SoundCloud, where we finally had just our own platform, but at a grander scale because of the way social media was working, to be able to just have that freedom of releasing your music on your own terms.
And I think it was the energy of the world shifting into this new era and at that point as well, when it came to Toronto, Drake had really blown up into a massive star and put such a crazy light onto Toronto, and pretty much gained Toronto an identity. That was all Drake that had done that at that time. So Toronto, we were all really hyped because we realized like, “Damn, okay, maybe we do have some value. Now we have a little bit of attention, let’s feel inspired and just kind of trail behind Drake and see what comes of it.” But yeah, excitable at that time. There was definitely a celebratory spirit that was happening in the Toronto scene.
What’s your favorite part of living in Los Angeles?
Rochelle Jordan: My favorite part, I would say the beach, I would say the water, that’s just where I find my solace. I’m definitely a scenic girl, I like scenery, I love being in nature. I love being by water, that’s one of the things that inspires me the most. And so it was like, I can’t get enough of that out here, but then also again, it’s full of creativity out here, everyone is on a mission.
Who were some of your favorite musicians growing up?
Rochelle Jordan: Some of my favorite musicians growing up, I would have to say for sure Janet Jackson, an absolute, Whitney, Houston, Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind and Fire and then that was what was played a lot at the house. Beres Hammond and a lot of different reggae artists as well. But as I got older and really started to appreciate music for my own perspective, right, not from what I was necessarily being told to listen to, but now I’m having the choice, I would say my ears really took to Mariah Carey again, Janet Jackson, but also Amerie was a huge, huge inspiration to me growing up. Her All I Have album, and Touch album, to be honest, it was just insanely made, just perfect, perfected in my ear.
And then you had Aaliyah and Drake as well, when I was listening to music and deciding to take things seriously, and then he started popping off in the city. The one thing that I appreciated so much about Drake is his ability to just adapt to different variations of R&B and hip hop, I thought that was really cool, but also to be so relatable in his lyrics, every single time and just turn it into something that just sticks into your head, he’s a genius in that sense.
Even Paramore as well, which was a huge one for me. Hayley Williams, her voice, and just her ability to take rock music, but make it conscious, but also pop at the same time, just amazing. It was a bunch of different artists, but all of them kind of set me up to take this seriously and to create my own identity, which was important to me.
So your last album was six years ago, you’ve released music throughout that time, but what about now, made you want to release a new record?
Rochelle Jordan: Over the past five years I had been creating what would come to be Play With the Changes. Throughout the five years I had obviously aspirations of just releasing my music sooner. I didn’t know it would be in 2021 that I was going to be released in this project. So when you ask, why now? I can’t exactly say I know why now, I think it was just the universal alignment as to why now. There were a lot of things that I had to go through in that time of being away to almost re-find myself as an artist, and refine my music as well, and just play with different soundscapes over this period of time.
What is the biggest difference between your music now than it was in 2014?
Rochelle Jordan: It’s all about a mindset, right? And for me, when I can think back to even my earliest project before the ROJO one in 2011, the idea of music for me again, was always about finding my identity, staying true to the purpose as to why I make music. Really paying attention to the artists that I do like and the reasons as to why I like them. And a lot of the artists that I grew up loving, maybe some that I haven’t even mentioned, sorry yeah, they always had an imagination I could tell. Even from Aaliyah to Timbaland, Static, those guys to the whole Basement Crew, to the Neptunes with Kelis and Samantha James as well, with her producer as well, and she’s an electronic, soul artist. And just listening to these artists and why I was attracted to them and the things that attracted me to them, for me, it kind of encouraged me at the very beginning to be very playful with music and try to try to search for things that were different and new. New melodies, new harmonies, what could I come up with that I could make my own?
Myself and KLSH, my producer, we have always been very imaginative with music, but I think when we finally released this one song on the ROJO project called “How to Feel,” it was the first time that people kind of really blew up about it and really took to my music. And it was more of that traditional R&B sense with a little bit of that Toronto identity feel to it. And because people reacted so well, we decided to kind of go down that road and stick with it. But for me, I’m an artist that’s always growing and I’m an artist that always wants to find a new way to do new things.
So after 1021, and I would say even during 1021, if you listen to some of the songs, like “Ease Your Mind,” for instance, or “There You Go,” or even “Good Ones” has a little bit of a drum and bass undertone to it. I was already ready to kind of move past the traditional R&B, the dream trap R&B, I was already like, “Okay, let me get back to my original self where I wanted to find new points about myself and kind of come out of my certain boxes.”
At that point, we got with Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, and we were just able to create this whole new energy around me, which I couldn’t have asked for just a better outcome. But more than anything, when it comes to music, I’m somebody who needs to be excitable when it comes to making music. If I ever get the feeling of stagnation, it’s hard for me to create. When it comes to even picking beats with these guys, I’m always trying to find the most wildest ones. Give me something that is going to accelerate me. And I think that this project really reflects upon that and me just wanting to be in the pocket of being challenged and challenging the listener, challenging my fans that love me for just traditional R&B to kind of come out of their box as well and maybe engage with music in a different way that they didn’t think that they would be able to relate to. And it’s the same thing for me when I create it.
A producer should put the artists in the best place for the artists to be in their comfort zones.
Rochelle Jordan: And also these guys, Jimmy, KLSH, Machinedrum, they know I’m a very particular artist as well. I’m not a studio girl. I’m a little bit of an introverted loner when it comes to creating music. I like to write music by myself, I like to record it by myself, I like to organize my vocals by myself, that’s something I do. It’s very interesting because I saw an interview with Timbaland and he was speaking about Missy Elliot’s process and how no one hears her record, she’s always by herself, she never lets anyone listen in and I was excited to hear that because I’m like, “I’m the exact same way.”
Some of your music kind of sounds like a rave. Is that something you grew up with?
Rochelle Jordan: I didn’t grow up with that, unfortunately. I haven’t had much experience at raves at all to be honest, which is… It sucks but at the same time I’ve always had fantasies of it. When I go to England, it’s usually for a few weeks, but I’m so busy meeting up with family and just in everyone’s house and everyone wants to see me and stuff. So I never got a chance to just be in the UK and just go raving and go partying.
I can imagine what it is from what my cousins tell me it’s like, and just hearing the music that comes out from the UK as well. It’s just so much iconic music that comes from the UK alone, so much amazing drum and bass, garage music, jungle music, that I can only assume what the rave scene is like. I have an autistic brother who, he’s about 10 years older than me so he was about 14 when we moved to Canada and he suffers from OCD, but with that being said, one of the great things about that is that he was obsessed with music, he’s always been obsessed with music, from the UK specifically. So he had briefcases with cassettes galore… They weren’t even names.
And he would just play them obsessively every day, all day long. So I’m hearing chord progressions and drum patterns and intricate harmonies and melodies, and not even knowing the names of these people, but just I was literally just soaking up this amazing dance music, amazing jungle music and even till this day, I don’t even know the names, but if he would play it, I would sing it back, I would know exactly what these songs are. I think that alone definitely influenced this project because I made it a thing this time around to almost silence the noise of what was going on in music over the past four years. I made it a thing to not listen. I was obviously up to date and knew what was going on in the culture, but I made it a thing to not listen because I really wanted to get back to my roots.
Do you have a song that you really love most on this album?
Rochelle Jordan: “Love You Good” I would say today is my favorite song on the album. I tend to wrap things up into kind of a bubble of a love interest if you will. But a lot of my songs, the inside of it, inside of it, I’m kind of speaking to kind of how I feel, or maybe other experiences that I’m going through.
So for instance, with “Love You Good” I find that over the years, I’ve kind of turned into a little bit of an introvert, a little bit of a loner, which I actually loved, which is very strange. But at the same time, I feel like I’m misunderstood a lot of the time. And not necessarily when it comes to love, but maybe friendships and things like that because I go about things a certain way, right. And so I thought to myself, when I was writing, “Love You Good” I was thinking about that, but then I was thinking about also in a love aspect as well, maybe sometimes you feel misunderstood or no one can love you because you’re kind of a weird lover, in this weird pocket of energy and yeah, it’s just funny hearing some people respond to Love You Good too and be like, “Oh my God, like I relate to that so much.”
You mentioned Timbaland and Missy Elliott. What’s your favorite Timbaland and Missy Elliott song, if you have one?
Rochelle Jordan: Okay, so I would say honestly… “Why are you all in my grill?” It’s probably one of my favorites. Yeah, it’s insane actually. Man, just her writing style alone, you can hear her on anybody. Her identity is just one for the generations and we all got to give her flowers.
I think we have grossly forgotten about Missy Elliott. Not forgotten, and I think there’s a lot of different reasons for it but I think that if you asked, in rap circles, they would not name Missy Elliott as a top 15 rapper of all… But I think easily —
Rochelle Jordan: Missy Elliott is an avant-garde artist. She’s just in a whole other lane, whole other sector. Yeah she is a hip hop artist, but she’s also a writer, she’s also a visual artist, she is also a producer, a top five producer. She has all these different things and that’s why people never remember to mention her because she is so avant-garde in that sense. She literally stands on a pedestal all by herself. I don’t know many that kind of are in the same bracket, if you will. So I know for her, it might feel like irritating because it’s like, “Why aren’t you guys mentioning me or talking about me.” People only forget because you’re incomparable.
I definitely look up to her in that sense as well, because I’m also an album artist as well. I can’t just be on a rotator, just throwing whatever the hell out. It’s well thought out, I try to keep that standard about myself as well and there’s artists like Missy Elliot that will do that for me, who’ll help me to remember why I do this.