Rising R&B singer Jordan Ward comes home to St. Louis to promote debut album 'Forward'
Jordan Ward has had the kind of year many up-and-coming artists would dream of. He toured the country with hip-hop artists JID and Smino and performed at the Raleigh, North Carolina, Dreamville Festival that included Usher, Drake and J. Cole.
Raised in south St. Louis, Ward started his career as a background dancer for Janet Jackson, Usher, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. He now lives in Los Angeles and is on tour to promote his debut studio album “Forward,” released in March.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Chad Davis spoke with Ward ahead of his show Wednesday in the Blueberry Hill's Duck Room and asked him what the new album means to him.
Chad Davis: How has the last year been for you?
Jordan Ward: Last year has been amazing, man, it’s been crazy. This time last year literally we were in the studio mixing the album, getting ready to send it in for mastering.
Now that everything is unfolding, it's fulfilling, and we can really see the vision, so it's been a dope year, it’s been amazing.
Davis: “Forward” is an album that I think resonated with a lot of listeners. It came out in March. You talk a lot about your childhood, you talk a lot about family, and you talk a lot about relationships. It also felt like a lot about growth and change. Is that accurate, and what does the album mean to you?
Ward: I would agree with all those sentiments you just expressed. The album, it's forward, it's forward evolution. It's for-Ward, it’s for my family, for myself. It's the fourth Ward, it's my fourth project, but it's also a forward in the story as my debut. So it's been an accumulation of everything I've learned up until this point.
Davis: As you've been performing songs from this record and you've been on tour with JID and Smino, are there certain songs that you've realized resonate with people the most?
Ward: We haven't performed a ton of the album yet, just more of the singles and stuff. But it was crazy just seeing this music grow over time. Like we literally dropped the album on the road in New York. We just went out with Smino on this Europe run and by the time we got to Europe, a lot of fans were singing “FAMJAM4000” back to me. They were singing and clapping and getting ready for me to perform.
Davis: That’s a song that’s really centered around family. Could you talk a little bit about the specific memories that are associated with that song?
Ward: It’s about a specific member of my family. You come into this world and your family, they go from only being your elders to people who are closer to your age. At a certain point you realize you're both human beings with flaws and differences in opinions, and sometimes that can drive you apart. But at the end of the day, all we got is family.
Davis: The title track is something that’s pretty emotional and definitely a very personal track where you talk about your family but also talk about incarceration and drugs. How has your family responded to the album?
Ward: If I want to be honest, and you could probably pick it up on the album, I'm still not super talking to everybody in my family, so I don't even know how some of them feel or even if they know that I'm talking to them. But as far as what's actually gotten back to me, it's been a lot of love. The fact that my mom loves it, can stand by it, and she gets where I'm going, I'm like, all right, cool.
Davis: You recently released a video for the song “Bussdown,” the first track on the album. In the video, it's very introspective. You're driving around, you're kind of reflective of your life and your career and the lyrics even touch on those aspects too. How did you come up with the concept for the video?
Ward: That was shot in St. Louis was directed by Brent Campanelli. He directed all the music videos. My creative director, Ricky Alvarez, is actually the one that really pushed me like, “yo, we should do a video for ‘Bussdown.’” It was just dope to just kind of represent that feeling that we carry from who we are as kids into adults of just hope you know about an uncertain future and aspirations. It was fun shooting in St. Louis, man — got some of my family to pull up on me, some family friends.
Davis: On [“Bussdown”] you even mention wondering where you'll be four or five years from now. Where do you want to be?
Ward: I'm trying to be happy, man. I'm trying to have my dreads looking like tree trunks, like big arms coming off my head. I want me and all the homies to be financially free. New album on the way hopefully, same vibes as right now.
Davis: Has Smino been able to offer you any tips or any advice when it comes to, you know, performing or songwriting?
Ward: He did tell me to stop screaming so much onstage. He was like you’ve got to save your voice. But honestly he really just told me to just trust myself. Trust my natural inclination with the gift and just there's no need to force it, there's no need to step outside of myself because it's right there.
Davis: What does it feel like to come back to St. Louis to perform?
Ward: It means everything. Just to be able to come back and perform is a huge blessing. To perform at Blueberry Hill, home of Chuck Berry, St. Louis pioneer, and then to sell it out is just insane.
If I jump in the crowd y'all better catch me, otherwise I'm not coming back. Nah, I’m just playing.