When Drake claimed Kanye West to be his only real competition during his promo run for Nothing Was the Same, it wasn’t just notable for the supposed shade thrown at generational rival Kendrick Lamar. For one, Drake and Kanye are two of the most constantly improving and expanding artists in rap, made men who are similarly unsatisfied with treading water. Both guys also do as good a job as anyone of incorporating new ideas and sounds as part of their progression, often doing so by bringing emerging artists into the fold in ways that are mutually beneficial–the established stars infusing new energy into their own work in exchange for giving a push (and a certain level of notoriety) to these up-and-comers.
We’ve seen it with Kanye throughout his career, from his work with John Legend to KiD CuDi, Big Sean, and beyond. In Drake’s case, it didn’t take long for him to adopt this collaborative spirit, evidenced by his early co-sign of fellow Torontonian The Weeknd, an enigmatic talent who’s since become one of the marquee voices in contemporary R&B. If that relationship has been an occasionally rocky one, it hasn’t stopped Drake–together with producer Noah “40″ Shebib and OVO head honcho Oliver El-Khatib–from looking to expand the team. Drake now has an official label in OVO Sound (through Warner Bros.), and this past month we’ve gotten the first official releases from the squad.
This isn’t completely unknown talent we’re talking about. Toronto’s Majid Jordan–Majid, the vocalist, Jordan, the producer–are probably best known for co-producing and featuring on Drake’s pop opus, “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” but they’ve also had their own sprawling EP, afterhours, that’s been floating around the Internet for a while. Their OVO Sound debut, A Place Like This, is decidedly more focused, zeroing in on some of the electronic influences of their earlier work. There’s a serious 80′s dancepop tinge going on–Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories seems like a recent touchpoint–with “All I Do” abandoning Majid Jordan’s restrained sway of a dance vibe in favor of full-on two-stepping. At just five tracks, A Place Like This is also tight and polished, with producer Jordan Ullman finding more nuanced grooves (catch the warm R&B glow on “U”) for Majid’s perpetually tender vocals.
Majid Jordan have a real knack for ambiance, but they still haven’t completely settled on a signature sound, and that might be the difference between them settling for being a Drake affiliate for the in-the-know crowd or becoming something more. The flickering, hypnotically downtempo title track, “A Place Like This,” suggests they’re capable of finding a cool, artsy R&B-ish niche at the very least.
PARTYNEXTDOOR, meanwhile, seems like a star in waiting with songs that appear to connect far more than Billboard charts and the like would suggest. It’s not merely by association that the 21-year-old from Mississauga was granted one of the longer guest sets during Drake’s OVO Fest performance last weekend. Like his debut mixtape from last year, PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO is chalk full of could-be hits. “Options” and “Bout It” have that post-Nothing Was the Same, hang-back-in-the-cut restraint. “Sls” and “Fwu” build towards sweeping, falsetto-reaching hooks. And the rippling knock of “Recognize” is stereo-ready for as long as it’s warm out, evocative of the post-summer haze that hangs over the album.
Where Majid Jordan’s romanticizing is mostly nondescript, PARTYNEXTDOOR is consistently aiming to deliver a rapper’s worth of twitter-ready quotables, even if it means veering into goofy-as-hell territory (he follows the plea “I promise to love you, and obey” with “And hit it more than once a day”). It’s part of the way he –as well as guys like Future, Ty Dolla $ign, et. al– successfully blurs the line between rapper and R&B singer. He also allows himself more room to roam on PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO, a change of pace from his first set of songs, most of which were cleverly too short to overstay their welcome. So we get things like the glistening, sax-laden “Her Way,” and the yearning, Missy Elliot-sampling ballad “Thirsty.”
Not all of it works: “Sex on the Beach” tries to recreate the cool sampling trick of last year’s “Break from Toronto,” but with a far more ubiquitous Disclosure track, and the omission of “West District” is something of a minor tragedy. But PARTYNEXTDOOR has his own compelling sound and an almost singular swagger to his music. He’s primed for a breakout moment. He’s already become the latest testament to OVO Sound’s impressive eye for talent.