Presented by Puma Rookie of the Year

Acclaim Allstars Card Jordan Dennis

Jordan Dennis

Acclaim Allstars 2020

“I could give a tip or two to the tip of the ghostwriters,” Jordan Dennis proclaims on his track ‘Hokus Pokus’. A bold statement without a doubt, but one that’s hard to argue after hearing the lyrical prowess of the Melbourne rapper’s discography thus far.

Jordan Dennis first started his run of raps in Billy Davis’ band The Good Lords, standing out on tracks like ‘Headspace’ and ‘Golden’. But his solo career skyrocketed in 2019 with his debut EP HDMI, which possessed undeniable swagger and unbelievable swagger throughout tracks like ‘Glide Freestyle’ and ‘Bruce Lee’. Ghostwriters, do you have your pens out ready to write notes? This guy’s got a lot to teach.

2020 has been somewhat of a wizard-like year for Jordan Dennis, with tracks like ‘Doc Marty’ with ThatKidMaz and Denzel M, ‘The Link’, and the fittingly titled ‘Hokus Pokus’ feeling like sonic enchantment spells; these are bops we can’t escape. But this isn’t Harry Potter after seven books and a movie franchise reminding us he’s mastered his craft; this is a developing songwriter finessing everything about his artistry. Thus leading us to HDMI2, a follow up to his debut EP and a demonstration of variety and diversified skills. In celebration of the project and becoming a finalist for our Acclaim All-Stars Rookie Of The Year award, we got Jordan on a Zoom call to talk about creating his new project, growth, and state of Australian rap.

The new EP is out, but first and foremost, I want to take it back to the start. When did you know music was the dream?
Probably in 2016. I was always into design and drawing; that was the direction I was pushing myself in. But I had a few friends who I showed the little amount of music that I was making at the time, and they showed a lot of love and support. That sparked my interest and inspired me to go for it. I haven’t looked back since.

Do you remember what the first Jordan Denis verse was like?
Probably trash [Laughs]. I remember a couple of verses I had in high school, but I never finished a song. I’m pretty confident that they were not that great.

Do you remember any artists or songs that helped you strive for the goal of a music career?
I looked up to early Chris Brown. There weren’t many hip-hop artists because I grew up in a Christian household, but everything Chris Brown did had a significant effect.

Can you walk us through what it’s like dropping an EP in a pandemic?
This EP was honestly never meant to be an EP. There was no plan even before, like, June [Laughs}. I was fortunate enough that I’ve been churning out tracks over the past few years, so I had a decent amount of stuff sitting there: some worth discarding and some worth keeping. We had a few that we thought held up, and we wanted to get the most out of this year, especially with everything that’s going on. So I picked the songs that I like and how they flow into each other to make sure that it still felt coherent. We were going to release this EP in January or February next year, but then I was told to have it ready by October 30th [Laughs]. It was a bit of a hustle towards the end, but it was worth it.

You’ve described this project as “Watching interdimensional cable where the access to shows spans across any universe, planet, or dimension.” What’s your favourite channel in this multiverse?
I think all of these songs have a special significance. I wrote these as individual tracks that were going to be released on their own, so I love them all in their own right. If I had to choose, there’s one on the project called ‘New Kit’ that bangs, and it’s a little bit different. Tentendo killed the production, and I’m keen to see how people receive it.

When creating a multiverse, I assume there’s renovations, changes, constant maintenance. What do you think has changed from HDMI to HDMI2?
I think a lot has gone down. This year has not gone down the way that was expected. There have been challenges within that, and in this isolation period, regarding what I wanted to do in establishing myself outside of music and building a foundation for myself. I think I’ve put a focus on evolving to evolve my outlook and my perspective. That has been a significant shift. Regarding this Jordan Dennis multiverse, I originally made HDMI intending to do sequels. So even when music or things aren’t coherent to start with, they could all still fall under the HDMIbanner, where there can be single projects, but each song is its own thing in its own right like it’s a different channel or a different show.

In the song ‘Everybody Loves Ray’, you question if the nonsense in your conscience is stopping you from making progress. What is some of the nonsense that you find distracting?
There’s a lot of things, man. It comes down to building my own confidence and self-esteem. With the music, it sometimes feels like it can be based on the affirmation of other people and whether or not they enjoy it. I think my brain takes me to places I don’t want to be sometimes, and a lot of those places usually aren’t in the present. A lot of what I was trying to do in these times revolves around focusing on the present and not worrying about what happens in the future or the things I’ve done in the past. I wanted to make sure I was strong, so I could tackle those outside things.

You always emphasise creativity in your music, and that also applies to your videos, whether you’re working with Kensaku Kakimoto on ‘The Link’, or becoming a magician in ‘Hokus Pokus’. In an era where on-the-go streaming is prominent, why do you think music videos still stand strong?
Music videos make things tangible. You have a track, and people form their own visions on what it looks like. But by giving them something coherent visually that really compliments what’s going on in music, you make it feel more like a body of work, and you make it easier to understand what’s going on. The reason I’m a magician in ‘Hokus Pokus’ isn’t because I’m doing all the magic, but because it’s magical that I get to do what I love surrounded by people that I love.

Much like music videos, lyricism in hip-hop stands the test of time, even when it seemed like for a while, like it wouldn’t. It feels like it went from a narrative of it not mattering to collectives like Griselda and emcees like you upholding this foundation of rap. Why do you think lyricism is still so important today?
I love when I listen to J Cole, Kendrick, Andre 3000, Frank Ocean, MF Doom, or any artist that can be considered great, there’s not much that can be considered straightforward, and the story is veiled by the words that they choose. I love that. I love being a bit sideways with it. You can say something that may not make sense off the rip, but if you listen back and analyse it, it gives you a visual that pieces everything together. I think that’s the culture at its finest and why it survives. I was at a point where I thought hip-hop was going in a different direction, but that core is always going to be there. Technology has made things more accessible, where artists don’t have to rely on companies or labels anymore, but it’s also made it harder to stand out. And I think because of the state of the culture today, and where it’s going, it’s made it easier for lyricists to really stand out.

On the topic of lyricism, I want to shout out your track ‘Doc Marty’ with Denzel M and ThatKidMaz, where it feels like you’re all competing on the track to have the best verse. Can you talk us through the creation of that one?
‘Doc Marty’ was done in my lounge room. Denzel M came over to my house, and we just wanted to mess around and make something. We went on Youtube, found a beat, and just started writing for the sake of practice. Then after a rough recording, we called up Maz to get on the track; he came over, we listened to it in my car, and he went and did his thing. It all came together organically. Even the video, that was one take. When we put it all together, it was clear that it didn’t need to be anything else: just raw verses, no hooks, just hip-hop.

I feel like that song symbolises where Australian rap is right now, where there’s competition, but it’s all friendly. I feel like we’re almost living in the golden age of Australian hip-hop at this moment. What do you think makes the scene so special at the moment?
We’ve had hip-hop in our scene for a while now, but for me personally, it didn’t feel like something a large number of people in Australia could rock with. I only first heard Aussie hip-hop when I was 16 or 17, so I feel like most of my influences were coming internationally. But right now, it feels like it’s transforming, and it’s getting stronger. The music that’s coming out now is setting a foundation where it feels diverse and open. It appeals to a larger demographic where they can get behind it and support it. That’s what we need right now, people coming out to shows, people supporting, people getting behind a scene so that we can create something that’s individual to us.

Just lastly, my man, what’s next for Jordan Dennis?
I might be dropping a 15 track mixtape in December; we’ll see how that goes. I’ve also got a collaborative project called FLYBOY JACK with my man JUJO coming. We have an album sitting there that I’m very excited to put out, so you can look forward to that hopefully within the next year.

Follow Jordan Dennis here for more.

Words: Henry Owens
Photography: Vince Liberati