King J is right on time for our five o’clock meeting at a Comm. Ave Starbucks. Clad in a denim jacket, a white BU student government tee, and brown shorts, the local rapper – real name Jordan Carter – is relaxed and upbeat.
As a classically trained percussionist, Carter has been working with rhythms from a young age, with an eye towards a career in music. “You know those kids in youth orchestra that are gonna do this shit?” he jokes, “That was me.” After singing in a youth choir and taking piano lessons, he took up percussion (“After I saw Nick Cannon in “Drumline” I knew I had to do drums”), going on to win first chair percussion in all-state orchestra, becoming the principal percussionist in his 11th and 12th grade orchestra, and attending BU’s prestigious Tanglewood Institute in high school.
This isn’t the first time we’ve met – we were in the same conducting class at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts (CFA). Born and raised in Atlanta, Carter is now a rising senior at BU, studying percussion performance at the CFA. While his demeanor is sunny – the thick Southern accent definitely helps – he’s also focused and confident. We’ve barely sat down at a table when he dives right into his artistic motivations. “People are only gonna respond to what they see in you, not what you see in you,” he informs me, speaking deliberately.
The songs he’s released thus far reflect his hardworking mentality. “Thinkin’ Bout Tonight,” his debut track, combines crisp production with tight melodic hooks, and his last release, “Robert Downey,” features some seriously impressive bars over equally high-quality production. While Carter has been writing raps since 7th grade, he’s only been focusing professionally on rap since February 2016, which he calls a “turning point” in his career. After recording a verse over a friend’s instrumental, he rediscovered his love for writing, and with his friends’ encouragement, decided to seriously pursue a career in rap.
Though he’s only released the two aforementioned tracks, the 21-year old rapper already has a distinctive style. When asked to describe his music without using genre labels, he called his songs “a good day over a beat,” and this optimism certainly shines through in his music. Often, he’ll combine his flow with humorous one-liners, like on “Robert Downey,” on which he nonchalantly name-checks the movie “Happy Feet” over a swaggering K-Swisha produced beat – “Your girl tapping on my Instagram like ‘Happy Feet’.” I remind him of the line, and he cackles with delight, “See? This music is 100% me.”
In addition to his impressive resume, Jordan is quick to remind me that he’s from Atlanta, where “rap is like the Red Sox are to Boston.” So, it’s no surprise that rap heavyweights like 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, and Andre 3000 played an important role in Jordan’s musical upbringing. He reminisces for a moment about Lil’ Wayne, who is his favorite rapper. “I remember spending whole class periods in middle school trying to think of a metaphor like Wayne,” he recalls, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. “His wordplay is crazy.”
Carter’s expansive knowledge of both rap and classical music give him a unique perspective on what it means to be a musician. “Migos don’t know that they’re rapping triple meter in 4/4, they just doing it,” he laughs. “Classical music gives you a good ear for sound. I know what sounds good. If the beat isn’t 100%, you don’t have a 100% type of song.” In the same way that his classical instincts inform his rap career, hip-hop informs his percussion career. “Drumming is just like rapping. The drumsticks are just mouthing the words on the page!”
While he loves classical music (“I want to rap over Dvorak 9”), he also sees in the genre a model for what he wants to do with his own music. His eyes light up when he mentions Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which he calls “the best piece of classical music ever written.” “Young Person’s Guide – it’s more than just a song,” he expounds. “It’s like a community building piece. Take kids and learn, teach them the power of music to change a kid’s life. He got down with that one. I can’t stress how good that piece is.”
Ever since he started recording music in February, he’s been building a community of his own. From his friends messaging him about a video shoot during our conversation, to his friend Kyle, who is now his manager, to his many friends sharing and supporting his songs, Jordan is surrounded by a community, and it seems like that’s where he thrives.
King J is a solo artist, but he’s interested primarily in community building, the same type he sees in Britten’s piece. “Even if I don’t say it explicitly, I want people to be sharing my songs with each other, personally. At a BBQ, drinking a forty, whatever – togetherness is so important.” A little later, he reveals to me that in the long term, he’d like to open a community arts center.
But what’s King J’s next move? Currently, his goal is to win the AC3 festival’s music video contest, and to release more songs and gain more momentum before releasing a full time project. His work ethic is paying off – besides local support and blog posts, noted Philadelphia rapper Tunji Ige recently heard “Robert Downey” as part of Pigeons & Planes listening session. “Two years from now, I see it happening”, King J tells me, grinning confidently, “it’s gonna happen.”
Produced by LexQu
Directed by Jack Boring
Instagram – @jackboring