An educator with hip hop flowing through his soul, Jordan D. Mitchell was gracious enough to sit down and talk about a myriad of topics with ZO. From mental health in Black and Brown communities to the capitalism of music, it’s all below and then some in this eye-opening interview with an artist that is well-versed in all he does.
Kendra: At the end of April you dropped ‘I’ll Apologize Later,’ and exactly three months later came the ‘Director’s Cut.’ It’s noted that you had more to say. Were the additional tracks a result of the protests and/or pandemic?
Jordan D. Mitchell: The ‘Director’s Cut’ was meant to complete the original album, because, to me, the original album felt incomplete. There was material that was needed to tie in the songs. The first half of the original album was still in order but after the fifth track, the album needed much more material as the concepts got a whole lot darker. Now the most politically charged song “Insignificant//Dark Matter” was written the last week of April and just didn’t make the deadline. It was extremely personal and ‘Directors Cut’ gave me time to polish it because people have been out here protesting before Twitter made it a trend, ya feel me. The pandemic allowed me to be extremely self-reflective of self-destructive tendencies and trauma, songs like “Toxic Bitches” and “Dissociation” allowed me to dive into that. So the additional tracks were more a result of the pandemic as well as the development of the original material.
Kendra; All in all, the album features a lot of heavy topics, including mental health. While mental health in Black and Brown communities is starting to seem like less of a stigma, it’s still fairly new. What more do you feel needs to be done for not only people in those communities to step up and start taking mental health seriously, but for those in the health industry to start recognizing the importance of Black and Brown people’s mental wellness?
Jordan D. Mitchell: The biggest thing is recognizing generational trauma, and how it’s enforced in gender, race, and sexuality. Like, for me it took a lot of women to push me towards therapy, and that’s when I found out I had PTSD. It was from various forms of violence that I grew up with, and I was taught it made you strong so I never expressed emotion. A lot of men are taught to endure and “man up” and a lot of women are taught “endure and shut up, you only cry because you are weak.”
It is such a problem because it’s healthy to feel sad and to openly express it. The health industry needs to account for how mental health problems have multiple factors too, a lot of it is a result of the way we grow up, a lot it has to do with intersectionality, race, class, sexuality, gender, etc. The sooner the industry realizes that the better our communities can potentially be, I think the work can be done because mental health specialists are starting to resemble us more, but it’s slowly happening.
Kendra: With that, you’ve said when you create that it’s for Black and Brown people. That makes me think of the way hip hop took off with many white, suburban teens in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While music is for everyone, do you feel that over the years some hip hop artists have put being popular in the mainstream ahead of speaking of the issues to cater to a broader audience?
Jordan D. Mitchell: I don’t blame artists for falling into the mainstream, I blame the mainstream for capitalizing off white interests. A lot of these artists come from similar backgrounds, so
poverty to them is extremely traumatic, so as a response they steer away from that trauma. Hip hop like jazz did became popularized because white people wanted to be hip, and both styles went from the music of the poor to the music of the rich. This is obvious in what is talked about in hip hop nowadays, it’s get rich, get rich, get rich because the mainstream loves it, they don’t want to hear about the community because it doesn’t make money. Capitalism is gonna make whatever is popular and hip work, and drain the art form. That’s what we’re seeing in the mainstream, but the independent artists have so much more leverage and control that the mainstream is falling off slowly but surely.
Kendra: ‘Director’s Cut’ ends with a song called “Hope.” Was that intentional to symbolize that we shouldn’t give up despite the world – especially in America – being less than perfect right now?
Jordan D. Mitchell: This album is extremely depressing and emotionally draining that I’ve only listened to my album all the way through about three times. “Hope” was a way to offset that depressive tone, it was a way to tell myself and the audience that things will be better. It just takes time, that light at the end of the tunnel is far but at the same time it’s close, it just takes effort. Most of this album is me contemplating suicide, getting an illness before I graduate, and wanting to give up, but at the same time there so much life to live. I cannot give up especially when those around me didn’t get to live life and died early.
Kendra: On top of being an artist, you’re all about that education! Not too many artists want to pursue education once they get started. What made you want to pursue a MA at USC after getting your BA at UC Santa Barbara?
Jordan D. Mitchell: At the end of the day, I’m an educator and composer. Rap just happens to be one of the things I can compose and teach. It’s such a historically rich culture/style, just like Jazz, Mariachi, etc. I am focused on multicultural music education, I want to teach students in support and validation in the cultures of Black and Brown students in the hood. Like, utilizing our own culture for music education instead of Western Europe. The M.M (Master of Music) in Contemporary Teaching Practices K-12 was so that I was better equipped to teach students of all ages wherever I was needed. I wanted to learn more and USC was the place for me to develop my musicianship.
Kendra: With all that’s going on, how do you feel 2020 has shaped your creativity and drive moving forward?
Jordan D. Mitchell: 2020 put me in a position of learning, trying new things, and focusing on my skills, and getting outside of my head as a musician. I wrote so much music in quarantine as well as developed my classical guitar skills (via “Toxic Bitches”) and it just elevated my skills, ya feel me. Not every day do we write music like a damn film, and that’s how I treated this whole project.
Kendra: Usually, this is where I ask people what they have planned in the coming months but with the world in a strange place right now, plans aren’t as concrete as they typically are. You can go ahead and let us know what you have tentatively planned but can you also share a song that never fails to get you through when the world around you feels like a mess?
Jordan D. Mitchell: I learned that you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable because life is so damn random, I am definitely looking to focus on much more instrumental music. Currently doing a guitar trio album of popular Mariachi songs by Afro-Latinos, while starting a group with the producers of ‘I’ll Apologize Later: Director’s Cut.’ The song that always motivates me is “Leaving the Past” by Immortal Technique.