One month before the release of Majid Jordan’s third album, the duo’s vocalist, Majid Al Maskati, was in Dubai — chasing Swae Lee. “For a year, we were trying to get a hold of Swae, and we couldn’t,” says Al Maskati. He and his Majid Jordan partner Jordan Ullman, were racing against time to secure a contribution from the Rae Sremmurd rapper (who was there to play a show) on their fast-approaching album, Wildest Dreams.
At the time, Al Maskati was visiting family in Bahrain, after two years apart due to the pandemic. “I kissed my mother on the cheek and I said, ‘I know I’m only here for a week, but I have to go find Swae Lee,’” he recalls. Al Maskati hopped on a plane to the United Arab Emirates hotspot, determined to get Swae on “Dancing on a Dream,” the project’s intro track. After three nights of hauling a duffel bag full of recording gear to Swae’s hotel room, Al Maskati secured the verse. “It was the last piece of the puzzle,” he explains.
Now, a few weeks following the release of Wildest Dreams, Al Maskati and Ullman are 8,000 miles away from Dubai, as thousands of fans are belting out the lyrics of the Swae Lee-assisted track under an inky night sky. It’s night two of Day N Vegas, marking the alt-R&B duo’s first festival performance following the pandemic. As Ullman bounces back and forth between his boards, his finger on the pulse of the crowd in the background, Al Maskati caresses the mic stand like a modern-day David Ruffin, playing to the audience’s desire.
The album — which was released on the 10-year anniversary of Ullman and Al Maskati’s first meeting — marks an evolution for the OVO Sound/Warner Records signees, both sonically and personally. While their earlier projects leaned into the same R&B niche that brought them to the attention of OVO co-founder (and longtime Drake creative partner) Noah “40” Shebib, Wildest Dreams became an opportunity for the two to challenge themselves through a deeper pop sound. The pair doubled down, meticulously curating the 11-song track list. “We can get in the room together and make an EP in a week,” says Ullman, who has also produced for Drake, Beyoncé and DJ Khaled, among others. “We spent two years working on this, so we really wanted to put together a collection of songs that pushed us as artists, as people.”
And it paid off. Halfway through a sold-out U.S. tour, and gearing up for their Late Late Show with James Corden debut, the pair is living what used to be their own wildest dreams.
“You know what’s crazy?” Al Maskati asks Ullman, the musicians both leaning across their own respective couches in an extravagant Palazzo hotel suite. “Standing on that stage, and [envisioning] the stage we played at Coachella.” In 2017, Ullman and Al Maskati performed their first two projects at the California festival on a side stage that at the time felt “huge.” Atop the expansive Day N Vegas platform, however, both say the previous stage felt tiny in comparison.
At the time of their Coachella debut, Al Maskati and Ullman remained largely out of the spotlight, shielding their personal lives — and faces — from the public. After scoring a top 5 hit on the Hot 100 chart alongside Drake for the rapper’s 2013 single “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” the duo was inconspicuously buzzing in the underground scene, but little was known about their identities outside of the recording studio. Now, things are different.
“We want to reach people on a global scale, go places we’ve never been before, make connections in places that we’ve never seen,” says Al Maskati. “So when you’re on a stage, people need to know who they’re facing, you can’t step back in the shadow and expect them to come into the shadow, you have to step into the light.”
A few hours earlier, Majid Jordan strutted through the lobby of the Palazzo Hotel, standing out among the crowd under flickering casino lights en route to their 10:00 p.m. set. Surrounded by a marble facade and classic casino surroundings, the duo and their haute entourage could’ve doubled as the crew from Ocean’s Eleven. Al Maskati embodied the smooth, effortlessly cool appeal of his milky vocals, draped in a perfectly tailored black pinstripe suit, his wavy hair slicked back and practical black Converses on his feet. He wore a pair of rose-colored glasses, an unintentional nod to the poetic songwriter’s ever-positive personality. Ullman’s laid-back monochrome getup complemented Al Maskati’s, but captured his own understated yet playful character.
They were joined by their tour manager, creative director, stylist and two long-legged, equally fashionable lady friends. As we exited the Palazzo, HD4President’s viral TikTok tune, “Touch Down 2 Cause Hell” blared from their parked-and-waiting party bus. Al Maskati grooved onto his chariot, greeting the driver like an old friend, and Ullman followed suit, complementing his frontman’s energy.
During the 20-minute car ride through the bustling Vegas strip, the crew jammed out to a playlist including Jim Jones’ “We Fly High,” little-known Bay-area rapper Stunnaman02, and a sprinkle of 2008 Lil Wayne, with Al Maskati entertaining his friends with subway-esque acrobatics in the middle of the bus. It felt like an odd mix of songs for a Canadian R&B-pop duo to request prior to a show, and later turned out to be the driver’s music. “We try not to interfere with the universe,” Al Maskati said between dance moves.
It’s an understandable sentiment, considering the serendipitous meeting between an 18-year-old Al Maskati, in Toronto from Bahrain, and Canada native Ullman, that changed both of their lives forever. Even the stories behind their latest album’s features — including OVO label boss Drake, on the aptly titled “Stars Align” — seem to have a helping hand from a higher power. “There were these moments during the whole thing that just happened at the craziest times,” says Ullman. “And I think we were ready for that.”
At 10:07 p.m., engaged in the same stride he used to glide onto the party bus, Al Maskati grooved his way onto the Day N Vegas stage amid swelling synths, as Ullman worked the boards in front of thousands. The performance was dynamic, a sea of colors dancing across the giant screens behind the pair, as both producer and singer indulged the audience with their imaginative pop-R&B cuts. With every beat drop from Ullman and vocal inflection from Al Maskati, the crowd burst into cheers. After another handful of songs, including a stripped-back version of 2017’s “OG Heartthrob” dedicated to a friend in the audience, the duo bid their fans farewell.
While both halves of Majid Jordan appear to be living a constant party, the little-known realities underlying their successes are no laughing matter. “Maj can’t even go home right now, he needs to wait for a visa,” Ullman says. Al Maskati is hoping to acquire Canadian citizenship, approaching 10 years in the country.
“To have that weight on Maj’s shoulders — to separate from home and be away from his family for a decade — is insane to me,” he explains. “We’re sitting in a house in Toronto and having these conversations like, ‘What are we really doing?’”
“We needed a long-term plan — I needed to find a way to get closer to [my family], being there as a son for my parents, as a brother for [my two sisters],” says Al Maskati. “I’m a first-generation in Toronto and it’s like, ‘What do you do?’ You’ve got to forge the path and create the way. But we just happen to be doing it super publicly.”
Before being discovered by OVO in 2013 and adopting the name Majid Jordan, Al Maskati and Ullman released music as Good People — a nod to Ullman’s parents, who gave Al Maskati a temporary home after he wrapped up his studies. They try to embody the former moniker every day, through their artistic and personal lives. “We have the opportunity to represent ourselves with our voices, with these platforms,” says Al Maskati. “But a lot of people have voices that are unheard and underrepresented.”
As the two have figured out their long-term plan, new dreams have come to the forefront: Al Maskati, who recently started a community soccer league in L.A. with local fans, envisions bringing larger-than-life shows and musical resources to his native Bahrain. Ullman paints a picture of an entirely women-run recording studio in the heart of Toronto — inspired by his little sister, who is a burgeoning musician.
“When you get to this point, a lot of artists say, ‘We didn’t ask for this responsibility’ — but with a platform, you do have a certain responsibility to be of service,” says Al Maskati. “That’s why the album is called Wildest Dreams. [These are] dreams of ours.”
How does it feel coming off of your first U.S. festival performance following the pandemic?
JORDAN: It feels great, the last two years of working on a project and finally starting to feel like real life again. When we’re going to go play a show, we [don’t] treat it differently than how we live our lives. To be in such an insane city like Vegas and have a great time and have this conversation, I feel like we’re all in the right place. This time we [arrived] in a party bus popping a bottle of champagne, but there’s commonality within all the people we are with. If we can share a meal before we go on stage and link up with people in that city, it really makes the whole thing come together in a way that makes us feel good, because we’re sharing it with our close friends. Then you see thousands of people that are enjoying it as well.
MAJID: The fans work their asses off, and make big plans to go out of their way to be at a show. So we never, ever take that for granted. I think it’s [about] meeting them on a human level when we perform live. Acknowledging the fact that we’re doing this together, we’re having an amazing time and they’re having an amazing time — maybe for different reasons — because they get to see us and we get to be with them. But the feelings [are] just as strong. We approach it with that intention, every time.
Human connection seems to be a consistent theme in your music and identity. Why is that so significant to you both?
MAJID: Culturally, that’s something very important where I’m from. In Bahrain, human connection is very important. You have your role to be there for your loved ones and your family. We were around each other a lot. That’s probably where my desire to really build strong roots and connect with people comes from. For Jordan [and I], our connection has gotten us through so many moments. Moments where things were crystal clear and moments where things were very uncertain and unknown and risky. That connection is what guided us through and got us to where we are today, and we want that to continue. I think that’s what we wish for everybody: To meet people that become their home. Because when you leave home, there’s always that feeling you left something behind.
JORDAN: [Our music] comes from two people that get in a room and vibrate off each other, and we share it with more people. If it can make us feel something, we know we’ve accomplished something special that other people are going to feel, [too]. We’re all really looking for the same thing deep down, so we’ve never wanted anything else but to give people a feeling of comfort or love that isn’t familiar in their surroundings. We want our music to give that to them, and that then goes into the show.
Wildest Dreams marks a sonic shift for you both. How would you say your sound has changed from the last project to this one?
JORDAN: I think it has evolved. We’ve gotten better at what we’ve spent a lot of time doing, which is making music, songwriting and performing. [The pop sound] was definitely an intentional thing because I don’t think we had really accomplished that. It’s something that we wanted to challenge ourselves with. Like, how relatable can we make a song that also speaks to us? There was a whole new focus in the room during a time of real isolation.
MAJID: Another thing about this album is focusing on those little lines that bring a visual into mind and encouraging people’s imaginations. In “Life Worth Living,” [we say] “waking up in a loveless bed/ still hanging on the thing you said.” You think of someone there, too. “I gave you my word in bad faith,” you know things you’re holding on to. “You deserve the love you get/ People know you from your silhouette/ Hollow living on time you borrow.” People have a perception of you and you have an idea of yourself. Sometimes it’s hollow. It’s not the whole thing. These are just ideas we just wanted to put on record that encourage imagination and a little bit more thought than straight love songs.
Let’s talk about the album features. Diddy is on “Sway,” how did that happen?
MAJID: [Diddy] put something on Instagram bigging up one of our songs. So we messaged him saying thanks for sharing that, thanks for listening. We’d love to talk to you. So he FaceTimed us and he’s like, “Yo, I’m going to change my name to ‘Love,’ I’m making music, I wanna work on stuff with you guys.” And we had this song already written and completely inspired by the music and vibes he [brought] back in the day. We played it for him, and he was like, “Oh, man, give me that,” and he sent back his ad libs. And I was like, “This is amazing. This is perfect.” All the people that we grew up with couldn’t believe we got Puff on a record. He FaceTimed us dancing with his whole family by the pool, and they’re all loving the song.
“Stars Align” is your fourth song with OVO Sound founder Drake, how’d that come together?
JORDAN: That was a call from 40. I remember that day very vividly. I was meditating upstairs and I got a call. [40 said] “You guys gotta hear something, we think it could be special.” And Maj was over my house in Toronto — 20 minutes later we went into the studio. They played it for us. It had the whole hook and a part of Drake’s first verse. We took that, recorded the second verse, and Maj left and I tuned the vocal. We just hit a stride by the end of the album, where things like him packing a duffel bag and going to Dubai was not out of the question.
Having someone to go through every step of this journey with must be special. How does it feel to have the connection you do with each other?
JORDAN: It’s honestly such a privilege to have that with anybody. I’m very grateful for it every day. To do something alone and take a risk alone takes a lot of guts and a lot of perseverance. So the fact that we have each other to go along with this journey with through 10 years, through albums, through tours, stories, memories, it’s incredible. We’re accomplishing what we’ve set out to accomplish within the music industry. But I think at the core of it, it’s really about meeting people and making other things happen outside of music.
MAJID: It’s nice to have someone like Jordan who doesn’t sway easily from his values and his visions. To have someone whose taste you trust and whose ability you can rely on, is an amazing resource as a creative. We got into it just making music on SoundCloud and next thing you know, it’s everywhere in the world. There’s something about having a raw and effortless ability, but there’s also a focus and discipline that Jordan brought very early on.
JORDAN: Likewise. I saw that in Maj, and those things are very rare. When you meet somebody and have those real conversations and you both are working hard pushing yourselves, that’s the language of love. It’s the most honest you can be with somebody. To really push somebody and know at the end of the day you’re there for them, that’s love. That’s real.
What are your wildest dreams?
MAJID: I remember being from Bahrain and being so just hungry for artists to come through to pass through and it’s not on the route, it’s an [overlooked] island. With all these festivals happening in the Middle East, artists starting grassroots movements, we want to do a promo tour there [and] work with promoters that are local to the region and hire people to put on the show. We’d bring over our people that are experts, teach them what they know and then hopefully they build their own kind of system.
Jordan wants to build a studio in Toronto where women run the whole thing. He told me only two percent of producers in the music industry are women.
JORDAN: It’s one of those dreams that is still an idea. My little sister produces, writes [and] sings. When I really saw how much she enjoyed it, I wanted to give my family and the people around me the opportunity that I was given, which was basically to have the time and ability to incubate something with somebody else and meet people through a network that was safe for me. I’ve worked in studios around the world and there’s never really been a safe space that I personally have seen for women. I’m from Toronto and I want to put a space there. Wherever the world takes me, I don’t really care. I just want to make something there to give to other people.