Not so long ago, Jordan Thorpe was clocking hours as a middle school substitute teacher in a down-and-out Hudson Valley New York town. Then one day, the school stopped calling — not because of his abilities as an educator, but because his students had discovered his alter ego: the rapper Pardison Fontaine, who at the time had a locally viral hit called “Oyyy!” (It might’ve had something to do with lyrics like “You mad ’cause your bitch treat my dick like a shake weight.”)
Three years, two Grammy nominations and one rowdy BET Awards performance later, the 29-year-old rapper says “the school wants me to come back” — but his schedule these days might make that tricky. Pardi (as he’s known to fans) has in short order racked up extensive writing credits with Cardi B, his longtime friend (one of those Grammy nods is for 2018 album of the year, for his writing on her Invasion of Privacy), and Kanye West. But it’s his own distinctively dynamic style as an MC — gruff vocals and lyrics blending street savvy with a deft sense of humor – that got him signed by Atlantic Records in March 2018. Now, he’s at work on his major-label debut and plans to release a mixtape in March.
He has come a long way from Sue’s Rendezvous, the self-proclaimed “hottest gentlemen’s club in the Tri-State Area,” where Pardi started out performing, and where Cardi, “a homie,” used to dance. Becoming an MC “was never, like, a flag I was waving,” says Pardi. “My focus has always been the artistry of it all.” Nevertheless, when Cardi heard him around the same time she started rapping, she invited Pardi to collaborate — a partnership that culminated in him writing on several Invasion of Privacy tracks.
But the ultimate affirmation came from Pardi’s childhood idol West, who invited him out to Jackson Hole, Wyo., in 2018 to write on Ye. After that, “it didn’t matter what accolades I had,” says Pardi. “When Kanye co-signed [me], it was like, ‘Damn, who’s going to tell me otherwise?’” He remembers playing his freestyle “Rap Charlamagne” for Atlantic A&R consultant Brooklyn Johnny, and “he smacked his forehead, like, ‘This is a no-brainer. We got to make this happen ASAP.’”
In September, Pardi released his first single as an Atlantic artist, the twerk anthem “Backin’ It Up,” featuring none other than his old friend Cardi. Now, he’s at his Jersey City, N.J., home studio working on his album, for which he has recorded features from Bryson Tiller and rising male Kentucky rapper Vory. “We definitely going to do 12 to 15 songs at least,” he says. “I was going to do the EP thing, but now I feel like, ‘Yo, I just want to get out as much music as I can.’ It’s that time.”
He’s in no rush — the sense of authenticity that has made him a coveted co-writer is what he most wants to preserve in his own songs. “My music is so tailored off of actual experiences,” he says, “that it takes me some living to come up with the content.” Much of that material comes from his upbringing in Newburgh, an upstate New York city that the FBI has named among the most dangerous in the United States. On his 2015 track “Hooporeerap,” Pardi addressed the sense of hopelessness that a young black man could feel growing up in such a place — as in his only hope of making it would be “if he hoop or he rap.” Pardi happened to be gifted at both, even earning a full scholarship to play Division II basketball at Delaware’s Goldey-Beacom College, but he quit after just a semester to pursue music. His thinking then wasn’t so different from his recent decision to make the solo leap. “On the basketball team, it’s a group effort,” he says. “[But] in music, I get to take all the shots.”