Published Dec 10, 2018Hidden in the outskirts of Toronto, you can find a plethora of the country's brightest and most influential hip-hop and R&B producers. For many of them, including Daniel Caesar's "We Found Love" and Mariah Carey's "GTFO" producer Jordon Manswell, their biggest hits come out of their home studios.
In comparisons to many, Manswell's Whitby, ON studio leans to simplicity — it's brightly lit and clutter free. Freudian vinyl sits on a record player ready to be played. Above him, a framed picture of life affirmations.
"It was a gift from my girl when I quit my job [to pursue] music, even though I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. It was a reminder that this is your passion and to continue with it, and if you really love it and you put all your work into it, it'll figure itself out — and it's figuring itself out," he explains.
While the likes of gospel singers Kirk Franklin, J. Moss and John P. Kee echoed through his childhood, the introduction of G-Unit started to shape his future. "G-Unit was the beginning. They had the coloured du-rags, they had a whole clothing line, come on, you had to have loved G-Unit," he enthuses.
In 2014, Manswell, who still occasionally releases instrumental beat tapes, entered "Battle of the Beatmakers," Canada's largest producer beat battle competition.
"Even though we have the internet and you can put yourself out there by dropping the beat tapes, or you don't even have to wait for anyone to release your music, but being in a room with so many likeminded individuals is so important. You build connections, you collaborate and you just become more conformable around the people doing the same things as you. I met Sevn Thomas, WondaGurl, FrancisGotHeat — all these people through the 'Battle of the Beatmakers.' We've all collaborated, we all know and love each other, and it helps us progress in our careers."
But long before Manswell won the 2014 "Battle of the Beatmakers," he was finessing his craft on Beatcraft Drum Machine Software at home. "My cousin introduced me to making beats. We would always listen to Jeezy's 'And Then What' and Jermaine Dupri's 'I Think They Like Me.' It was such a simple beat, and I could wrap my head around that. I got Beatcraft, and started remaking that beat."
Manswell, who credits "a coffee, a really good melody and good spirits" to get him into production mode, also credits the mall — yes, the mall.
"You know how people used to go to the record store and go digging? I used to go to H&M and Zara and all these places. They always had interesting music playing in the store, so I just went to the mall and started Shazaming. That's how I found most of my samples — it's like the new crate digging," he casually explains.
While some digging enthusiasts would scoff at the method, for Jordon, it aligns with the comfort of his studio. It's his method.
"I can't just make beats just cause, I gotta feel it first. However I'm feeling that day always comes out on the keys," he says. "I'm not a piano player, but I know the feel of the piano, so I'll literally just put my fingers on the keys and figure it out."
As a Toronto-based producer, that feeling is also instinctively dependent on the city's cultural fabric.
"There are just so many different elements that make Toronto a safe place to make whatever the hell you want," he says. "You can have Nineteen85 make a 'One Dance' and it's not weird. You can have Boi-1da do 'Mob Ties' because there's Scarborough. You can have a Daniel Caesar make a Freudian because there's Oshawa — even though that's not Toronto, we're all in the city."
In a nonchalant voice, Manswell slips in that he signed to a production house, Summer of 85, founded by none other than Grammy Award-winning and fellow Canadian producer Nineteen85.
"I still can't believe it. Nineteen85 is such a quiet guy — he's a silent killer, he doesn't tell me anything. We were in L.A. at the same time. We were making stuff for Mariah and he said, 'Yeah, we're going in tomorrow [to the studio]' — I asked if he needed anything, and he was like 'Yeah, whatever.' [Then] I asked him how the session went, and he said nothing! A couple weeks before the single dropped, he said 'We got one.' I was like, 'What are you talking about?' and then he said, 'Oh Mariah, she's dropping a song that we did.' So casually!" he laughs.
Though "GTFO" was produced abroad, Manswell's need to collaborate with local artists and producers brings the conversation back home to his Whitby studio.
"We're the only ones that understand each other because we're from the same place. When Drake and the Weeknd came out, there was this whole thing like the 'Toronto sound' or the 'OVO sound' and to us, that's normal," he says. "I think it's really important that we stick together and fully see through the sound that we have here and the feeling in our music. [When] we're together, we can properly fuel more of this sound, and take it even further."