by Michael Thomas
“Well, a million years ago I was left on a doorstep next to a boombox…” Wordburglar (Sean Jordan) is jokingly telling his “origin story,” but it may as well be his actual story. He’s liked rap as long as he could remember, and even the way he speaks is lyrical, as though he could start rhyming at any second. He recalls making his first “demo tape” in grade five with the aid of two tape decks and a friend.
“We played a beat on another tape deck and then we recorded our voices on this other tape deck and made the worst demo of all time,” he says, then laughs. “We rapped about pterodactyls.”
He may not be rapping about pterodactyls on his latest album, Rapplicable Skills, but his rhymes are equally earnest, with references to comic books, sports legends, Ontario politicians and a whole lot more.
“To me, it’s very much a tribute to my love of the golden era of 90s hip-hop,” he says. “I wanted it to be a classic rap album — some banging beat, some nice 4/4s, some crazy drums, samples, DJing, classic rap styles and throwing in some fun concepts. I want it to be a fun listen all the way through.”
As per always, this is an effort helped by Toronto’s indie hip-hop community; Beatmason produced the beats for a majority of the album, and rappers like More or Les and Ghettosocks (among many others) guest on some of the tracks. Though Jordan is now permanently a Toronto resident, he moved back and forth between Ontario’s capital and his childhood home of Halifax.
There’s a clear difference between the two scenes. Halifax has always been known for its tight-knit music scene, and hip-hop artists are a part of it too.
“The punk and rock scenes really embraced the hip-hop scene and there was a lot of community between them. [When] I was starting out doing gigs there, I’d be playing with punk bands and rock bands and doing everything,” he says. “Halifax is kind of on the edge of Canada, so we’re left alone to develop our own style. The Toronto scene is just so huge. It’s like anything else in this city, it’s amazing, but every neighbourhood, every pocket, every corner has its own little scene, artists.”
No song on Rapplicable Skills is more of an indication of Toronto’s music scene than “Warp Formula,” featuring Chokeules, Mega Ran, More or Les, Savilion, Sy-Fi, Timbuktu and Ultra Magnus.
“To me, this song was like the bounty hunter, intergalactic, crazy anthem. I contacted all the MCs I knew who I felt could get on board with a concept like this. I handpicked everyone on that track and they all delivered,” Jordan says of the impressive song. “I imagine us all in space on some crazy Guardians of the Galaxy-type expedition.”
Though the song is decidedly sci-fi in construction, the album also draws on personal stories. “Bill Mosienko (21 Seconds)” is not only about the hockey legend, but the reverence Jordan’s father had for him. “Channel Halifax” gives enough shout-outs to make a Haligonian break out into a big grin.
Songs like “The Other Shop” are a combination of Jordan’s imagination and places he visited as a child.
“The Other Shop is a combination of about four or five shops that I’ve been to, some in Halifax, some in Toronto,” he says. One line of the song “We went in because we liked arcade games, but they didn’t seem to like kids our age range” was based on a store in Halifax.
How Jordan arrives at these songs varies. Sometimes he’ll be inspired by something—he mentioned hearing Metric’s new album and feeling like he needed to write—and bank it for later. But with songs like “Word Currency,” which is full of “punchlines,” each line flows into one another.
“I go through a lot of editing, I do a lot of rewrites,” he says. “Every song is a weird jigsaw puzzle that I’m trying to make fit perfectly.”
Even his album titles can strike him at any time. He says he already has an idea of what his next album could be called though it’s some time away. As for how he arrived at Rapplicable Skills, it came to him while he was writing some lyrics:
“I was like “That embodies what this record is about.” ‘Cause that’s what it takes. That’s what I’ve got. What else am I going to do with those skills?”
He has a quick response to what some “rapplicable skills” are:
“It’s rhyming, it’s understanding beats, it’s rhythm, it’s timing, it’s being able to just rap in different environments, gigging, staying at it. Developing tenacity, I’m in my 30s now and I’ve been writing rhymes since I was 12 or 13. I’m always learning. I’m always trying to get better. Those are the skills I’m trying to hone.”