The world met Majid Al Maskati on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” on Sept. 20, 2013, but probably forgot about him an hour later.
He sang backup vocals for Drake, one of the biggest hip-hop stars on the planet, on their collaboration “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” The song was one of Drake’s biggest yet; it peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 before being named Pitchfork’s best song of 2013. On “Ellen,” Drake’s singing was noticeably flat; Al Maskati sang the second verse even though it was Drake’s on the recorded version. When Al Maskati’s wiry frame strode onto the stage at 9:30 Club on Oct. 9, he was no longer singing backup.
With friend and producer Jordan Ullman, Al Maskati sings as part of synth-soul duo Majid Jordan. Signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label in 2013, the two have since worked more with Drake — “Feel No Ways” on Drake’s album “Views”; “My Love” on Majid Jordan’s self-titled debut LP — and have gathered a cult following largely in part to Drake’s co-sign. Now on its second North American tour, Majid Jordan makes every city feel like its native Toronto.
The sold-out crowd at 9:30 Club sang along to every song — impressive for a band with no charting singles of its own. With three projects since 2012, Majid Jordan has built a consistent sound that lures many hip-hop fans into dreamy, electronic soundscapes that sounded even cozier live. Ullman’s synths and drums were as luxe as Al Maskati’s satin bomber jacket, and Al Maskati’s voice carried a confidence built on three years of success without losing its signature waver.
After coming out to an unreleased intro track, Majid Jordan launched into the show with “A Place Like This,” the title track of their 2014 EP. Ullman perched stage left with a few keyboards while Al Maskati floated back and forth in front of a simple lighting setup forming three parallel vertical lines, a type of logo the two have used to brand themselves.
Listeners who have followed the duo since their pre-OVO days — when they made music under the moniker Good People — could note the consistency in its sound and how its style has endured without going stale. The cohesiveness of their discography allowed for their set list to flow from one song to the next, dipping into cuts from “A Place Like This” and “Majid Jordan” to present their work as a single body.
Majid Jordan’s status is deeply ingrained in the city of Toronto; the duo met there in college before becoming part of Drake’s takeover of the city’s music scene. Even across a border and 350 miles away, the crowd at 9:30 Club felt just as close to the storyline of the group’s success. Al Maskati said D.C. sang fan favorite “Her” the loudest of any city on their previous tour; he challenged the crowd to top its previous effort, and it was apparent that it had.
The crowd buzzed to “Shake Shake Shake,” one of “Majid Jordan’s” most up-tempo tracks. The energy slowed to a contemplative sway for “Summers Over Interlude,” a track on Drake’s 2016 album “Views” that put Al Maskati’s whispery tenor front and center. Even though the concert was sold out and the floor was packed, the room shrank and hushed.
An unexpected bonus came when the duo performed “Patience” from “Afterhours,” their first project together. “Some of you have been following us since we were known as Good People,” Al Maskati said. “This is for all you good people here tonight.” It was a meaningful nod to their pre-OVO days; it was proof they hadn’t allowed their success to change their sound.
The concert was the perfect showcase for Al Maskati’s voice and Ullman’s deep synths. While each half of Majid Jordan is a formidable performer in his own right, the combination of the two transcended the sum of its parts. The hour-long set dove into much of the group’s catalog, but the crowd wanted more.
After a few minutes of cheering and begging, Ullman sauntered back to his keyboards and struck up the chords for “Learn From Each Other.” Al Maskati glided back on stage and performed the song with a personal air unmatched by the recorded version, pointing out members of the audience while he sang, “I only learn from you.” They strung out the encore like they didn’t want to leave, either. “D.C., because we love you so much, we want to give you another one.”
It was only fitting that Majid Jordan ended on the song that launched its success. “Sing along to this one if you know it,” Al Maskati said with a hint of sarcasm. Everyone in the building knew “Hold On, We’re Going Home” right down to the subtle backing vocals Al Maskati sang behind Drake when they performed on “Ellen.” Since that first performance in 2013, Majid Jordan has been one of the Toronto music scene’s best-kept secrets. On Sunday night, the secret was out.
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