The Slept-On Sincerity Of Majid Jordan’s Songwriting

Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. True love songs are hard to come by these days. Deriving its name from Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a series of lyric breakdowns in which VIBE Senior Music Editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.

Majid Jordan’s Wildest Dreams was one of the most overlooked albums of 2021. Anecdotally, I don’t recall seeing any mutuals tweet about the project; in terms of its commercial performance, it’s the duo’s only LP to not chart on Billboard; and as far as its critical reception is concerned, the album doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page for me to view that in aggregate.

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What I can share is that I ranked Wildest Dreams No. 9 on VIBE’s list of the 21 best R&B albums of 2021. Looking back at the blurb I contributed praising the project, I’m not sure I knew at the time I was forming the thesis for this column. “Romantic and refreshingly non-toxic, as cynicism and aloofness have become defining characteristics of male R&B these past few years,” I wrote, “Wildest Dreams reminds listeners what the genre can sound like when it’s made with a hint of earnestness.”

Referencing such earnestness, I highlighted my two favorite songs on the album, the back-to-back tracks “Been Through That” and “Life Worth Living.” On the former, singer Majid Al Maskati comforts a nervous lover, and on the latter, he finds fault on both sides of a severed relationship before healing in peace. After sitting with Wildest Dreams for a few more months, I’ve been charmed by another one of its overwhelmingly heartfelt songs: “Sweet,” an aptly titled outro written with a warmth that feels universal.

Often aided by ‘80s-influenced production from Jordan Ullman, there’s a disarming wholesomeness to Maskati’s songwriting. This is true of most Majid Jordan songs, dating back to their 2013 breakout Drake collaboration, “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and is especially pronounced on “Sweet.” Usually, Maskati’s lyrics are paired with beats from Ulman that are either sexy or danceable enough to distract from the songwriter’s sentimentality (if one prefers to be distracted from that sort of thing). But with “Sweet,” the sum of its parts produces a softness that’s relatable no matter what type of love you meet it with.

Mid-tempo and pleasantly jazzy, the song’s production creates space for a melody from Maskati that sounds awfully similar to that of a nursery rhyme. I don’t say that disparagingly. The simplicity of the writing on “Sweet” is what makes it an effective love song. At once, the record sounds like the first dance at a wedding, the last track on an anniversary playlist, and a radio single you’d Shazam in Forever 21 because it made you think of a flame you’d like to rekindle.

Whether the love you’re currently experiencing is new or cemented, easy or complicated, routine or impassioned, it’s difficult to hear this song, if you are indeed in love, and not imagine the person you’re meant to be with.

All that matters in the end
Are the moments that we spent
I’m an addict, I’m a mess
You’re my lover, you know me best

The first verse of “Sweet” opens with lyrics detailing a love that requires foresight. This could either be a rocky romance in which all that’s certain is both people want to be together, or a Romeo and Juliet type of love shared between partners who’ve had to hide their relationship from the outside world. Or it could apply to a far less traumatic experience, fit for folks to whom love flows easily. Such generality is part of the song’s charm.

The following lines, “I’m an addict, I’m a mess/ You’re my lover, you know me best,” would seem to satiate R&B listeners more partial to tales of unhealthy attachment. But in the context of a song that’s this sugarcoated, to me, this part of the verse rings more like sincere vulnerability than manipulative codependency.

You’re my winter, you’re my spring
In the morning you’re all I’m seeing
Pull me closer and let me in
Never thought a fool like me could be a king

The second verse of the song describes what I’d call a “Motown love,” as these lyrics read like they’ve come straight out of “Hitsville U.S.A.” And I don’t mean the Marvin Gaye sort of Motown, which would either be sexually charged or socially reflective. I mean the Norman Whitfield (co-writer of “You’re My Everything”), Smokey Robinson (co-writer of “My Girl”), Holland-Dozier-Holland (writers of “Baby I Need Your Loving”) sort of Motown. I’m talking about the poetic, hopelessly devoted, unflinchingly romantic style of songwriting our parents grew up with.

This verse is about grown folks’ love. For someone to be both your warm and cold weather, the light in your eye when you wake in the morning, the jewel in your crown even when you’ve played the fool, you must have done some living first. In my experience, that type of love only comes to you after your knees hurt and your hairline recedes.

Be about me and I’ll be about you (Be about me)
Sing a song from your heart for me (Sing about me)
Sing a song from your heart and I’ll love you (And when you leave)
Leave a space in your heart for me (A space you’ll see)
We’re not so different but we’re moving differently
I feel it anytime you leave, I never knew that love was so sweet

The pre-chorus and actual chorus of “Sweet” is when the record feels its most saccharine, as these lyrics in particular read like a collage of otherwise disjointed photo captions. Therefore, I have no choice but to describe their sentiments as “Instagram love.”

Again, I don’t say this disparagingly. I think Instagram love is beautiful. Loving out loud, in general, is beautiful. A love that drives you to defy inhibitions and dare to embarrass yourself is perhaps the most profound connection a social creature could experience. If more people captioned their photos, “I never knew that love was so sweet,” perhaps Wildest Dreams would have gotten more burn on the timeline.

That fact is Wildest Dreams was under-discussed because it was underheard. I can’t fault fans or even my fellow critics for this, because I almost missed it myself. Without pointing fingers at a certain owl-branded record label, all I can say is I was unaware of the album’s October 22 release until a week or so before it arrived. Around that time, a buddy of mine from my days at Complex invited me to a Majid Jordan show in Brooklyn, which prompted me to seek out new music and discover the duo had a project on the way.

That same friend, CBS Sports’ Macklin Stern, is the one who suggested I cover “Sweet” in my new column interpreting love songs. I never made it to that concert, but thanks to Mack, the power of Majid Jordan’s sincerity won’t ever be lost on me again.

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