Baltimore's Jordan McElveen Decided he Was Finished with School and Now Breaks it Down as Def Jam Artist Comp
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The stocky young man rolling through downtown's Gallery mall dressed in sweats and a baltimore T-shirt with the i dotted with a bullet hole and the r a pistol isn't your typical knucklehead. He's a smart guy who graduated from West Baltimore's Fredrick Douglass High School at 17, and today he looks and acts well beyond his 18 years. He's with his moms, his pops, and his grandmother, but he's not out for some family shopping. Jordan McElveen is a part of hip-hop's next generation; like Young Gunz, Chingy, and Juelz Santana, he's younger than the culture itself. As Comp--an acronym for "Clever on Many Perspectives"--McElveen became one of the youngest MCs on Def Jam Recordings when he signed last year. And he's the next great hope to take local hip-hop outside the 410.
Perhaps you caught his track "Rollin'" in the Johnson Family Vacation. Surely you've heard him on the current Ghostface with Jadakiss hit "Run," coming on strong after Jada with his gritty, "They got me runnin' and I weigh about 300/ Drawers stuck in my ass, gun under my stomach/ And I don't even know why they chasin' me for/ Cuz I'm dirty like the corner in the bathroom floor?"
Comp's Def Jam debut, Boy From Baltimore, is slated for a summer release, and it drops about a year after he first appeared in hip-hop's mix, as a guest on Musiq's "Forthenight (Remix)," with Cam'ron on "So Much Fire," and on a track ("Do Sumptin") on the Cradle 2 the Grave soundtrack. He had an underground mix tape circulating with DJ Kay Slay. He even has some single snippets on the video game Def Jam Vendetta, in which he's also a character. And he's making these inroads without having to dish out the materialistic, sex-driven bullshit that usually sells hip-hop today.
It's a good start for a young MC, but McElveen is just a boy from Baltimore, and Charm City's hip-hop track record isn't great. "I had to find a cheap place to park," he says, joking that he's not rolling in dough just yet. He says Def Jam gives "you a chance to earn big money, but I'm grinding just like you. I just got back from Puerto Rico, but I'm still here."
While in Puerto Rico, Comp rubbed elbows at the four-day Mix Show Power Summit, watching hip-hop's elite living the life he hopes to achieve. "We went out there to bond more with the music industry people, you know what I mean?" says his father, who prefers to go by the nickname Pockets. (McElveen himself calls his dad Pockets.) "We met with Pharrell, Jigga. He got to be real tight with Juelz Santana and 'em."
Comp's rap career wasn't always a family affair. His first group was M.I.A., a late-'90s group with his middle-school friends Goldie, Prock, and Blue. "At that time we weren't all serious," Comp says--it was just something to do. His parents weren't paying attention, until M.I.A. entered a 2000 talent show at Anne Arundel Community College.
"We never heard him rap, and before the contest the members in the group said that he was really good and that the judges would like him the most," Pockets remembers. "Sure enough, that's what happened."
"What happened is we was in a talent show that got us a chance to meet D-Rock from Ruff Ryders," Comp clarifies. "We won, but [the judges] liked me a little more than everybody else."
Comp planned to attend the Sheffield Institute, a technical school specializing in studio and broadcasting equipment training, in Phoenix, Md., after graduating high school, but decided to pursue rhyming instead. Ever since, Pockets has stayed involved with the business aspects of his son's career.
"I met a lot of different people in the business for connections," Pockets says. "Me and my wife basically stalked Tracy [Smith, an A&R representative at Def Jam] because we heard she put together parties for Kevin Liles," the former Def Jam president and Baltimore native.
Pockets even started booking shows for his son in some unlikely places. "I've played everywhere from my grandmother's retirement home to my driving school to the Five Seasons," Comp says. "During this whole process my father taught me something--never miss a chance to promote yourself."
Not exactly club battles or curbside cypher circles, but practice is practice, and Comp's paid off. Getting signed "was years in the process," he says. "My father got me to my manager, Tracy, and I got with Tony Austin of Chocolate City Music," the Baltimore-based production company who cut Comp's demo. "While working with Chocolate City, I got the deal with Def Jam," he says.
Comp and his family are extremely tight-knit; Pockets, his moms, and his grandma came along for this interview, in addition to two business associates who talked about marketing plans. Though very friendly and eager to let Comp do the interview in private, they're all extremely interested in the details of his moves. Blood is thicker than water, and his relatives handling his business matters might be more beneficial than having some shyster mismanaging his career.
Onstage, however, Comp carries his own weight. At a March gig at the Mojo Lounge, Comp--accompanied by his relatives and homies from his Bang-a-Rang Gang--modestly walked among the crowd as if he wasn't the night's headliner. Perhaps he was simply getting a feel for the crowd, because he definitely tore the roof off that motherfucker. The laid-back, congenial guy in interview transforms into a beast onstage. With one hype man from the Bang-a-Rang Gang and Pockets hanging at the back of the stage, Comp took charge of the room with an energetic charisma. He delivered his gritty lines while sprinting around, breaking down into dance moves, and pulling off his blue and white Unitas jersey to reveal his baltimore T before jumping off the stage to join a hip-hop mosh pit, closing with his current single, "Harder."
This single, currently in rotation on WERQ-FM (92Q Jams), is Comp's hot personal testament of what it takes to persevere in the music game and life in general. Instead of rhyming about diamonds, clothes, or hos, he dashes through a new artist's frustrations ("I just got in the game and I'm a starter/ I'm a rookie playing with pros, so I'mma play harder"); former friends turned rivals ("You see the ones that you used to chill with and now they kill shit"); and even a scandal involving a certain R&B singer ("Separate yourself from controversy/ You can learn from Sean Carter, R. Kelly made it harder").
This catchy single has stirred up a good deal of local buzz, but so did fellow Baltimorean B. Rich's "Whoa, Now" two years back. "Harder" doesn't ride a hook that kids and hoppers sing along to, but it does have a substance that "Whoa, Now" lacked--and it doesn't annoy the hell out of you after more than two minutes.
But he was encouraged to see B-Rich go national, if only for a minute. " He did it big in like a . . . ," Comp says, snapping his fingers. "I turned on the radio and the TV and he was echoing on every station. I can come off that."
Of course, where is B. Rich now? Baltimore summer jams and chart-toppers have come and gone, but few Charm City names have stayed in the game at the same level over a couple of years. Why does McElveen think he can work it as Comp?
Quite simply, he says that local artists should push themselves independently instead of waiting to be discovered. He believes local artists are too willing to wait for something to happen instead of setting a goal and working to achieve it.
"We don't look at the bigger picture, at the smaller stage," Comp says. "We don't have the vision. [Getting a record deal] gotta happen first, then we jump, instead of say[ing], ‘Let us make it happen.'"