Hiphop artist Jordan Lara (known as “JL”) has spent the past seven years building a career by writing, recording, and performing in a variety of settings. The real estate broker by day, hiphop artist by night released his first solo project City of Hope on Aug. 7, 2012, further developing his goal of spreading the hope found in God as far as he can.
NewReleaseTuesday's Bill Lurwick talked to Jordan Lara about finding inspiration amidst family crisis, building beats on the foundation of old hymns, and other aspects of his personal journey creating City of Hope.
What's the story behind the title City of Hope?
I just kept recording track after track, and I didn’t really have a title for the album. They were all sort of in the same direction, this idea of even mistaken identity songs, new creation and heaven. All these songs had this underlying theme, but I didn’t have a title for it. Then in 2011 my dad was admitted to City of Hope Cancer Hospital in Duarte, California for treatment. At first it was like, “OK. Dad has prostate cancer,” and then after about a month it was like, “Oh shoot. My dad has prostate cancer and it could be serious.”
On one of the last days he was in the hospital, I called a friend of mine who is featured on the track. She’s a listener at my church in Carson, California. I told her “I want to write a track called City of Hope.” It was kind of a tribute to my dad.
She was like, “Yeah. Just let me know when.” We kind of joked about the idea of collaborating because I said, “I’ll write the song and you sing on it,” and she was like, “What? That’s not a collaboration.” So I agreed we’d write it together.
I end up driving out there. We we wrote the song on the piano in church, in the spirit of just everything that was going on at that time. It ended up being one of my favorite tracks on the record just because there’s so much weight and skin behind that song.
After we were done, it was almost obvious that I need to call the album City of Hope. City of Hope is the cancer hospital, but I think the name speaks to more than just that. I think it gives an image of a place where someone can come and hang their coat up and get that kind of healing in what they're going through, even challenge them.
I think the album really challenged me a lot personally. The City of Hope has these undertones and these common threads of challenges and just inviting us to a deeper relationship with God.
I really like the arrangement of the song “Dark Side of the Moon.” What was the process in arranging that?
My producer actually had a really cool idea for the beat. He got inspired by a song that had been on the radio a while back, and he started going to town and getting the beat going.
When he first played it, I was kind of obsessed with the beat. I wanted to listen to it all the time because it reminded me of people clapping in the background. I almost felt like he could have taken it in a jazz direction or that kind of a vibe with people snapping their fingers and stuff.
The problem was that it was hard to write to. It was a really challenging beat for a lyricist because the way it’s setup it’s just a little different. You’ve got to get a little more creative.
It was one of those tracks that just kind of came together. The girl singing on the track is a dear friend of mine from school. She’s a recording folk singer out in Michigan, and she was coming in the area.
I said, “I’ve got to get you on a record.” She said, “OK, fine.” Then I realized “I don’t have anything for her yet. I’d better think of something. She’s down here. I’ve got to get her to record.”
As she was flying out, I started working on the lyrics for the chorus because Drew had a hip-hop version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” mixed with something else.
How did you end up with the song “Amazing Grace?” That is such a classic tune and a different styling for you.
When I first came to the Lord I was actually in a boarding school at a First Baptist Church. So we listened and sang a ton of hymns. So I learned a bunch of classic hymns as my first Christian songs. It wasn’t Chris Tomlin. It wasn’t some of the epic singers that we know today. It was all hymns.
“Amazing Grace” was really written on the piano. I wanted it to be one of those classic slow intro songs with maybe some soft singing. But basically, what needed to come out was what actually came out.
I explained the idea and all, picturing candles in the background, seeing a soft worship type song in my mind. He ended up telling me, “Do you trust me? I have a crazy idea and I just want to run with it.” I said, “Alright. Sure. Just run with it.” He’s like, “If you don’t like it, I’ll totally throw it away and I’ll produce whatever you want.”
He came out with what the beat is right now. When I first heard the beat it was, “Oh,” because it isn’t the simple vision I first had for the song. I said, “OK. I like the beat. I’m not sure if I love it.” He said, “Just take it home. Don’t make a decision right now. Listen to it. Bring it back. If you don’t like it, we’re going to redo it.”
Over the next week I was listening to the tracks and it just came alive. Lyrically, I was thinking about my dad a lot. I was thinking about someone sort of getting by, just needing the grace of God.
I heard a saying that grace is getting what we don’t deserve and mercy is not getting that which we do deserve. I had that in the back of my mind. I’m thinking, “Grace is getting the stuff that we don’t deserve, and God came through.”
It was a really strong track for me. Even the feature on it by James David. We’d already been friends, so I asked him to join the track. He’s just an amazing, amazing singer, off the charts.
I’m really happy about the direction we took. Yes, it does standout in the album just because it’s got a different vibe, but I like that.
So “Peace Be Still” was one of the first songs written, but it's actually the last song on the project. How did it end up all the way at the end?
It was one of the first ones written, but I didn’t end up recording it until about four or five tracks down in the studio. It was one of those tracks where I’d already finished it, I already had the concept, I’d done a mockup recording on, but just wasn’t sure.
Originally I let my producer just arrange the tracks, so he actually did it on his own. He arranged the order, and he really felt musically it went there. I took the original track listing that he did and I played with it.
“Peace” still was on the end. We were debating whether it was going to be first or last. I just felt like it’s a really close song to me, and I felt like it was a nice way to end the record. I don't know if most records end on a note like that, but we just rolled with it. I feel like the rock ending helped out a little bit too.
People can also download your mixtape for free right now, right?
That’s right. It is available at http://www.noisetrade.com/jordanlara, so if you guys have a moment, please just download it. I’d love for you guys to have that. Any feedback or comments you have, I’ll take them in.
Appreciate you spending time with us at NewReleaseTuesday.com. Best to you, Jordan Lara, with City of Hope.
Bill Lurwick, the voice of NewReleaseTuesday.com's weekly New Christian Music Podcast, has been in radio since 1989 and is currently heard on KJIL in Dodge City, KS.