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By Michael E. Miller
After two years of attending Miami Sunset Senior High School, Jordan Davis dropped out to make music. Two years later, he has nine hip-hop albums and his own record label, and, oh yeah, he's in college.
A Magic City native now living in West Kendall, Davis recorded and produced his first hip-hop album in 2004, when he was seventeen. He recorded five more discs before the year was done.
"I'm pretty prolific," he says. "I'll record a whole album in a day or two days."
"All promotion cheapens music," says Davis. "I'm just hoping on word of mouth."
First inspired by RZA and DJ Premiere, Davis bought himself an inexpensive microphone and began experimenting with it four years ago. Since then, he's gotten into sampling and messing with every instrument he can get his hands on.
"My main thing is I purposely try as hard as possible not to sound like any other artist," he says.
Davis, who earned his GED and is enrolled at Miami Dade College, decided at age seventeen to quit high school so he could spend every day recording and producing his work.
"I wanted to do music," he says of his high school days. "I didn't care about math; I didn't care about science. I wrote off anything and everything that didn't have to do with music."
Though he's majoring in education, Davis isn't taking the courses to become a teacher, but rather to prevent himself from going insane as a result of a reclusive life of striving to perfect his musical work.
"It can kind of drive you crazy to be surrounded by music all day, every day," he says. "I don't want to be totally out of touch in my own world."
Yet it's the outer world that fascinates Davis the most, evident in nearly every aspect of Present Shipments of Future. The album cover features a magnifying glass examining a full-moon sky, and every track title pertains to the subject of space, ranging from "Galaxy" and "Moons" to names of planets in our solar system.
"I'm infatuated with space because that's something man doesn't know a lot about," Davis says. The lyrics predominantly deal with space as well, but Davis oftentimes uses the imagery to illustrate earthly points. For example, on one song he raps, "Everyone wants to be famous/But all of the stars are dead and nameless."
"You can get to fame on Earth, but what's the point, because Earth is a really small place," Davis explains. "You can be loved and appreciated, but it really doesn't mean much, because 70 years from now everyone's going to be dead."
Though not every track on Davis's album deals solely with space, each one does concentrate on one central theme, making Davis an unusually concept-driven artist.
"Before I record an album, I always think of the atmosphere of the whole album," Davis says of his creative tendencies. "I only work to do a complete album. I'm kind of obsessed with death and life and time, so everything I do with my music revolves around that."
When he's not recording crazy, spacy hip-hop, Davis tries his hand at other musical arts, like creating soundtracks to nonexistent movies.
"I'll think of a movie that doesn't necessarily exist, I'll imagine the scenes of a movie, and I'll make a score for that movie," he says. He has made a trilogy of these soundtracks, which he tries to synch up to his fictional film's story line using different instruments and melodies to create a musical flow of setting, conflict, and resolution.
These musical scores seem to play a large part in Davis's hip-hop, because the music on Present Shipments of Future composed of mid- and slow-tempo synthesized melodies and accompanying machine-made drumbeats sounds strikingly similar to what one might hear in a horror film. (For a majority of the album, Davis plugged sounds from Fifties-era sci-fi movies into a synthesizer.) The odd instruments Davis used, including a Birotron, a Mellotron, and a Hammond organ, were all processed through his homemade synthesizer, a painstaking process to achieve the unique sound he strives for. The rapping itself sounds distanced, and sometimes inaudible, as the music envelopes each song, making Davis seem as if he really is rapping from another world.
He has also been relatively successful at selling original beats; two of them went to rapper Saigon for $3000 apiece. Davis used that money to buy a fleet of instruments to add to his collection, as well as to pay for part of the $10,500 cost of printing 10,000 copies of Present Shipments, which he released on his own label, Nonexistence Records.
"I can sell a beat every month and I'd be fine," he says. "That's where the money is in hip-hop."
Another portion of the album's expenses were covered by Davis's assistant/girlfriend Natalia Rosario, a Florida International University student and manager at Lifetouch Portrait Studio at the International Mall. In addition to contributing about $3000 toward the album, Rosario took care of all the business aspects necessary to get Present Shipments printed and made available online.
"I did all of the talking to everybody," she explains. "I did the CDBaby, Amazon. He trusts that I'll get the job done."
Though Davis had to raise about $7500 by selling beats to cover album costs, he doesn't doubt his remaining beat collection will provide similar funds for printing and releasing future records.
"He's done hundreds of songs, but he has thousands of beats," Rosario says.
Lately, however, Davis has taken a break from beats and has taken up the Beatles, listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and recording rock music.
"If I hear music and I like it, no matter what kind of music, I want to make it myself," he says.
Though he has recorded 70 rock songs, Davis doesn't feel ready to release a rock album yet (but he assures one will be released by year's end). And he still has many other goals he'd like to meet.
"I want to start my own movement just based on my own music; I want to build my own studio; I want to start my own label; I want to do everything."
Despite his rampant recording, Davis has yet to perform live.
"I'm all about visuals," he explains. "When I do eventually start doing shows, I want to make sure I have the budget to make my performance like a musical play."
In the meantime, he will continue recording, producing, and immersing himself in his music.
"I look back on all my old work and I'm disgusted by it," he says. "I don't want to look back; I'm always trying to reinvent myself."