Dexter Jordan’s voice is magical.
Sultry, dreamy, velvety and vulnerable, the R&B songwriter’s vocals invite and entice the listener into his world. It’s a healing sound that reminds us that we’re all the same under the skin.
Even as far back as 2017, when Jordan dropped his breakout hit “Hello, New Me,” his potent voice was present. It’s only grown more powerful and therapeutic since.
Both Jordan’s singing and songwriting has come a long way since “Hello, New Me,” which he says is still his biggest hit.
If there is any justice in the music industry, he will surpass the song’s success with his 2023 tune-and-video combo “Tonight,” a creepy, comic and introverted ode to staying in for the evening.
Beyond that June release, 2023 marked a breakout tour for Jordan, where he sang backup for R&B powerhouse Ari Lennox at venues around the U.S., Canada and Europe.
On Dec. 23, he brings his joy and artistry to Snug Harbor in a show billed as a Holiday Cabaret.
A turning point
It was earlier this year that sultry R&B artist Lennox, whose single “Waste My Time” hit No. 1 on the Adult R&B Airplay chart in March, contacted Jordan on Instagram and asked him to sing backing vocals on her upcoming tour.
Jordan, who befriended Lennox in 2015 when she was living in Charlotte — unsigned and unknown outside of YouTube and SoundCloud — praises the singer for handing him a life-changing opportunity.
“I’m at work chilling, and I just get a random DM from Ari Lennox,” Jordan recalls.
After touring America for three months, the show went overseas to Paris, London and Amsterdam. It was the first time Jordan had been abroad in his life.
“It was a blessing to sing and showcase myself,” he says.
Lennox tapped Jordan to sing Lucky Daye’s part in her 2022 single “Boy Bye,” and when the tour returned to North Carolina, Jordan sang Daye’s solo at Dreamville Fest in Raleigh.
“I was onstage with Ari representing for North Carolina,” Jordan says.
For his recent single “Tonight,” Jordan collaborated with singer-songwriter Durand Bernarr, another performer Jordan befriended back in 2015.
“I’m such a fan of his,” Jordan says. “I’ve been following him as long as I’ve been following Ari. His harmonies and everything [else] he does [are] amazing.”
Inspired by a friend’s desire to stay home and lay low following a breakup, Jordan wrote “Tonight” and sent it to Bernarr, who readily agreed to appear on the track.
“[With] my introverted side I definitely struggle,” Jordan says. “Even though I can sing and have this talent, I love just being in the house and chilling.”
In the hypnotic, hypnagogic song and accompanying video, cascading bright keys and stuttering trip-hop beats fan out, forming a bed for Jordan’s sultry, dulcet vocals. He lays out the tune’s thesis amid his most lush and layered harmonies.
“Laying in this bed/ Thinking how you did me/ You got away with murder/ How you hurt my feelings/ Stabbed me in the back/ And kept it moving/ Like nothing happened…”
The accompanying images detail an agoraphobic phantasmagoria. Jordan resolutely hides inside a bright suburban home while sunshine-drenched phantoms beckon him to come outside.
Bernarr was on tour and couldn’t be available for the video shoot, so Jordan came up with the idea of sticking Bernarr’s photo on the refrigerator. With a silvery flourish, keyboards part like a beaded curtain, while Bernarr’s Polaroid sings.
“Folk don’t wanna act right/ Won’t put up with a fight/ For what/ I’d rather stay my ass at home…”
Fittingly for the video’s absurdist midday nightmare, Bernarr is there without actually being there.
Suddenly, Jordan wakes with a start as his TV jolts to life. Onscreen, a sinister salesman shills for Dr. Keeble’s “Stay Inside” vitamins. In response, both Bernarr and Jordan repeat their mantra.
“I don’t wanna go outside/ I just wanna stay inside/ Tonight…”
Influence of Gospel Roots
Jordan says none of these recent successes would have been possible without his mother LaFondra, who passed away in 2016 after a battle with breast cancer.
“I feel like she’s right beside me. That’s why I continue to [write and perform.],” Jordan says. “I guess that’s why I’ve been so blessed this year with … opportunities, because it’s my mom giving that wink to God.”
It’s a reference he makes repeatedly, insisting that the DM from Lennox was one of those winks.
Jordan, who turned 30 in October, was raised in Alabama. He would have been born there had there been a hospital nearby, but his parents were forced to drive to Meridian, Mississippi, splitting his birthplace and hometown.
Jordan’s father is a minister of music and his mother was a Baptist choir alto. Both parents traveled to perform in churches, with his mother singing solos in the choir. They inspired their son’s interest in music, by introducing him to gospel artists.
“Gospel music is in a lot of things, especially R&B,” Jordan says. “[It’s in] the harmonies and in the choices of the riffs and runs that people sing.”
Jordan recalls that he loved to sing with his mother in church.
By the time he turned 9, his parents had divorced, and he, his mother and sister moved to Greensboro, where he attended grade school, including Weaver Academy, Greensboro’s high school for the arts. Jordan’s musical tastes expanded to include rap, R&B and other genres. Artists like Erykah Badu remain a potent influence for him. Another inspiration was the television show Showtime at the Apollo, of which he was a huge fan.
He remembers seeing Michael Jackson on the show, as well as artists like Lauryn Hill. He professes love for the Apollo Theater in Harlem where the show is shot, but he never expected to be on the venue’s historic stage.
Yet that is exactly what happened when Jordan was 13. He entered an amateur singing contest and won a trip to the Apollo in New York.
The then-ninth grader traveled to New York with his mother, where he ascended the fabled stage and sang “For Your Glory,” a gospel tune popularized by musician and songwriter Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Jordan remembers his mother watching from the wings as he performed the stirring song.
“I can still see her as I was singing,” Jordan reminisces. “Then when I won, she was jumping up and down. She was so happy.”
LaFondra was Dexter’s biggest supporter and remained concretely in his corner until her final days.
“That’s still the reason why I sing, because she supported me so much, and knew that I had a talent before I really knew what I had,” Jordan offers. “[She said], ‘Dex, I really think you have something, so don’t give up on it. Just keep going.’”
Jordan started performing solo in Charlotte at 21 years old. In 2015, he wrote and composed his first collection of music, entitled Ndoto, which means “dream” in Swahili, and debuted it on SoundCloud. He was just beginning to gain traction when his mother died. Dexter was just 22.
“It’s been 8 years since my mom has passed,” Jordan says, “I think of her every time I sing or express myself [through music].”
Healing and reflection through lockdown
It was rapper, producer and Charlotte native Christopher Williams, aka Yung Citizen, who helped pull Jordan out of his depression following his mother’s death. Williams reached out to Jordan to perform for Williams’ Alive Sessions, and to write a verse for a track called “Heaven’s Door.” Encouraged by his sister Jessica and brother Tavoris, Jordan jumped into the project.
After the positive experience with Yung Citizen, Jordan connected with producer/engineer Jon Blount and started working on “Hello, New Me,” a song Jordan had started writing while his mother was still alive.
Blount brought a facility for making rap beats to the project. Jordan drew on his ability to find a harmony or a melody with Blount’s beats.
“That’s how we met in the middle and became friends,” Jordan says.
He stresses that he completed the song in part to honor his mother.
“[‘Hello, New Me’] became a big hit for me, I guess because it was so pure,” Jordan says. “People could understand — not what I’d been through, but the whole aspect of saying goodbye to your old ways and old self and saying hello to something that’s new in your life. I think that’s why it still resonates today.”
The song’s accompanying video reinforces Jordan’s newfound state of grace with quasi-religious imagery. A gold floral arrangement rings his head, like a halo in medieval paintings of saints.
The sacred meets the sensual when Jordan lies down on the ground, juxtaposing the textures of his smooth dark skin and the rough and rocky gravel.
In the song’s video, whirlpooling plucked guitars and distant dissonant synthesized horns coalesce around sprightly R&B beats. Jordan stares down the camera with an unreadable expression, but when he sings his voice speaks volumes.
“Writing my heart with a pen/ A spirit led to lay it on a beat/ Society thinks I’m crazy/ I looked in the mirror and I like what I see…”
“Hello, New Me” was a manifesto on how to embrace life with all its pleasures, setbacks, triumphs and tragedies, but the tune’s celebration of self-love wouldn’t stick without Jordan’s voice, which YouTube critic Auntie Kim called “smooth as butter sliding across a hot-ass pan.”
It’s more than that, though. Ranging from tenor to countertenor, Jordan’s vocal is a gentle yet sudden breeze that rustles the trees in late July, silencing the insects chattering in the branches.
Once a verse has sighed past us, we wait with anticipation and pleasure for his voice to return.
“It took a long time to get it right/ But I finally love me…”
In 2015, Jordan had befriended Charlotte-based alt-pop singer/songwriter Joseph Quisol. Subsequent to the release of “Hello, New Me,” Jordan and Quisol collaborated on the topical tune “We Must Go,” which appears on Quisol’s 2019 album Revelations.
Like Quisol, Jordan is an openly gay artist. He came out to his mother in 2015. While she was understanding and supportive, he did not expect the opposition he encountered from his church.
“I couldn’t understand why me being queer was such a big issue,” Jordan says.
Once he experienced the self-love and self-acceptance documented in “Hello, New Me,” Jordan decided to stop attending church, but he still maintains a set of spiritual beliefs.
“I figured out who I was and I was okay with it,” Jordan says.
Self-acceptance and growth also fuel Jordan’s 2019 debut album Blue, produced by his friend Jason Jet. With his own debut LP Love Boulevard, released in 2010, Jet had created and launched the electric soul genre, a smooth and tuneful precursor to nu soul.
Jet brought his multilayered and production techniques to Blue, keeping the songs’ focus on Jordan’s velvety voice while introducing new types of vocal harmonies to the mix. Blue yielded the kaleidoscopic single “Skyscraper (In N.Y.C)”. Here, Jordan’s feathered vocals flow like air currents skirling through the titular city’s tall building and buffeting birds’ wings.
“I enjoy how birds can just fly no matter where they’re at,” Jordan says. “I use that representation in the song as an understanding that I have wings. They may not be like birds’ wings that can fly at any time, but I can fly in my way… [and] soar high.”
In May 2019, a few months after Blue had dropped, Jordan’s friend, musician, manager and event producer Tim Scott called to see if he was available to open for Charlotte R&B legend Anthony Hamilton.
“I put him on mute and screamed on the phone, ‘Oh my God!’” Jordan remembers. “’Anthony Hamilton?’ I said, ‘Of course I’m available!’”
It was the only time Jordan met Hamilton, but it was a memorable experience.
“[Hamilton has] done nothing but great things for Charlotte,” Jordan says, noting that the local music luminary is resolutely down to earth.
Jason Jet returned to the producer’s chair in 2020 for Jordan’s 8-track EP Dexterity, a more political collection for the singer, informed by COVID and world events that coincided with the pandemic.
“I addressed a lot of things I was seeing,” Jordan says. “2020 was a difficult year for everyone, especially minorities, because there was a lot of police brutality going on.”
Jordan remembers a pervasive sense of uncertainty due to COVID, with many people questioning how American could continue as a nation.
“You could feel it in the air,” Jordan says.
As time goes on, Jordan’s music grows more experimental yet his message becomes more direct. His entrancing vocals give his songs a timeless quality, but the emotions Jordan unleashes have never been more immediate.
Unlike the uneasy dreamscape conjured in “Tonight,” Jordan’s plan for the Dec. 23 Snug Harbor show — where he’ll be joined by Trent Domonic, Tre’ Ahmad and Eli Ahmad — is transformative and therapeutic.
He wants his mellifluous music to transport concertgoers away from their daily concerns and worries, if just for a single evening.
He offers listeners the opportunity to willingly enter a trance — to choose to be in the moment and become inspired to celebrate their lives.
“My mom always told me that I sing to sooth, that I have a soothing spirit about me and a soothing voice,” Jordan says. “I think the power in my music comes to people when I’m able to calm [them] down. That’s really what I like to do.”
SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.