Jordan Benjamin, the 23-year-old Torontonian better known by his performing moniker ‘Grandson’ has begun to spread his unique brand of hip-hop infused rock and powerful lyrics throughout the city, having recently performed at NXNE and Burlington’s Sound of Music festival.
To highlight his presence in the local music scene, The Varsity spoke to Benjamin about his musical evolution, influences, and writing process.
Benjamin was born in New Jersey but grew up in the Eglinton West area. When he was younger, his family introduced him to different styles of music, including classic rock, hip-hop, dancehall, and reggaeton — genres he would later draw upon when he began creating music under the name ‘Grandson’ in late 2015.
“I wanted the freedom and liked being enabled to disassociate my sense of self from the art I was creating,” he says, in regard to his decision to use a stage name. Still, the decision itself was difficult: “I had a spread sheet of around 40 names, but nothing was sticking.” This was until his manager had a dream in which he performed under the name ‘Grandson.’
The name was conceived shortly after Benjamin’s grandfather, who had been a strong influence in his life, passed away. Benjamin wanted a name that would give listeners a feeling of nostalgia and reflect the fact that his music pays lyrical and sonic homage to what came before.
Just like the music Benjamin listened to growing up, his musical influences are also varied. Many of the inspirations he lists are artists whose hit songs have defined entire musical eras, such as Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and Bill Withers. “I look up to writers who were able to cross borders, break barriers, break down genres, break down times through touching on something other than a simple melody,” says Benjamin. He believes that a good song can be made without a narrative, but a great song starts with one.
When writing his own songs, Benjamin tries to focus on his own life to provide a narrative while at the same time striving to make his music accessible to others. “I spend a lot of time asking myself how I’m doing, I bring a book and my iPhone notes. I try to read a lot,” Benjamin says. “Bills” and “Bury Me Face Down,” two of Grandson’s more popular songs, were written within 30 minutes. Any longer, and Benjamin doubts the possibility of generating a good song.
Although only five of his songs have been publicly released, Grandson has had quite a bit of success with a small sample size. The four songs that are available on Spotify have garnered around four million plays.
His goal was to do something he’d be happy with even if it wasn’t successful. “If no one likes it, I’ll move back to my parents’ basement in Toronto,” he says. “Ironically, it was the state of irrelevance that led to people seeming to like what I’m saying.”
Toronto and Montréal are two cities in which Benjamin, a former McGill University student, has spent a lot of time in. Both have helped him grow as an artist. “I know the calibre of the art being made in both [cities], and being able to fit in there is incredibly validating,” he says. He also credits his “mosaic”-like style of music to Toronto’s multicultural population.
There are big things to expect from Grandson in the future. “We’re sitting on a lot [of] music, looking for the right moment to put out,” he says regarding the 30 unreleased songs he has ready. A lot of his current work is focused on developing the live sets he plans on performing, although he did not rule out the possibility of a release in the next few months.
Benjamin says that he wants to change the notion that a performance is just playing songs live. “I want it to be an independent experience. I want it to be unpredictable, and I want it to be an atmosphere of what Grandson truly is.”