“Can’t we just say I landed here?” Jordy Towers asks when queried about his background and how he came to be a rising singer and rapper to watch. “Say, ‘He landed here in a crater. As a baby.’ That would be awesome.”

A diminutive, mohawked motormouth with an easy laugh, Towers is instantly likeable. He’s smart, scrappy, and hilarious — with a swaggering, rap-star confidence that might come off as arrogance if it didn’t belie the fact that he’s essentially an attention-seeking kid from a broken home who pretty much raised himself. Born and bred in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, Towers was homeless until last year when he signed a record deal with Roma Records/Blackground Records and Interscope Records. What a difference a year makes. Towers has just released not one, but two debut singles, the irresistibly pop-tastic “Money Money” and the retro-R&B flavored “Don’t Say It’s Over.” Taken together, the two tracks are a stellar introduction to this versatile young performer. “I wanted to show that I could go do a song like ‘Money Money’ and be on pop radio, but I also want people to know that there’s more to me. ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’ is the real me. It’s straight from the heart.”

Towers recently presented the two songs together in an eight-minute short film directed by Interscope Records Creative Director and award-winning choreographer Laurieann Gibson (Lady Gaga, Keri Hilson). In it, Towers argues with his girl over signing a contract with “SellYourSoul Records” before the action cuts to his flashy performance of “Money Money” on a modern-day Ed Sullivan-style show, in which he busts out some pretty tight dance moves. “I’m used to just grabbing a mic and jumping on top of a speaker, but Laurieann had me doing steps and being the all-around entertainer I was born to be,” Towers says. “She saw it in me. She said, ‘You’ve got moves, kid, we’ve just got to refine this shit.’”

In Act II, Towers signs his record deal, leaves his girl, and, in a twisted piece of symbolism, performs “Don’t Say It’s Over” in a fiery lair surrounded by lingerie-clad vixens. “It’s pretty awesome,” Towers says with a laugh. “Look, if I’m going to do a straight-up pop song like ‘Money Money,’ it has to be theatrical. Then I can apologize by following it up with something layered like ‘Don’t Say It’s Over.’”

The two singles are an exciting preview of his upcoming debut album, on which Towers has collaborated with such A-listers as songwriter-producers J.R. Rotem, Danger Mouse, Bangladesh, and The Runaways. The music is a hyper, ambitious collision of pop, hip-hop, R&B, rock, and electronic influences that showcases Towers’ ability to shift effortlessly between singing and rapping, as well his nimble wordplay and ear for killer hooks. “Spaceboy Boogie” is dirty electro-funk, “Feelin’ California” is feel-good, laid-back summer pop, “ADD” is island-inspired reggae/hip-hop, and “Cling On” is a straight-up club jam. It’s lyrically vivid, melodically extravagant, rhythmically riotous, and stubbornly eclectic. And Towers filters it all through his unique worldview — one that could only come from someone who’s lived what he’s lived. “Music is what has kept me sane,” he says.

Raised since the age of seven by his struggling actor father after his mother left, Towers spent most of his childhood alone. “My only friends were my hip-hop records,” he recalls. “I’d listen to A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, The Fat Boys, LL Cool J, and Guru.” He’d also steal his sister’s CDs (The Dark Side of the Moon, The Chronic, As Nasty As They Wanna Be) and write out the lyrics to the songs to study their patterns. “I studied the craft from real early on,” he says. “I remember kids beat-boxing at school on the eighth-graders’ lawn. I was a scrub, but they’d let me come on during lunch. I was the only sixth-grader that could come on. We used to break dance in a little circle.”

In junior high, Towers befriended Michael Jackson’s niece and nephew Siggy and Brandi Jackson, and was taken in by their parents, Jackie and his wife Enid. “They encouraged me to sing and rap,” Towers says. “Siggy and I formed a reggae-rap group called Rebel Youth. I had dreads and everything. I sold weed at school and would get caught and kicked out.” Eventually Towers got the boot from so many schools that he says he was eliminated from the L.A. Unified School District altogether and sent to a probationary school where “the kids were gangsters or lived in half-way houses.”

At age 18, Towers ran into some trouble with the law and soon found himself living on the streets. A friend got him a hotel room and suggested they make a record, which they did with the help of investors, under Towers’ rap name Optimus. “We made this incredible live hip-hop album with a full orchestra, but it was so expensive to record that we ran out of money to market or distribute it,” he says. The album found its way to rapper Lupe Fiasco who asked Towers to support him on a 2008 tour. Towers secured a loan to follow Fiasco on the road, but when the loan company went bust, the deal was done. In October 2009, Towers was living in his truck when he was contacted by producer/songwriter J.R. Rotem, with whom he recorded four songs, including “Don’t Say It’s Over.” A deal with Rotem’s label didn’t pan out, but Towers walked away with a top-notch calling card.

“I started living in my truck again,” Towers says. “I felt like the biggest loser. I was going to get out of music, I just couldn’t bear it.” He was set to enroll at a community college when fate intervened in the form of Gary Marella, a record industry executive who had launched a label, Roma Records, and was looking to sign a flagship artist. Marella flipped over the demo and contacted a fellow record executive, Chuck Field, who set up a meeting for Towers with Blackground Records’ Barry Hankerson. Hankerson took one look at Towers, with his mohawk and shades, and declared: “This motherfucker’s a star.” A few days later, Towers signed his deal “and I haven’t looked back,” he says. “I’m looking forward to adding to the soundtrack of people’s lives. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of.”

[November 2011]