Jordan Hamilton: Musical Freedom
Written by Eric Mitts. Photo: Jordan Hamilton.

Kalamazoo cellist and vocalist Jordan Hamilton has truly come to transcend both the worlds of classical and hip-hop music. 

Classically trained – with a Master’s Degree from Western Michigan University – he’s performed regularly with the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra for nearly a decade.

He’s also been a member of the longtime Kalamazoo R&B/hip-hop/soul ensemble Last Gasp Collective, and an acclaimed solo artist for nearly just as long.

His 2019 EP, My Thoughts Are, won Album of the Year at the annual WYCE Jammie Awards in 2020, held less than a month before the start of the pandemic.

Both an artist and educator, Hamilton saw his livelihood severely limited during lockdown, but he took advantage of the situation as best he could.

“I was lucky enough to be able to depend on some of the unemployment stimulus, which was huge for me,” Hamilton said about how the pandemic impacted him as an artist. “It was one of the few times I got to just sit, and play, and practice, and just be outside, and have time to get all of my thoughts out.”

Going through voice memos he had for song ideas, and refining his recording process, Hamilton said he began what became a series of releases, starting with his 2022 EP Believe In, and ultimately culminating in his brand new album, Project Freedom (out May 31).

Known for his phenomenal live looping in concert, and innovative approach to playing the cello, Hamilton said he wanted to explore what he did as a storyteller, and with his voice, working in a way similar to legendary icon Bobby McFerrin, while also not having his voice be the forefront on everything.

“I grew up on instrumental music,” said Hamilton, who started playing cello at eight years old. “In instrumental music, the intentions are never 100 percent clear. But they are still meaningful. So I find a lot of power in something having meaning, but the meaning is not a tower of truth for everyone. Everyone can inject their own meaning into it.”

Processing the different meanings of the word freedom, following the post-COVID backlash and Black Lives Matter protests, Hamilton said that as an album Project Freedom explores the very concept of freedom, from what it means in music, to what it means to have the freedom to live and love yourself.

“What is this concept of freedom that we’re fighting for,” Hamilton said. “(That’s) what I was exploring in those lyrics, and I explored the concepts of freedom of the cello, too.”

The thesis statement for his over nine years in Kalamazoo, Project Freedom will also be Hamilton’s first release with the Mello Music Group, an indie rap label out of Arizona, that Hamilton connected with via his friend and collaborator, music producer Andy Catlin, aka The Lasso.

Working with Mello Music marked a full circle moment for Hamilton too, as he has long taken inspiration from the rapper Oddisee, who has recorded with the label for years, and who Hamilton met outside of a show when he was just starting out as a songwriter.

“I’m a working class musician,” Hamilton said. “I’m not trying to be like Drake, Kendrick Lamar or these industry artists… at the end of the day, I’m filing my own taxes. There’s no illusion about it. So I was very inspired by (Oddisee’s) lyricism because it was relatable. He’s from an area in Maryland that I’m from. He produced his own music, he wrote his lyrics. He had drum rhythms and cadences that were familiar to me because they were familiar to the D.C. area.”

While also tremendously inspired by his frequent collaborator and Michigan folk legend Seth Bernard – who Hamilton has performed with as a duo, and who he credits with helping him develop as a songwriter – he said he looks at his new collaboration with Mello Music as an opportunity to broaden his musical freedom into touring well beyond Michigan.

And it seems to be working already with his song “Roses” landing on “The New York Times” “6 Songs You Should Hear Now” playlist alongside the likes of Chappell Roan and Tyla earlier this year. He performed in Asheville, North Carolina last month, and said he’d like to tour closer to his family back in Maryland, as well as overseas.

“So much of the core memories of me as a young adult, or like birthplace of me as a young adult have been in Kalamazoo,” Hamilton said. “I feel guilty about being away from my family for so long, but I have to admit that Kalamazoo has given me a lot of support and growth and experiences.”

Hamilton has given back to Kalamazoo as well, with Orchestra Jammbo’Laya, a community project centered on correcting the underrepresentation of African Americans in classical and instrumental music as composers, players, and audiences.   

“I’m trying to figure out how to get the cello to be outside of just the classical repertoire,” Hamilton said. “And also there’s a big dialogue in classical music of how are we going to find our next audience?”

Engaging with young Black students who don’t listen to classical or jazz, and introducing them to works by black composers, the project addresses the paradox of symphonies playing songs by artists like The Beatles, while not looking at the work of Quincy Jones or James Brown as having the same impact.

“In our industrialization era that America had, we were just like factories,” Hamilton said about how classical music was taught in America in the 20th Century. “We need more people to be able to play exactly like this every single time. So let’s create these systems to teach all these people. They don’t need to know why they’re doing this, but they just have to do it. Industrialization, we did that with our school system. But that creates just mimics of what that person explored. It doesn’t create the new solutions for tomorrow. And I think our medium has hit a place where we need new solutions for tomorrow.”

This summer, Jordan Hamilton will perform with the Traverse City Dance Project, where he will play songs from Project Freedom as accompaniment to choreographed modern dancers performing on stages outdoors. For dates and more info, visit For more on Hamilton, or to hear songs off Project Freedom, check out