A man with a style all his own Jidenna, influenced by his Nigerian roots with a 1920’s Harlem Renaissance flare, has been pulling people into his world since he stepped into our homes in 2015. His debut single “Classic Man” was the song of the summer and number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. We have been given snippets into his style through his features with Janelle Monae and various television show appearances. Without a definitive sound; however, fans haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly who Jidenna the artist is.
That brings us to 2017, 2 years after Jidenna stepped into our musical hearts he has finally delivered us a gift into his life in the form of album. The Chief, Jidenna’s debut album, takes the listener into his childhood, ideologies and what molded him into the artist that has been captivating us.
From the beginning, Jidenna takes us home with him to Nigeria on the controversial track “A Bulls Tale”. On this track, Jidenna discusses how he had armed guards attend his father’s burial with him in Nigeria and for some Nigerians this was felt as a misrepresentation of the country. “I made a promise/ When I was six and guerillas ran up on us/ Taking my sis, beating the shit out of my mama/ Shot me in the foot put a bullet through my armor”. He uses the track to not only detail his experience returning home but to explain why he chose to have armed guards with him when he attended his father’s funeral.
“A Bulls Tale” sets the foundation going into The Chief. This isn’t just another concept album but a look into his life.
The Chief is more of an audio book then it is an album. Each track flows from one another seamlessly to tell Jidenna’s life story and overall it is a success. It’s only when we listen to “Helicopters / Beware” that listeners might even lose interest. The track felt too long due to it being a combination of two songs. The production for “Helicopters” was well done but not enough to stand out. Coming off of a slower track like “Bambi”, “Helicopters/Beware” slows down the pace even more and gets lost. 3 minutes of the track was enough but 6 minutes definitely was unnecessary.
The speed is picked right back once the track is completed with “Long Live the Chief” and it’s like the last 6 minutes never happened. This is easily the most memorable track on the album. Between the beat and lyrics this is what we expected from Jidenna’s debut. “Now they say Jidenna why you dressing so classic?/I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket”. I mean that’s such a fun simple line but lines like those make you fall in love with his style. He’s catchy and this song is so easy to just listen to and rap along.
Jidenna makes sure to cover all of his bases mixing lighthearted tracks with tracks heavy in hard-hitting lyricism. His socially conscience or “woke” tracks “White Niggas” and “Bully of the Earth” are two of the strongest examples of that. On “White Niggas” he throws white people into the shoes of African Americans. “Say if you and your wife, Madeline were treated just like mine/ All the anchors on ABC Nightline would speak about white crime/ We’d see videos every night of handcuffed white boys in the night time”. With all of the tension in the United States and across the globe right now this track couldn’t be more relevant.
I can’t review this album without briefly hitting on his chameleon-like flow being able to transition from each one of the previously mentioned tracks to tracks like “Trampoline”, “Adaora”, and “Little Bit More”. Jidenna is not just a rapper. He is an artist. Each one of those tracks showcases the genuine diversity in Jidenna’s style of mixing hip hop with his African roots. He’s making music for fans of hip hop and people who just like dope beats. “Little Bit More” has a strong afrobeat club banger appeal that was obviously made to be danced to. With everything I’ve said about the album, you would think these songs are out of place but they’re not. Each track was appropriately placed and helps develop his story even further.
The Chief is a classic that could only be created by a “classic man”, don’t mind my corny sense of humor, but Jidenna definitely came through with a solid debut album. We’re living in a time where artists have dropped the traditional story telling method we can find on albums like Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. Of course, we have some like Kendrick or The Game but for the most artists just aren’t producing concept albums anymore. Instead, they’re attempting to poorly reinvent the genre with playlist formats and more. Jidenna decided he liked traditional hip hop he had a story tell and he told it well.