Does Jidenna Command On ‘The Chief’?

Nigerian born and Wisconsin raised schoolteacher by trade, Jidenna’s accession in music began with his breakthrough ‘Classic Man’ in 2015. As an introduction it was a bold beginning, personified in it’s vision of black pride and it taught us about Jidenna’s ideologies steeped in his alternative stylings of a young OG.

With a singles campaign stretching over two years, we learnt more about the man with the swag-gloating hip-hop ‘Long Love the Chief’; Nigerian Highlife influenced ‘Little Bit More’; and a convincing crowd pleaser ‘The Let Out’. Although a slow burner, a number of film and television moments with guest roles on HBO’s Insecure and Netflix’s Luke Cage became instrumental in keeping Jidenna in the public eye. Tracks like ‘Long Live The Chief’ found a new lease of life on Luke Cage, a year after release and ‘Classic Man’ underscored a pivotal scene in Oscar nominated Moonlight. Somehow despite gaining no big chart successes, his unconventional approach and the longevity of his songs served to place Jidenna as a serious contender for the long game.

I’m an avid fan who’s been keeping up with his movements, and so the arrival of ‘The Chief’ finally gave his long standing campaign a welcome finale. Since it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume an artist invests their entire life into the making of their debut album, it would only be fair to invest adequate time into the listening experience. After all Jidenna has proved more than once, the latent affect of his songs, long after their initial release.

A protégé of singer, actor and Wonderland Records label boss Janelle Monáe, it would be oddly embarrassing to try and define Jidenna’s sound, considering how unique and impressive an artist he is. Expounding his range and ability to manipulate different sounds, melodies and subjects, ‘The Chief’ refuses to be one thing.

The opener, ‘A Bulls Tale’, instantly addresses the controversies surrounding his journey back to Nigeria to bury his father accompanied by armed guards brandishing AK-47’s. Jidenna recounts the funeral and family, as an encounter with wolves plotting against him, “I feel thieves and witches within the trees”. Bridging a proud African-ness with his American upbringing it also sets out an unavoidable path of conflict that makes him vulnerable with a bullseye on his back.

Between the musical uprising of the African diaspora and Jidenna’s American upbringing, ‘The Chief’ fuses it all together with the influence of rap. Jidenna’s persona not only reflects his 1920’s Harlem Renaissance inspired stylish exterior, but also ascends to his musicality. His approach is to demonstrate his story and ideology with genre bending beats and a naturally poetic flexibility to combat both personas effectively and effortlessly. Featured guests are few and limited to Wondaland front woman Janelle Monáe, Roman GianArthur, and longtime collaborator Nana Kwabena.

Highlights on the debut include a vocal Jidenna expanding his views on police brutality and racial inequality. On ‘Helicopter’ he channels Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ “They’ll shoot you down without warning,” and furthers that on ‘White Niggas’ by flipping the script with a role reversal that serves as a distinctive provocation on race relations. Demonstrating the struggles faced within the black community, the heavy construct and intent of the track evokes the reality of the present situation  -“Hope you know how to fight crime, 911’s no longer your lifeline”.

On ‘Adaora’, we experience an edge to a possible romantic Jidenna giving a magical and wonderful feeling of love’s experience; ‘Bambi’ disguised as trap soul has undertones of African folk lullaby whereas ‘Trampoline’, works considerably better for club goers. There wouldn’t be a debut album without a mention to your mother and on the ferocious ‘Long Live The Chief’ its replete alongside his commitment to carry forward the legacy of his father.

Promised in 2016, ‘The Chief” arrives in 2017 yet exceeds expectations by showcasing an accomplished Jidenna as a prominent producer and songwriter in his own right. In execution, ‘The Chief’ represents Jidenna’s influence as a millennial with more than just style and finger waves but also with a strong sense of purpose; a chance to open the world to his ideologies and revolutionary rhetoric.

‘The Chief’, not only encapsulates Jidenna’s musicality but also tells a story that is familiar but not often highlighted. Although the exclusion of his enigmatic introduction song ‘Classic Man’ leaves the album failing in familiarity, ‘The Chief’ is a collection of heartache, masculinity, black/African pride and politics.