Release Date: Feb 17, 2017
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Pop, Rap, Dance-Pop, Contemporary R&B, Pop-Rap
Since the release of his breakout single "Classic Man" in 2015, American-born, Nigerian-raised rapper-singer Jidenna has been flying by the seat of his (well-tailored) pants. Despite facing several album delays, the 31-year-old artist has finally taken the lead on a debut album, titled The Chief. The first Wondaland release not by label founder Janelle Monáe, The Chief is a quirky, experimental album characterized by Afrobeat bass lines, hip-hop deliveries and R&B-pop hooks. Jidenna opens here with "A Bull's Take," telling the personal story of burying his father over African rhythms.
At the 2015 BET Awards, during a time in America when racially-charged crimes in Charleston, South Carolina have sparked protests for unarmed black citizens, Jidenna and Janelle Monáe's performance of "Classic Man" was a political statement. They referenced the 1968 sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, utilizing a group of men who hung signs that read "I AM A CLASSIC MAN" around their necks, and gave them a respectable salute. After Kendrick Lamar's stunning performance of "Alright" on top of a vandalized police car earlier in the evening, it was that moment the mainstream realized Jidenna was fearless when it came to speaking up about issues.
Rapping, singing, writing, and producing Nigerian-American Jidenna Mobisson, a slick fit for Janelle Monáe's Wondaland organization, debuted in early 2015 with "Classic Man. " Months passed before the modern dandy's theme took hold, but it threatened the pop the Top 20, went platinum, and was nominated for a Grammy. Two years to the month the official video for "Classic Man" was uploaded Jidenna finally released his first LP, its sleeve an homage to that of Middle Man, the 1980 album by fellow one-time Wisconsinite Boz Scaggs.
S artorially inspired by the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, dapper rapper/singer Jidenna dresses up his strain of hip-hop and R&B in a similarly stylish exterior. Released via Janelle Monáe's Wondaland label, debut album The Chief mixes his poetic, politically charged anger - the bass-booming, drum-clapping Long Live the Chief, and the prowling opener A Bull's Tale - with a more relaxed, old-school soul vibe, as highlighted on the languid, Monáe-assisted Safari and the twinkly lilt of Bambi. The exclusion of US hit Classic Man (which soundtracks a key scene in the Oscar-nominated Moonlight) leaves the album lacking a truly memorable moment, but the Afrobeat-inspired A Little Bit More and the carefree, soca-style Some Kind of Way showcase a versatile, genre-bending talent.
Jidenna cut a memorable figure when he emerged in 2015, looking like a roguish extra from a cancelled period drama: natty three-piece suit, slim cane with gilded accents, shiny cufflinks. He proved to be a shrewd repackager on "Classic Man," which pulled from DJ Mustard's minimalist bounce and made it No. 22 on the Hot 100. But in his efforts to break out of one-hit-wonder-dom and demonstrate a wide range on his debut album The Chief , Jidenna sometimes comes off as shapeless.
A big part of being successful in the mainstream realm of hip-hop may be an artist’s ability to be packaged and easily identifiable to a target demographic, but Jidenna is one that has been able to make his presence felt despite not fitting into the typical hip-hop box. The rapper first gained attention in 2015, with his hit single “Classic Man,” which peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.