At the risk of overgeneralizing, I usually find that when a new artist introduces themselves with a lead single, more often than not it’s a calculated representation of what that artist will be offering on their debut. Every once in awhile, though, there are artists that quickly challenge any sort of classification, and remind us to never judge a book by its cover.
Jidenna’s first impression on a large scale was “Classic Man,” a bouncy pop cut that leaned heavily on a sample from Iggy Azalea’s DJ Mustard-produced “Fancy.” The song was fun and catchy, and eventually earned Platinum certification—not bad for a debut single.
While “Classic Man” posited Jidenna as a pop-leaning act in the same vein of his frequent collaborator Janelle Monáe, his follow-up offerings hinted at something much more diverse and exciting.
A couple jaw-dropping freestyles and loosies later, the full picture of Jidenna’s artistry began to develop, leading me to my own excitement for what he could do within the confines of a full-length album.
Jidenna’s debut The Chief dropped today (February 17), and I finally got the chance to find out just what the Wondaland multi-talent is capable of.
Three Standout Tracks:
"Bambi" is, without a doubt, one of my favorite songs (thus far) of 2017. Within the context of the album, “Bambi” is the fourth track, appearing after a couple more straightforward rap offerings and the dancy, anti-slut-shaming number “Trampoline.”
It should be noted that any mention of “straightforward” in regards to Jidenna's music has to be used loosely, as his sound is all over the place, but it works.
“Bambi” sounds like a young Peter Tosh was transported to the future to make a summer radio banger, fully leaning into the almost doo-wop sounds of early reggae, but with the backbone of modern hip-hop production.
“Long Live The Chief”
This song was actually one of the first “holy shit” moments I had while listening to Jidenna. It was during an episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage that Jidenna made an appearance to perform the track in the smoky confines of Cottonmouth’s Paradise Club, and I was absolutely floored.
The beat is hard as nails, and Jidenna sounds more like a young Game than the guy we heard smooth-talking across 808s on “Classic Man.”
Jidenna wears a multitude of hats on The Chief, and his rap cap is comprised of a lethal mix of lyrical ability and charisma that would easily place him within more hip-hop conversations if he chose to release an entire album of records that sound like "Long Live the Chief."
Holy shit, this song.
On the second to last track on The Chief, Jidenna flips the script on the current racial narratives and takes listeners on a journey into a parallel universe where white folks are subjected to the struggles and biases that black people face on the daily. The concept is bold and the execution is perfect.
Jidenna excels in thoughtful storytelling, cleverly translating situations into the context of middle-class white America over soulful production, with a clear tip of the hat to the golden era of hip-hop. This is the Jidenna that has my inner hip-hop head doing backflips and praying for more material where this came from.
I pray this album does not get overlooked. The Chief is compelling, diverse, bright and fun from start to finish. Jidenna is capable of hopping between genres with the effortless ease of Rick Sanchez zapping himself into alternate universes, perpetually half-cocked.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t most looking forward to the hip-hop elements I knew Jidenna would present on The Chief, but even the more pop-leaning tracks—which there are surprisingly few of—are an absolute blast.
Jidenna’s music is also informed with a worldliness that doesn’t ever come across as forced. He can sound like an old reggae crooner on one song and Lupe Fiasco on the next, and neither performance seems disingenuous.
There might be some that accuse The Chief of lacking focus, but they’d be missing the entire point of this project. This is actually a perfect introduction to an artist that couldn’t possibly be represented by just one single. With The Chief, Jidenna crafted a joyous celebration of everything that made him who he is, and I’m here for all of it.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Epic Records