The title of his 2015 breakout single sums up Jidenna’s persona well. “Classic Man” is a pop-rap, double-platinum smash that combined Bay-area bounce and slick hip-hop contrarianism to catapult the Nigerian-American wordsmith into the mainstream. Where has he been since then? “Yoga” with Janelle Monáe, the supremely talented and beautiful head of Wondaland Records, is undeniably fun. And Jidenna has released a couple other tracks in between since Janelle and company released their compilation EP back in August of 2015. But, to me, one of this album’s biggest disadvantages is its timing. “Classic Man” is the type of momentous track that expands an artist’s appeal and window for long-lasting success. Since he has not come out with any other major hits or individual projects, Jidenna’s relevance has heavily dipped. It’s not fair to solely judge an artist by their hit songs. However, Jidenna’s reputation of being stylish seems to outweigh his musical status. Which seems rather backwards in my opinion.
To be completely honest, I wish this album was better for the sake of his career. I greatly admire Jidenna. At 31 years of age, he has accomplished and seen a lot. Born in Wisconsin and raised in Nigeria and Massachusetts, Jidenna was accepted into Harvard University out of high school but ultimately chose to attend Stanford University. He initially studied sound engineering but eventually switched, earning a degree in ritualistic arts (not quite sure what that entails, but the man got his paper nonetheless). After a teaching stint in multiple cities across the US, he linked with Monáe in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. If you can’t already tell, I truly want the best for Jidenna. He’s a cultured, community-driven gentleman and I respect the hell out of him for it. Unfortunately, in regards to his music, there’s much to be desired. The Chief comes off dull and forgettable for me.
One gripe I’ve had with Jidenna’s music is that his look and sound never consistently matched. “Classic Man” worked perfectly for him, but, similar to Lana Del Rey up until Honeymoon, his overall sound didn’t quite feel as vintage as it’s marketed to be. Maybe that’s not his m.o., but I feel like he would do better focusing on standing out sonically than attempting to fit into the norm (not entirely, but for the most part) on this record. Many of the tracks on The Chief squeeze trap sounds into spaces where they don’t fit. Even on a song that I love like “Bambi,” I could have done without so much trap influence in the snares and hi-hats. His vocals on that track are wonderful, though. Moreover, the songwriting tendencies across this album are dry and painfully average. At times, Jidenna’s creative ambition steals through like on “Adaora” and “Love Live the Chief”; the former having noteworthy conceptual elements that get disappointingly overshadowed by the looping of its hook. “Love Live the Chief,” however, is a bonafide banger. I first heard it on Netflix’s Luke Cage series and his performance made me excited for new Jidenna material.
But this album is all over the place. His versatility deserves some praise without a doubt, but the total execution of this smorgasbord lacks focus. The features on here are vaguely attached to the background of these songs; they’re either doing back-up vocals or don’t present anything memorable. Jidenna dropped a single version of “The Let Out” that features Migos star Quavo and it baffles me as to why that version was left off the track list. This album needs some flavor. There are a chunk of cuts that I believe work better as an EP rather than a full-length album because the filler here is a hair above unbearable. He does his best to integrate his Nigerian heritage into the narrative of the album and a couple second-half tracks. But with dancehall and Afrobeat rhythms getting butchered on the radio nowadays thanks to Drake and others, although Jidenna’s lineage is genuine, it sounds run-of-the-mill due to the basic songwriting. “Little Bit More” and “Some Kind of Way” get in each other’s way in my opinion functioning as back-to-back songs. One needed to be shaved. Matter of fact, much of the fat on this album needed to be discarded or more finely polished to make an impact in the mainstream — not just for Jidenna’s longevity, but, because he is their secondary star, for Wondaland Records’ image as a whole.