I really wanted Jidenna to be music’s next biggest R&B/Rap/Dance artist. With great style, and his single “Classic Man,” he got a co-sign from both Janelle Monáe and Marvel’s Luke Cage on Netflix, as well as a great BET verse from the 2016 cyphers. His record The Chief has been a long time coming, with “Classic Man” released over two years ago, and the title track “Long Live the Chief” with two years to its name as well.
Most of The Chief focuses on his Nigerian heritage, although he grew up in Wisconsin Rapids and Milton, Massachusetts before getting a degree in Stanford in “ritualistic arts.” His style in general however, is a bit of a crazy mix, including Atlanta trap, New Orleans brass, African rhythm, and European dandy. Plus he lives in East Flatbush, Brooklyn now, and says that his major artistic influences stem from New York legends such as KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane. The Kane influence makes a lot of sense though, especially on tracks like “Long Live the Chief” (Long Live the Kane was the name of Kane’s debut record).
Most of the tracks utilize a musical style that blends as many of these backgrounds together as seems feasible, but there’s enough of Jidenna seeming to try and fit in (like on “Trampoline”) that it also puts his music in the same category as artists such as Future and Migos. Ultimately, there’s nothing inherently unique lyrically for Jidenna either. He’s got a couple great lines on the hard-hitting “Long Live the Chief,” the song he got placed in Luke Cage, but everything else exists within the same dance-rap vocabulary that we’re already accustomed to. There’s a lot of artists these days who make dance-rap that seems like they’re just using a rap-lyric generator, and The Chief is racked with these kind of lines.
Jidenna also has some pretty odd tracks, such as the way-too-long-lullaby love song “Bambi,” or the built-for-a-shitty-action-movie track “Helicopters,” and don’t even get me started on the string of “Safari” to “Some Kind of Ways.” Surprisingly, the track “White N****s” is pretty decent—he talks about a white family struggling with addiction and facing the same problems as African-Americans, but it’s on the same record as a track like “Little Bit More,” which is nothing more than a song to fit somewhere in the background-music party-playlist. Every now and then he has a moment when he’s the coolest dude in the room (like the singles he released here and there), but once you get to see the full Jidenna picture, it’s not enough to save the disappointment that is what The Chief became after two long years of hype and hope.