Born Jidenna Theodore Mobisson to American and Nigerian parents Tama and Oliver Mobisson, 31 year old Jidenna is an American biracial rapper who’s been trying to carve out a career in music since the early 2000s. After graduating from Stanford in 2008 Jidenna worked full-time as a teacher and part-time as a musician before signing to Janelle Monáe Wondaland label in 2015. With the signing came his debut and breakout single entitled “Classic Man” (feat. Roman GianArthur),” which was featured on the EP: Wondaland Presents: The Eephus along with a remix that featured Kendrick Lamar.
From the Classic Man release onward, Jidenna has officially and unofficially released twelve songs, eight of which appear on his debut album The Chief. He finished out the year of 2015 with releasing the singles: “Long Live the Chief,” “Knickers,” and “Extraordinaire,” causing the rumors of a debut album. The original title of the album was rumored to be “Long Live the Chief,” the same name as his second single and the sixth track on this album. Going into the album, Jidenna created a sentence to describe what he wanted the album to feel like, and it was: “A sacred, romantic, magic carpet ride, driven by the African James Bond, but powered by Tesla.”
Here are two ways to make this album better. Take out both “Helicopters/Beware” and “Some Kind of Way,” and replace them with two great songs he released before. I would suggest “Helicopters – Live (Vevo Lift)” and “Some Kind of Way – Live (Vevo Lift).” Jidenna managed to take two songs with so much energy and power when performed live and turn the latter into a boring, autotuned mess and take all the life out of the former, while also adding a track which could have been okay on its own if it wasn’t for the “Helicopters” portion leaving a bad taste in my mouth. To give Jidenna credit, “2 Points” was also a Vevo Lift performance (then entitled “98 Points”) and he managed not to absolutely ruin it with a watered down studio version.
But I am actually glad that these tracks were watered down and included on this album, because it really shows how disappointing this album is. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, Dominic, because you hyped this album up so much, anything less than a masterpiece would have left you disappointed.” And to that, you’re kind of right, and to counter, if you’re going to release fourteen, 8.5/10 at worst, quality songs, I am going to expect a stellar album; and not surprisingly, all of my standout tracks from this album were released before. What could leave me disappointed are the album tracks, and some really do do.
Similarly to “the Let Out,” this album’s non-singles started to grow on me, but I have to be realistic and conclude that I most likely will not go back a listen to some of these tracks. Such include: “Trampoline,” “Bully of the Earth,” “White Niggas,” and “Adaora.” But, let’s stop talking around this album and start discussing some tracks. “A Bull’s Tale” talks about Jidenna going back to Nigeria to bury his recently deceased father, and is actually one of the most entertaining and weird tracks Jidenna has released. This song features pounding tribal drums and background vocals that really put the listener in the world Jidenna is painting. Along with the album, this song also introduces a recurring character. This character, who I believe is an African member of Jidenna’s family, comes in and out during the tracklisting to share wisdom to Jidenna. It’s a nice touch and fits the African atmosphere Jidenna loves to incorporate. To bad some of the album tracks aren’t this good.
The political charged song “White Niggas” showcases Jidenna’s great lyricism while also showcasing how forgettable the actual music can be on this album. An R&B-inspired chorus that just contains the phrase “white niggas,” in this case, just did not sound good. “Trampoline” showcases the “fun” Jidenna is having on this album. Too bad fun doesn’t translate to “not meh.” Another fun, and perhaps the most poppy song on the album is “Some Kind of Way,” which features an electronic pop beat, autotuned vocals, poppy, positive lyrics, and sounds better live. “Safari” features beautifully done background vocals from the great Janelle Monáe, and the song in general is good, but I —and I know I’ve used this word multiple times— was thoroughly disappointed that Miss Monáe did not do more on this track than background vocals. I wanted a verse from her. When I get tired of listening to the plaguing mediocrity that are some of the album tracks, I listen what made me a fan of Jidenna in the first place. I’m talking about the fiery political singles “Chief Don’t Run” and “Long Live the Chief,” the lush and lovely “Bambi,” the fun and swaggy “Let Out” and “Little Bit More,” and all three original songs from the Vevo Lift concert, these are only some of the tracks that made me love Jidenna’s music. You can leave “Trampoline,” “Adaora,” “White Niggas,” and “Bully of the Earth” at the door.
I honestly do not know what Jidenna was doing with this album. One moment he is embodying the Chief, spitting rhymes about Nigeria, and being overtly political and attacking the US’s cultural racism. The next he is having fun, possibly too much because it feels out of place and takes away from the seriousness. The most poppy song, “Some Kind of Way” is right before “White Niggas” on the tracklisting. Why?
Jidenna had so much momentum going into this album. Before it, we saw Jidenna’s potential to craft excellent pop rap singles. With this album, we see Jidenna’s potential to write an excellent concept album. I saw glimpses of it and I think he should either make a complete attempt at a concept album or continue on the path he has just paved. That path will not work if you don’t have the songs back it up, and he still has a ways to go.
A Bull’s Tale: 9/10
Chief Don’t Run (feat. Roman GianArthur): 9.5/10
Helicopters/Beware: 5/10 (Vevo Lift): 9.5/10
Long Live the Chief: 10/10
2 Points: 10/10
The Let Out (feat. Nana Kwabena): 9.5/10
Safari (feat. Janelle Monáe, St. Beauty, and Roman GianArthur): 8/10
Little Bit More: 8.5/10
Some Kind of Way: 6.5/10 (Vevo Lift): 9/10
White Niggas: 7/10
Bully of the Earth: 7/10