by Dom Jones
I wasn’t a huge fan of Jidenna’s first single, “Classic Man.” I appreciated the message, but what less moved by the music behind it. There was no avoiding it, since it was such a massive hit, so I told myself I’d give Jidenna another chance to wow me musically on his next single. Even though “Yoga” came out first, I heard “Long Live The Chief” before that one, and fell in love with the music and the swagger and the aesthetic even more. This showed me that Jidenna wasn’t going to muck up hip-hop with just lukewarm sing-songy tunes with no bars to back it up. He could actually rap, and go back and forth between the two talents. As someone who does both, I felt that I understood him a little better and was looking forward to his debut album. Little did I know, we’d all have to wait two more years before it would be released!
The Chief pays homage to Jidenna’s Nigerian culture, while effortlessly incorporating contemporary production and rap cadences in an intentional and musically sound way. The album starts off with a skit, featuring the voice of who Jidenna identifies as his uncle in the below interview with The Breakfast club:
Discussing the politics of returning his village to bury his father, the actual chief, the sound makes its foray into your ears aggressively, blending tribal drums with what almost sounds like a metronome, horns, strings, digital sounds, and an 80s sounding sample. The story, sound, and cadence from this song will inform the rest of the entire album, and I appreciate that the album doesn’t start off with the single the way that many albums do (assuming that the listener will want to skip it, instead of integrating it fully into the story of the album). We don’t find Long Live The Chief until the sixth song on the album, and it is perfectly timed within the overall story arc.
Before that, Jidenna smartly, creatively, and intentionally pivots AWAY from the misogyny that pervades hip-hop (and all music, really) with “Trampoline.” Singing on the hook, “The lady ain’t a tramp/Just ’cause she bounce it up and down like a trampoline” encouraging the listener to be more free and less judgmental. Perhaps my favorite track on the album (and the shortest), Jidenna expressly puts on his emcee hat during “2 Points,” coming out of the gate with the poignant and straightforward line: “I don’t spend no major time with no minor people.” Gems, which cleverly point to the character behind the aesthetic, swell throughout the album. It is the mixture of meaningful content and thorough nod to heritage and culture, which makes songs that get more into the contemporary “trap” style, such as “Helicopters” or “The Let Out” not diminish the overall album. In this way, Jidenna is just as much alchemist as he is artist.
“White N****s” is his most bold and political statement on the album, as he discusses the alternate universe where hatred and
bigotry are leveled against caucasians rather than people of color, and how that might look. The title itself is candid for me, and I’m sure, brazen for some others. Starting out with the voice of his uncle, and on the most traditionally hip-hop sounding production on the album, both of these factors hold the content up. He is informed first by the voice of an elder and then by the sounds of a genre which historically started out as a voice for the voiceless. It is an astute way to get across a difficult message.
Ultimately, I left my multiple listens of The Chief, always feeling as though I’d either read a few pages of Jidenna’s journal, been shown a family photo album by his mother, or spent a day with him walking through his village. The listener is left with a distinct feeling of familiarity, verging on friendship or kinship with the artist. Not devoid of profanity by any means, it is the artist’s vulnerability, clarity, attention to musical consistency, and unapologetic attachment to and upliftment of his cultural roots and personal experiences that admonishes the listener to at least think, if not say, “long live the chief.”
HAVE YOU HEARD THE ALBUM YET? LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS!