by Dom Jones
I had the great pleasure of seeing Jidenna up close and personal for the first time at a community concert, in San Francisco, the summer before I left Oakland for Berklee. He was electrifying, intense, and his showmanship was a welcome outlier in a time where style and class are often traded in for shocking, and almost unbelievable spectacle. While Jidenna’s show always brings the drama in the best way, you can also feel that it’s coming from a genuine place: from the stories about his time in Nigeria to his adoration for his late father. When I saw him in San Francisco, he just had a DJ and a hype man. That’s all. Seeing him this past Wednesday in Boston with a full band (mostly Berklee graduates, by the way) took the entire experience up five notches.
Jidenna’s opener, Mannywellz, was fitting to precede the main event. Jidenna, a true man of country, chose another Nigerian artist to highlight, showcase, and introduce on his tour, which is both honorable and rare. I’m always complaining about how some of my favorite artists pick horrible opening acts, either because they don’t want to be outshined or because they’re oblivious or because they don’t care. Jidenna chose someone who would fit perfectly with the theme of the tour as well as his personal brand. I found Mannywellz’ set to be very smart and strategic, interspersing his originals with his own takes on massive hits. He started out with on Lauryn Hill’s “That Thing,” immediately engaging the crowd and getting the entire building moving and singing together. One of my favorite originals in his set was about how people often look for love, complaining that they can’t find it, aptly titled “Wrong Place.” The live version hits harder than recorded track, but the latter is still enjoyable. More hits and more originals, Mannywellz didn’t belabor the point, but gave an exciting and concise set before relinquishing the stage to who we’d all been waiting for.
Jidenna is a man of theater just as much as he is a man of music. His band preceded him opening up with a pretty lengthy drum-
centered intro as his DJ projected over the mic getting the crowd amped and eventually introducing the man himself. Coming out singing, rapping, and dancing ferociously, my first thought was: “Will he be able to maintain this level of energy for the entire set?!” While he did take breaks on the slower songs, they were staged in such a way that the novice onlooker wouldn’t notice that they were positioned to give him time before launching into the next high energy tune. And if you don’t think Jidenna is on his way to mega-stardom, THINK AGAIN. I stood in the middle of a sold-out crowd who chanted almost all of the lyrics to every song he did! When he performed “Long Live The Chief,” it was as though we were all his army, just waiting for our musical marching orders. It was such an interesting experience because we were all strangers, brought together by a common artist, but this artist was not purveying damaging or offensive art. He was telling us stories about his family, about his country, about himself, about his future. What I find even more compelling about Jidenna is that he uses (and elevates) the popular musical styles of present to send important messages. The hook on “Trampoline” says, “The lady ain’t a tramp/Just ’cause she bounce it up and down like a trampoline.” This might seem simplistic, but in a genre of music where artists like Rick Ross feel free and uninhibited stating that they wouldn’t sign a female rap artists because they’d “have to f*ck a few times,” Jidenna is standing beside women in an effort to further proliferate the idea that a woman’s choices about her body are hers, and don’t define her entire being.
My favorite song on Jidenna’s latest album, “2 Points,” starts off with the line “I don’t spend no major time with no minor people…” which gets to the core of Jidenna’s ascent. It’s clear that he surrounds himself with greatness on a macro and micro level, mentored by the phenomenal and pioneering artist Janelle Monae, and backed up by one of the best bands I’ve seen in a long time. In tandem with his through-line of showmanship, his band danced coordinated moves with him, and more than that, expressed such authentic joy to be performing this music. There was a palpable energy moving through the place that I’m sure will travel with them throughout the entire tour.
One fun fact about Jidenna that many may not know is that he attended school and lived in Boston for a while. He made sure to shout out the different areas (Mattapan, Jamaica Plains, and the like), thanking Berklee for producing some of the greatest musicians he’s ever met. Towards the end of the show, he also stopped to acknowledge someone that we haven’t often heard much about in his music: his mother. She was front row, with many of his other family members, further fortifying what one can ascertain from listening to this music: Jidenna is anchored by his values. More than enjoying the show, which I did enjoy tremendously, I am enjoying seeing this artist prosper and come to prominence during a time where his voice is uniquely necessary. Long Live Jidenna.
HAVE YOU HEARD JIDENNA’S LATEST ALBUM? TELL US YOUR FAVORITE SONG IN THE COMMENTS!