Interviewing artists before or after soundchecks can be a choir for press. Attempting to get some minutes with the man (or woman) of the hour normally involves watching them perform haphazardly as they work with the soundman and perfect their performance.
Before speaking with Jidenna, I essentially watched him effortless go through his signature tracks including “Long Live The Chief,” “Little Bit More,” and “Classic Man” of course. Later on that night, he was set to perform as part of Wondaland Records’ pre-Grammy show at Los Angele’s El Rey theater. As members of Janelle Monae’s fronted collective dance and deal with pre-shew preparation and press, Jidenna is literally performing as if he’s in front of thousands of people. Before the interview started, he appreciated me informing him that his soundcheck was better than a lot of folk’s performance.
Around a week and some change away from dropping his major label debut The Chief (Wondaland/Epic Records) today, he doesn’t feel much intimidated being the first artist who isn’t Monae to drop a project on the label. He isn’t worried. One could say that Jidenna has always been this ready his whole life.
“The pressure?” he asked. “I’ve put so much pressure on myself since I was kid. My father put pressure on me. A B+ was horrible and was the end of the world when I was a kid. All the homies was like, ‘why yo pops trippin about a B+? Why he trippin when you don’t make a basketball?’ It was all excellence. I’ve been putting on the same pressure in my head since I was a kid. Ain’t nothing changed. I treat every day like its the same day cause life ain’t nothing but a long ass day. I don’t feel any more pressure than I did.”
He’s called the house that Janelle Monae built home for the past several years even earned a multi- platinum single, become the spokesman for dapperly dressed men in Hip Hop and earned a few acting roles. Kicking off this year with the Quavo assisted “The Let Out,” Jidenna calls the track a natural evolution for him.
“I kept one to show different sides of myself and the “The Let Out” was another side that people had heard,” he said. “I had been hanging out in Atlanta a lot so I had to hook up with Migos from Northside and Quavo had a great session and we made a couple of records. “The Let Out” was the first. I think after they called their album Culture and when you think about The Let Out, it’s a very culture song in that we grew up so broke we couldn’t go into the club. All we could do was go to “The Let Out” of the club and just parking lot pimp for a while. In a Honda Civic or Acura Legend or Integra maybe. Those are the classic cars for back in the day. We weren’t trying to stunt in no Maybach and 300s or Murcielagos. We didn’t have any of that. We just had some cars in the hood in some hatchback shit. “The Let Out” for me was a cultural single to lead with and also know you can party and ponder.”
And, that’s exactly what he wants listeners and his fans to always remember his music for: partying and pondering or turn-up and think. Jidenna hopes that’ll translate into The Chief which has been two years in the making.
“I got so many more stories to tell, but The Chief itself are stories of my life,” he explained. “That’s the beautiful thing about a debut album, it takes a lifetime to write that first work of art. It really just chronicles me trying to understand what it means to be a man. To go from “Classic Man,” to “The Chief,” those are two types and they can be the same man. Those are two perspectives on manhood. I’m never in a rush obviously. I go on God’s time and nobody else’s time.”
When DX spoke with Jidenna after his soundcheck, he was getting his haircut and discussing metaphysical stuff about how prayer scientifically works. Clearly, the Stanford graduate knows his stuff and it was all above my head. He’s also used his platform alongside his label boss to push for real positive change. This includes starting a scholarship alongside his sister in honor of his late father Professor Oliver Mobisson for Computer Engineering at Enugu State University. During Inauguration Weekend, he participated in the historic Women’s March with Wondaland as well. Jidenna said he never saw women as happy and as emboldened that day.
“Never in my life have I seen a group of women that happy, and I am around a lot of amazing women, my sisters, my siblings, my two sisters, my mom, the women in my tribe and Wondaland Records, but I’ve never seen women that happy ever,” he said. “It was so much power that day. I loved it. It’s one of the best moments of my life period. I went there as an ally. Traditional men think you gotta defend the woman through your might or physical might. That’s partially the world we live in today, but there are way more ways because you can’t go around beating on people the way you could before and social media don’t make it easier. Everybody filming it when you want to knock a sucker out. So, the new way. For the new man is to defend women’s right and to put women in the room if you have any inkling of power because the best ideas come when there’s a diverse group of people.”
From Jidenna’s perspective, he understands the power of diversity. His label boss is a woman.
“First of all, Janelle’s a beast and been a beast this year,” he said. “She already is and the year’s just started. I’ve been waiting to talk shit about Janelle Monae since the moment I’ve met her and it’s great that it happens even more. First, it was “Yoga” and now I can talk about Moonlight and Hidden Figures. I’m proud of my sister and she’s out there doing her thing. Leading the frontier. It’s great to catch the draft behind her wings as she flies up.”
The success he’s garnered comes from a team of multiple backgrounds. The mindset has worked out for the better.
“You talk with each other and weed out the best ideas and boom, there it is,” he said. “It doesn’t work when a company is 90 percent men, the cabinet is 90 percent men to run a country,” he said. “All the music software we have is little nerdy boys making it, it doesn’t work. It works, but it’s not the best. You gotta have more people in the room. I’ve been saying this for a long time and the Women’s March represented that moment when a group of people, in this case, women, who have previously been deprioritized said that we are the priority. That was a beautiful thing. It was so many people there. Probably more than Donald Trump and his administration want to admit, but it was so many.”
As Jidenna possibly anticipates the reception to The Chief, the life of a celebrity and responsibility to the outside world at large, he ended the with a message of freedom and empowerment.
“In a time where there is a bully of the earth, but the beautiful thing about the bully of the earth is you can not have a Moses without a Pharaoh,” he preached. “It’s a blessing that there’s this madman running around trying to create chaos so that there’s some order. You create chaos when you want to create order. That’s all that’s happening. Don’t get distracted by even the chaos. You gotta look at what’s the order that’s coming. I don’t want us to lose sight of experience of life. Eat, drink, be swanky and have fun getting the job done. Not thinking about everything being a fucking resistance or the revolution whatever that means cause most people ain’t ready for that. It’s not about reaction, it’s about action and about you dreaming about what kind of world you want to live in regardless of who is in power. This political thing is going to swing. I’m always dreaming of a beautiful world that I can envision instead looking at ‘what should we do to get this person out of office?’ Nah man, they’re always going to be fighting up top and like they say, when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers, but if we focus and lean toward the light as the grass. We’re going to grow into them trees and that jungle going to be bigger than them elephants ever were.”
Jidenna’s new album The Chief is currently available everywhere fine albums are streamed and sold. Click here to listen to it.