Several years following his signing to Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland Records, a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance for his breakthrough single “Classic Man” as well as a feature on Monáe’s hit song “Yoga” and even making a brief cameo performance doing a rendition of “Long Live the Chief” on Marvel’s Luke Cage late last year the “Classic Man” emcee has returned to the music scene to release his long awaited debut solo album The Chief through Wondaland Records.
Always having an eye for style and flare, even from a visual design perspective, the album’s cover art even features a subtle and seductive homage to Jazz guitarist Boz Scagg’s album Middle Man which sets the mood for the album’s course. The album’s opening number “Chief Don’t Run” is a bombastic introduction which sets the stage for a sonically eclectic and stylistically layered experience of an album which sets out to push the boundaries blurring lines between genres as well as the line between emcee and singer which are seemingly more and more intertwined in contemporary Hip-Hop and R&B. The bouncy, upbeat “Trampoline” (a tweak on the title of the classic show tune “The Lady is a Tramp”) is a sex positive anthem with Jidenna defending and praising women who are perceived to be promiscuous because of their dance moves and confidence. The track bangs with a certain elegance and upbeat jazziness that is unquestionably one of The Chief’s catchiest tracks on the album. Rivaling “Trampoline”’s catchiness, on “Bambi”, Jidenna switches course taking a slower, more subdued approach for a Belafonte-esque Doo-wop inspired ballad where a Jidenna laments on the complications and obstacles that continue to keep him away from the one he loves. While a simple but oddly satisfying love song, “Bambi” features what are arguably the best vocals from Jidenna on the entire album and of his career as of yet.
While obviously attempting to try on a variety of different hats throughout the course of the album’s fourteen track list, Jidenna is unquestionably the most focused and sharpest when discussing subject matter relating to police violence, racial inequality and social commentary. One such song present on the album which does just that is “Helicopters/Beware” where Jidenna sings, “They’ll shoot you down without warning, when they see you shining bright”. Jidenna even manages to take a swing at Donald Trump and the political establishment “Bully of the Earth” with Jidenna rapping:
“We won’t hail to the new king
As the political mood swings
Everybody showin’ true colors
Like a motherfuckin’ mood ring.”
However, the album’s most potent and significant track on The Chief is by far “White N****s”. A shoe on the other foot parable that turns the tables in an unflinching indictment of white criminality, addiction and poverty. Holding an unblinking mirror to the face of white society posing the question: what if Whites and their shortcomings were treated and demonized in the same manner as Black people and other POC in this country are? Here, Jidenna seemingly raps with the elegance and cadence of modern day James Baldwin as he places white privilege directly in the spotlight, cross examining the fact that whites in U.S. society are conspicuously almost always given every out, excuse and cop out to make up for and hide their failures or are flat out swept under the rug by greater white society only to shrugged off or disregarded as a fluke or outlier and not a reflection of one’s entire race, a luxury that has never once been afforded to communities of color throughout this nation’s ugly dishonest history.
Jidenna raps lines such as:
“Say if you and your wife, Madeline were treated just like mine
All the anchors on ABC Nightline would speak about white crime
We’d see videos every night of handcuffed white boys in the night time
Hope you know how to fight crime, 911’s no longer your life line
That’s a ticket to a cell, White N**** I wish you well”
as well as:
“The law had you in crosshair, stop and frisk your kids playing street hockey in lacrosse gear
Son was barely even sellin’
But when he returns the whole suburb would brand him as a felon
Can’t get no job, he can’t vote family name’s ashamed
Though he was targeted, we force him to take the blame
As all the blacks just walk past with their yoga mats
Eating their kale like all’s well in the cul-de-sac”.
While the song is easily the most politically charged and socially conscious offering on The Chief and evidence that proves that Jidenna is still not afraid to cover and address serious issues in his music and force listeners to engage in uncomfortable discussions, The Chief is by no means an all out political album. From start to finish, the album is peppered with a variety of different songs all touching on an assortment of topics and subject matter each with varying degrees, but the album never manages to get too dark nor take itself too serious.
If The Chief has a downfall, it’s that in an effort to bring forth a wide variety and assortment, the listener rarely gets a chance from Jidenna to settle in and get comfortable. The styles and approaches offered up on The Chief vary and change so quickly and so drastically that the listener seldom has a moments rest or time to truly set into a groove which at times can make for a strenuous listen. Jidenna does however, manage to keep the guest features on The Chief down to a bare minimum with minimal assistance from fellow label mates Nana Kwabena, Janelle Monáe, St. Beauty and Roman GianArthur. Longtime collaborator Nana Kwabena also handles the lion’s share of the album’s production on The Chief along with assistance from Best Kept Secret, Hit-Boy, Sonny Digital and ADOTHEGOD who each respectively lend their talents on select production throughout the album. If anything, what few missteps and shortcomings The Chief has present only sets the stage for a more focused and disciplined sophomore effort down the line from Jidenna.
At a length of fourteen tracks and clocking in at just over 57 minutes long The Chief is at the very least a promising debut offering from Jidenna. The album’s production, while unfocused tonally and stylistically and never exactly striking a perfect balance the album manages to never go too left field, while also still managing not to sound overly generic or stale like a majority of contemporary Hip-Hop/R&B fusion acts tend to deliver as of late. Jidenna’s rhymes and vocals are also crisp, clear and devoid of mumbling, another trend that has overstayed its welcome in the genre. While not exactly perfect and a bit unfocused at times, Jidenna proves that there’s promise and potential of the “Classic Man” delivering a classic album sometime down the line in the future. On The Chief Jidenna has proven himself to have a good ear for production, the ability to carry himself on his own album without and over reliance on guest features as well as the tenacity and drive to still touch upon important issues in his music. While The Chief may not be a classic album listeners will be hard pressed not to find something they enjoy throughout the album’s fourteen track entirety. If The Chief is any indicator, it’s that Jidenna is only getting started and the best is yet to come.
The Chief is available in stores now to purchase & to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes.
Stream Jidenna’s The Chief album and see album’s tracklist below.
- A Bull’s Tale
- Chief Don’t Run (Feat. Roman GianArthur)
- Helicopters / Beware
- Long Live the Chief
- 2 Points
- The Let Out (f. Nana Kwabena)
- Safari (Feat.. Janelle Monáe, St. Beauty & Nana Kwabena)
- Little Bit More
- Some Kind of Way
- White N****s
- Bully of the Earth