While performing his debut hit single ‘Classic Man’ at the 2015 BET awards, the expression on Jidenna’s face was one of unbridled joy. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for Jidenna. ‘Classic Man’ peaked at number 22 on the billboard hot 100, got an official remix with Kendrick Lamar, was certified platinum by the RIAA and snagged a Grammy nomination.

Two years after the release of ‘Classic Man’, Jidenna’s long overdue debut album The Chief presents his expansive artistic palette. Born to a Nigerian father whose presence brackets the album, he jumps right into the album narrating his ordeal when he came to Nigeria for his father’s burial, ‘A Bull’s Tale’. Jidenna narrates his story in vivid details over banged up drums, background chants coupled and crawling synths matched with tonal shifts in vocal inflections capture his paranoia, “When you are bitten by snake, the paranoia make you pop a lizard in the face”.

Jidenna’s storytelling is at its most potent when he simply flips the script on the penultimate track, ‘White Niggas’. The blunt manner with which he presents the role reversal is riveting, presenting a white family dealing with the issues common to middle/lower class black American families. “Hope you know how to fight crime, 911 is no longer your lifeline”, he raps without any whiff of emotion.

When in charismatic mode his quicksilver tongue is accompanied by lines with the sharpness of a blade. Evident example is the midsection of the album where he goes on a chest pounding braggadocio with back to back tracks, ‘Long Live the Chief’ and ‘2 Points’. On the former cut, he slips in the reason he always steps out looking dapper, “I don’t want my best dressed day in the casket”. ‘The Let Out’ doesn’t quite match the intensity of its preceding tracks, it’s still a nice addition to make for an impressive trifecta.

Immediately after the straightforward rap offerings at the beginning of the album, the third track ‘Trampoline’ enters spaced out booty bouncing terrain. Hard 808 drum bounce and rugged blaring horns set the mood for the anti-slut shaming twerk anthem, “The lady ain’t a tramp, just ‘cos she bouncing up and down like a trampoline” is the cleanly sung hook. The Chief expands at every turn in any sonic direction Jidenna feels like. The sad confessional candor of ‘Bambi’ laments lost love due to his own fault over twinkling keys reminiscent of 50’s doo-wop, brought out to melt with contemporary R&B.

Impressively, Jidenna is the centre of attention even in the midst of an array of sound influences, but running into clutter is inevitable. There’s too much going on in the background in the blue eyed love story of ‘Adaora’ and Jidenna has a difficulty in grounding the track. A track that comes off as though it is meant to soundtrack a telemundo sitcom while been assisted by trap drums before morphing into a brief highlife section, the track is all over the place. The afrobeats plus EDM plus minor tropical house underscore vibe of ‘Little Bit More’ is also jerky in the context of the album.

“…the greatest men, like your uncle, we draw our circle around the circumference of the entire world” states Jidenna’s oversabi uncle, an ideal Jidenna obviously subscribes to in terms of musical execution. The Chief presents an artist at the centre, pushing the boundaries while hopping between various genres, sometimes in effortless fashion other times in laboured manner. The Chief is an oft rewarding and exciting debut album.

Writer’s rating: 3.8/5

Words by Peter Adedotun Dennis, aka The Prince, aka @ayo_dennis.

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Finding out why the caged bird sings, or raps.

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