If you're anything like me, you would've assumed that, by now, considering the omnipresent anthem that was "Classic Man" last year, Jidenna would've released a debut album; you would've just assumed that you somehow missed the hype around its release. And you'd be wrong. The singer's introductory LP has yet to drop, but a bunch of invitees got the chance to hear it in its entirety last night (June 23) at West Hollywood's Blind Dragon lounge.
After an hour of passed sea bass sliders, glazed chicken skewers, fries and free "Fear & Fancy" cocktails (a tequila-grapefruit juice hybrid named after the social club Jidenna co-founded in 2006), the multi-hyphenated entertainer, characteristically dressed dapper in a dark red suit, red hair still coiffed with its trademark part, took to the stage to shout out friends and fellow attendees Kelly Rowland, V Bozeman and Kat Dahlia before introducing his Wondaland labelhead and frequent collaborator, the "fabulous," "fascinating," "musical genius" and "greatest entertainer alive": Janelle Monae.
Monae would go on to describe the album as "jamming as f—k," one she told Epic Records CEO & Chairman L.A. Reid he had to "get his ass down to Atlanta to hear," and one Jidenna would eventually describe as the personal story about a son grappling with his father’s death. And so began Long Live the Chief.
It opened with heavy-hitting tribal-esque drums; they were aggressive but uplifting, as were the sharp exhales that sounded like a battle prep, and Jidenna screamed on the track in a way that we’re used to hearing Busta Rhymes do. On its follow-up, Jidenna's songwriting skills ("Sleeping on the floor / with the oven doors open / dreaming about the places I would go… / Welcome to your funeral") and sense of humor ("Paid my dues, but they tryna Wesley Snipes me") took center stage, and, reminiscent of Kanye West's habits, the third verse relied on Auto-Tune before strings closed it out. It was on the third track though that we heard the "classic" sounds that originally introduced us to Jidenna: plucky, echoed thumps that DJ Mustard could build and Ty Dolla $ign's vocals could mold.
But all these comparisons aren't to say that Jidenna is a copycat. Most of the sounds that populate his album are world-influenced and are as mainstream as the chart-ranking hits that Drake's been dropping as of late, but just more authentic. Track four's patois sounded operatic and romantic; track five had the crowd in slow, sweaty body rolls, and mixed in with track six's reggae-inspired soundscape ("They gon' make the helicopters come out") were heavy trap drops.
The title track followed, so he appropriately flexed ("Still rejected Harvard"; true story, guys) and was equally cocky on its successor, a horn-heavy tune fit for royalty ("True friends stab you in the front"). Then there was no denying that, with a beat comprised of handclaps and popped-bubble effects, the next track was made for twerking, especially not after the lyrics instructed to "back it up, back it up." The most memorably radio-ready track was No.10 though, during which Monae could be seen mimicking its beating drums with her hands on the head of a lucky bald man. Both she and Jidenna came into the crowd for a hyphy dance-off on the follow-up ("No matter what you do/ or what you say/ somebody gonna feel some type of way"), before cinematic strings and a hip-hop bassline backedKendrick Lamar-style storytelling on track 12, and pitch-shifted verses closed the album.
Again, if you’re anything like me, you may have written Jidenna off as a one-hit-wonder, put off by his shticky image, and confused as to if he was a singer or rapper or what, but, honestly, there's a good chance that this review is missing at least one song because I was pleasantly surprised (and impressed) at how little side-eye I was giving to the whole thing and was too busy dancing. And because this is music we’re talking about, that's all anyone can really ask for.