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Jidenna talks Pan-Africanism in the Black Lives Matter movement, fighting for equality, new music and more

REVOLT caught up with Jidenna to discuss the importance of including Pan-Africanism in the Black Lives Matter movement, his music, economic and spiritual wealth in the Black community, and more.

Jidenna Getty Images for ESSENCE Fashion

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The evolution of Jidenna — in music, style and advocacy — has definitely been worthy of watching throughout the years. Since his 2015 debut, the Grammy-nominated Nigerian-American recording artist has made a name for himself beyond the Billboard charts. The self-dubbed sharp-styled swank singer has creatively fused psychedelic Afro-soul, hip hop, funk and into his projects with the intention of bridging the African diaspora and the continent of Africa to America.

Away from the studio, Jidenna has proudly used his platform to promote activism and raise awareness in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. His passion for social justice and advocacy has been demonstrated time and time again.

REVOLT caught up with the “Classic Man” to discuss the importance of including Pan-Africanism into the conversation of the Black Lives Matter movement, his music, economic and spiritual wealth in the Black community, and how the Wondaland fam has been pushing the envelope in social justice. Check out the conversation below.

Tell us about your recent featured project, African On All Sides.

African On All Sides is Bullish’s compilation which I’m a part of. Bullish [Recordings] is run by Steve Rhythm, who is also the A&R of the last project I had, 85 to Africa. [Steve] has this really important message to the world that Africa is more than Afrobeats. He put together artists on the continent and artists in the diaspora that spanned the gamut from Afrobeats to trap to gengetone and a lot of other genres that exist outside of what most people know that’s being broadcasted from Nigeria, predominantly Ghana. That’s the compilation in a nutshell and I’m just honored to be part of it with my guy, my homie, my mentor and my brother.

How is your new song “Black Magic Hour” relevant to our economic and spiritual worth, especially right now in the midst of racial unjust, and the killings of our brothers and sisters?

Black life has always been cheap, unfortunately, in this country and in the world for the last few hundred years. What we’re doing right now is raising the price, and raising the value of our lives and our livelihood. That’s something that is really going to take centuries to rewire and redesign the earth to understand it, but I think we’re in a momentous period right now. As far as “Black Magic Hour,” we cannot have true economic worth if we do not believe our spiritual worth. Everything that is outside — buildings, people, everything that we see with our eyes — starts with some invisible seed of a thought, of an idea, of something in nature that forms and combusts into something that we can visually see. When we see a group of people with high economic worth, it’s because they actually believe that they deserve it. That’s why the continent of Europe, the country of America and then followed by East Asian nations have GDPs (gross domestic product) that are so high because those people believe it.

Now with us, I think that we look at other groups sometimes with envy, sometimes with vengeance and rightfully so. The anger that we’ve felt because of the last few hundred years of slavery, colonization and all of the effects that it had, but when we see these people, we know what we want most is to have equity in the world. A lot of times, we talk about fighting for equal rights. I’m not just fighting for that. I’m fighting for equity and that means that we share the experience, we share in the wealth that we help create, and we will not do that to our fullest potential unless we believe it in our spirit. That’s what “Black Magic Hour” as concepts and as a song is about.

What is the importance of including Africa and Pan-Africanism into the conversation of the Black Lives Matter movement?

Number one, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded by women of the diaspora that spans everywhere from being Black American in the U.S. to being Nigerian-American. If I remember correctly, one of the founders has roots in Latin America. Specifically talking about Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, and all of the additional women and people who helped them build the movement. You’re looking at a mixture of women who found a movement in the U.S., but it’s a global movement. You’ll find “Black Lives Matter” anywhere on planet earth. It’s always been a diasporic movement from the foundation, but now you have to highlight. It’s been an inclusive movement. It’s not just Black straight people or Black cis[gender] people. It’s always been all of the Black lives that exist in the world.

When I watched the [REVOLT Summit] with Candace Owens, Killer Mike and T.I.; one thing that was discussed was economic progress for Black people in this country. I love the perspectives I heard on that panel [and] I believe everyone on that panel has good intentions whether or not I agree with everybody. One thing that I saw is that none of them mentioned Africa in a conversation about Black economics; not one. We will get nowhere if we think that we can just do it within this country. Not any immigrant group or ethnic group on planet earth ever does it by circulating dollars just amongst themselves in the nation in which they stand. They always move money across the border and they always repatriate. When we talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, and why it’s important to emphasize the diaspora and the continent is because we will not truly achieve economic progress without each other.

Briefly shifting gears to speak to your creativity, how has everything now taking place impacted your work ethic and creative process?

It’s been waves. I remember Tupac saying when he came out of prison, he thought in prison, he was going to be writing hella s**t. “Okay, good, I’m in my cell and I can just get my thoughts out,” but [he] didn’t write s**t when [he] was in there. It wasn’t until afterwards when he came out and made All Eyez On Me.

Early on in the pandemic, I was like, “Oh, this is perfect. All my producers are at home. I’m at home. We’re gonna make hella music. It’s gonna be great. I’m gonna be inspired. It’s gonna feel like the 1960s and ‘70s.” And I didn’t make s**t. I wasn’t feeling it. I was low energy and too low to make music. Then, I found a rhythm by doing a lot of shows online. Not as many performances, but shows where I’m acting and [in] characters like “Chief.” I started a Black men’s book club called Lit Review with Yusuf Yuie and Nana Kwabena. I kept doing that kind of work and serving outside when I could with food drives, COVID[-19] testing, and I just had to make myself useful to people. What changed in me was [when] I remembered that my life is a service to people and regardless of the industry I’m in, I should always look at the ways I can serve and give as many gifts out as I can. Once I recognized that, I gave my gifts in various ways; so much so that I missed music and now I’m back in music this summer.

You’re pretty vocal about the Black Lives Matter movement and you were one of the Wondaland artists featured on the protest song “Hell You Talmbout.” How does the Black Agenda and the mission of Wondaland parallel with one another?

I would say that what I love about Black Lives Matter is that it is pushed from a message and into an agenda, and all other agendas have been inspired by that movement and have been wonderful to see. We do live in more decentralized times. It’s not as centralized as it was in the ‘60s when you had individual leaders who were part of organizations speaking to the national audience. Now, you have multiple organizations and different leaders definitely speaking, but not in the same oratory fashion that you saw before. Back then, that’s why you have Black Nationalists movements because we were already thinking more like a Black nation. Now, I feel like we have movements, we have wonderful leadership, and the three women that I mentioned are doing wonderful work. But, I do think that a Black agenda is something that is difficult to create when you’re not sure if people are ready to move as one. That’s been an issue from the jump.

What I will say about Wondaland is that Wondaland’s always try to put out an alternative way of life, an alternative way of artists, and alternative culture to whatever is going on, and whatever’s central to art and to Black art. We’ve never been central and always been living in that and that was established by Janelle Monae, which is why we link because we [were] on some intentional community common artists s**t between Atlanta and East Oakland. This was not usual at the time. For us, the way it connects with the Black agenda, if I was to create one and be part of a roundtable of thinkers, one thing I would make sure that we do is always think as far outside of the box as possible. That’s what Wondaland strives to do — to always go alternative and never dead center. I do think there are some leaders that are thinking like that. My conversations with Patrisse [and other leaders in organizations that I work with], they’ve helped me to understand what the phrase “abolish the police” meant. In doing so, it freed my mind to think of a world that still has security, but does not have the same kind of police force that we have now. I think that’s where Wondaland and at least the agenda that I’ve seen some of my friends and comrades push coincide. How do we think of a world that we can run? A world that we can own, a world that has different architecture literally in buildings and the institutions. That’s what Wondaland stands for and that’s what I believe the Black Lives Matter’s intentions has always been. Dream bigger, dream brighter, dream Blacker.

How have you, Janelle Monae, and the Wondaland family been using your platforms to support the families of the Mike Browns, Breonna Taylors, and George Floyds of the world?

Everybody uses social media to some extent to make sure that people are aware and amplify whatever voices there are. There’s things that different artists will do in the background whether it’s giving bail bonds or it’s actually just sitting down and meeting with people who are fighting on behalf of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Mike Brown like you mentioned, and a million others who are working with organizations to make sure that we are redesigning a world where that doesn’t have to exist. Over time, we found that we have multiple weapons way beyond social media. When we first started, “Hell You Talmbout” came from us creating a song for names like these; obviously George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor unfortunately had not been murdered by then, but Mike Brown’s name was in it. It came out of us marching across the country during the “Ethos Tour” — marching in every city that we had a show in. We’ve done everything from marching to tweeting to giving an organization either financially or by giving our minds and our service, but there’s much more in store. It’s not just for us, but I think for Black people at-large. We are in the middle of, I think, the largest turning point that we’ve seen in the last hundred years.

How do you think the music/entertainment industry should keep the momentum going with pushing positive messages?

We should force labels and any entertainment company that we’ve come across as a large corporation to continue to create institutional access for Black people. What that means is access to any field and it can mean access to housing. How can you contribute as a label in that way? I have a whole list of things I’ve talked about specifically with my manager Mikael Moore, who has some brilliant ideas on how the industry can actually create structural changes. I think it’s cool to give away $100,000 - $500,000 or whatever to social rights organizations, but is there something more or something else we can do other than just giving some money away? How do we channel that in ways that actually create structural change? That’s how I think. I can’t say what the R&B and hip hop community can do [because] I always look at what I can do with the people I know because I don’t expect everybody to move the same way. I do think music will change in terms of the content. I hope that people are more intimate and vulnerable with themselves. I hope that this pandemic has changed our relationship to family and friends. I’ve had more time to do so and that’s changed my music, so maybe we won’t make the same music; we shouldn’t. Music should change with these times and I think that alongside the institutional changes that labels and other entertainment companies can make, that combination of art and tangible change is ushering in a whole new wave in the music industry and entertainment.

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