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Album Review: Jidenna - Long Live The Chief

What can I say about Jidenna that hasn't already been said about Barack Obama or Tom Morello? Oh, he makes really good music. That probably lets you know this review of his debut album The Chief is going to be positive. Like, really positive there's not a lot of bad in this album, at all.

I'll admit it, the first song I heard from Jidenna was "Extraordinaire," and I kind of hated it. I wasn't going to give him another listen but I like to abide by the three listens rule. That means if you like three songs by an artist you have to listen to the album and he got me with the combo of "Helicopters," "Long Live The Chief," and "Knickers," so here we are.

For starters Jidenna is an artist born to a white mother in Wisconsin, his a Nigerian father who was a college professor here in the United States when they met. I'm telling you, he's the Barack Obama of hip hop because Tom Morello is already the Obama of rock music. The family moved to Nigeria for several years before relocating to Massachusetts. There he helped create the group Black Spadez. After High School Jidenna was accepted into Harvard, like Tom and Barack but he chose to go to Stanford instead. I mention these things because the album touches on a lot of his background.

The album features interludes by Jidenna's uncle who is attempting to teach him things while he is returning to Africa to bury his father. These piece the album together nicely because while every song may not have a similar sound, and most don't, it ties them together with the narrative. if there's one constant between the tracks is that a lot of them feature some form of Afrobeat influence. This can be anything from the tempo of the track, it being stripped down to the basics or the inclusion of steel drums.

With his uncle guiding him this can be viewed as a coming of age story for Jidenna. On the song "Bully of The Earth" he states:
You’re not a man til’ the day your father dies, you’re not a woman til’ you make your momma cry
A lot of the album deals with Jidenna coming into his own as an adult while attempting to navigate the role that his father left. He has to become his own man even if he disagrees with the lessons his elders have given him. One example would be his uncle telling Jidenna the following:
A woman will move for another man and have a child for that man, like they will jump from one man to another just have to have a child for that man
Basically his uncle is telling about how all the women are sexual deviants and he shouldn't trust them. But Jidenna has a different opinion of his own. On the song "Trampoline," he states:
The lady ain’t a tramp, just cuz she bounce it up and down like a trampoline [...] She might even have a wedding ring, or a doctorate in medicine, or the daughter of the reverend, or the daughter of the president
He continues in the next song "Bambi" where he shows that it's not always the women at fault. Sometimes we as men have to accept that we messed up. In this instance, he seems like he's a cheater although he doesn't explicitly say that instead he sings:
Oh Bambi I won't lie, if I weren't in this spider web of mine. If grandfather never had seven wives, then darling you would be love of my life
Most artists would write a song like that and at the end they get the woman of their dreams and live happily ever after. Not Jidenna, he realizes he's lost her for good. He knows she's not coming back and he has to deal with that.

Jidenna is part of Janelle Monet's Wondaland album. If you follow them, and you should, they're very active within protest for many different issues. One of those is the treatment of minorities by police and the brutality or death that comes along with it. This another thing Jidenna touches heavily on with the album.

Most notably he does so on the track "White Niggas," which is not a song about who is and who is not invited to the fictional cookout Black Twitter is always throwing. Instead it's a song about role reversal and painting a picture of white people facing the same issues as black people in America. Even if you're not white the song can catch you somewhat off guard when he's telling stories like:
You in a rougher spot here, reflect on how you got there. The law had you in crosshair, stop and frisk your kids playing street hockey in lacrosse gear. Son was barely even selling, but when he returns the whole suburb would brandhim 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
Additionally he touches on the recent drug "epidemic," that's reaching across America. While these things have happened in the past in black neighborhoods, nobody ever cared. Instead a war on drugs was created and tough on crime judges made sure to lock them up for a long time. There was no outside help when these things happened to black people. Now police are carrying anti-overdose drugs and states are buying up abandoned properties for state funded rehabilitation because the drug of choice is now heroin and the primary addicts are white women. Jidenna theorizes what it would be like if the war on drugs was fought the same way now as it was then:
She could have predicted that the Feds would come for her just like for him, but she was addicted, the biggest fiends today are white women. Middle aged, middle class as you know, twas the same when they blazed opium back in Jim Crow. Okie doke, smokie smoke and she need that dopie dope, just to cope, but they’d rather see her in those orange clothes. Where’s the hope, for the white niggas?
I've said a lot of positive things about the albums so what are the negatives? On one hand it's great that Jidenna has so much versatility and shows it off so well. On the other hand, there may be a little too much versatility on the album for some listeners. He's great at all of it, but some tracks are pure R&B which you would not expect from any of his work before the album. There's even a few tracks that are just going to get endless rotation in the clubs like "The Let Out," and "Some Kind of Way." Again, you wouldn't expect it and for most people it won't matter. However, if you cam for a pure rap album, you might be upset.

When it comes to bad songs on the album the only one that I ever skip or don't replay is "Safari," I don't even have a good reason for why I dislike the song, it's just not my cup of tea. Maybe it's because I use a Galaxy instead of an iPhone and I own a PC that runs Windows instead of a Mac.

Is the album perfect? Not at all, is it way better than the 5.8 Pitchfork gave it for being "tiresome?" Yes it is. It's not the Holy Grail of music but it is a rare album. You're going to kick yourself if you wait a long time to hear this one.

You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet. You can also check out his playthrough of Sleeping Dogs or Skyrim
Follow @OriginalKingD

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Album Review: Jidenna - Long Live The Chief


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