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Jidenna Makes a Great First Impression With 'The Chief' Album



XL

Epic Records
Epic Records

A big part of being successful in the mainstream realm of hip-hop may be an artist’s ability to be packaged and easily identifiable to a target demographic, but Jidenna is one that has been able to make his presence felt despite not fitting into the typical hip-hop box.

The rapper first gained attention in 2015, with his hit single “Classic Man,” which peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. He followed that up with an appearance on label boss and mentor Janelle Monae’s single “Yoga.” The Epic Records signee may have gotten his name, face, music and fancy threads into the eyes of the public, but many fans were still unsure of what to make of him.

In between cameos in the Netflix original series Luke Cage, and the HBO comedic drama Insecure, as well as an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Jidenna was hard at work crafting his debut studio album, The Chief, a collection of songs that are diverse in nature and showcase the newcomer’s range as an MC and songwriter. Positioning him as “The Chief,” Jidenna begins the album with “A Bull’s Tale,” an introductory cut that includes betrayal from family members looking to steal his inheritance during a trip to his father’s homeland of Nigeria.

“They shoutin’ ‘Our chief is with us’/Strangers claim they my cous’/They plottin’ to take all my land/They must forgot who the fuck dat I am,” Jidenna raps, as he sets the scene with vivid details and imagery over tribal drums. Giving insight into his humble beginnings, listeners first get a glimpse at the man behind the dapper suits on “Chief Don’t Run.” “Before the red cups and the backwoods smoke/Me and mom in the shack in the woods, bro/I was sleepin’ on the floor with the oven door open/While I dreamt about the places that I would go,” the well-traveled rhymer reminisces.

Having shown the ability to make tracks that cause a commotion in the club, Jidenna serves up a syrupy offering with “Trampoline,” a selection that empowers women with frisky tendencies while simultaneously enticing them to show off their assets accordingly. Chanting, “The lady ain’t a tramp/Just ’cause she bounce it up and down like a trampoline,” Jidenna struts all over production by Andrew Horowitz, Nate “Rocket” Wonder, Nana Kwabena and himself with a cocksure swagger, making “Trampoline” an early highlight on The Chief.

While Jidenna may have done a bit of crooning on “Classic Man,” he makes sure to utilize his vocal abilities in a major way on his debut, which make tunes like “Bambi” and “Safari” intriguing inclusions. The latter, which features appearances from Janelle Monae, St. Beauty and Nana Kwabena, is powered by xlyphones, 808 drums and synths, and continues Jidenna and his benefactor’s streak of addictive collaborations.

“Adaora,” a melodic jam produced by Nana Kwabena and Jidenna, is another standout from The Chief that finds the rapper in a lovelorn state, belting his heart out as a display of his adoration from his Juliet. Jidenna may not be shy when it comes to making use of his vocal range on The Chief, but the album also includes an ample amount of bars that remind listeners that even with his diverse palette of production and artistic reaches, he is a rhymer first and foremost. This point is best conveyed on “2 Points,” a lyrical bonanza that sees Jidenna getting busy over a Andrew Horowitz, Nana Kwabena and Hit-Boy-produced heater, and “Long Live the Chief,” the first single released from the album, which is one of the more boisterous compositions on the long-player.

Taking aim at the pop charts, Jidenna gets club-centric on “Little Bit More,” an upbeat selection that is among the stronger tracks on his debut. The album reaches a climax on “White Niggas,” a conceptual cut where the rapper imagines a world in which a role reversal takes place between Black and White Americans. Produced by Andrew Horowitz, Nana Kwabena, AdoTheGod and Jidenna, “White Niggas” is a powerful, drum-driven composition that serves as a testament of Jidenna’s depth and ability to create more than the usual celebratory ditties he’s known for. “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,” Jidenna raps, turning in one of the more masterful songs on The Chief.

While Jidenna may have been a wildcard heading into the release of his debut album, the rapper, producer and crooner pulls all the stops on The Chief, resulting in a first impression that is a memorable one. The project gives Jidenna an identity that any artist aspires to: someone who makes pretty damn good music. He’ll still have to continue to get listeners familiar with what makes the man behind the music tick, but The Chief is an admirable beginning to what appears to be a blossoming career.

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