Words by: Shaheem Reid
From The Source Magazine Issue #271 | 2017
Don’t let the custom made bespoke suits he and his collective Fear & Fancy design cause you to get it twisted. Jidenna is just like you in more ways than you know. During his spare time he likes to “burn one down,” with the homies, play basketball and soccer, go hiking and kayaking, watch “Breaking Bad,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “House of Cards,” (“I love shows that deal with the acquisition of power,” he explains) “Louie,” “Atlanta,” “Luke Cage” and “Insecure” (the latter two he’s appeared on) and sip lots of brown liquor at a cozy lounge somewhere in his fourth home of NYC.
“[My friends] say that ‘cars run on gas and Jidenna runs on Cognac,” the burgeoning star laughs off, sitting in the TK studio in LA. “I go out to bars, lounges. New York is good for that.”
Spare time hasn’t come in abundance for the Nigerian born artist since his Grammy nominated for Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration “Classic Man” exploded last year. The song served as a sweeping introduction for not only as Jidenna as an artist but for his long-time friend superstar singer’s Jonelle Monae’s Wondaland records, a joint venture with the LA Reid run EPIC records . The cut, marrying Jidenna’s smooth melody with a Bay area inspired beat that had a body slamming thump caused frenzy and was the standout off the label’s 2015 debut Wondaland Presents: The Eephus EP. “Classic Man” and the Kendrick Lamar featured remix became a club and radio staple, skyrocketing Jidenna’s visibility to international spotlights.
JONELLE MONAE QUOTE
In 2016, with his profile looming as high as his fashion, Jidenna has been staying active to shed the “One Hit Wonder” label.
“That was the case of me and O.T. Genasis,” he answers about being slept on as a one hit wonder. O.T.’s “Coco” was becoming a hit around the same “Classic Man” was blowing up. “That’s why I was happy he had ‘Cut It’ to respond, to get that other record. I was rooting for him, for D.R.A.M. with the ‘Cha Cha’ song. For him to have the other record ‘Broccoli’ with Yachty, that was a big move man. When I see that kind of thing I’m always rooting for whoever.
This year, the 31 year-old dropped records such as “Long Live The Chief” and the heavily rotated afro-beat fueled, diaspora “A Little Bit More” to go along with incessant performance appearances, endorsements like Pepsi and the aforementioned acting. The gaunt red head (that’s his natural hair color and straight texture in his always kemped doo) plays the non-committal love interest Chris to actresses Yvone Orji’s name Molly character. Denna was handpicked by the show’s creator and star Issa Rae who he’s been tight buddies with since their days at Stanford University.
ISAA RAE QUOTE
“For me, he continued, “the storyline moved from ‘one hit wonder’ to most people asking ‘where’s the album?’ To most recently ‘oh I didn’t know he could rap,’ to now it’s like ‘ok great, will we see more of that on the album?’ The tough part is you don’t get a chance to tell people you as a whole artist or whole person. They only see one side of you. With me, I’m not out here feeling myself in some high fashion suit all the time. There’s a million different emotions that go through my head on the daily.”
Jidenna Theodore’s Mobisson’s story starts in all places, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. He was born to a Caucasian mom and African dad. As a baby, his family moved to his father’s home country of Igbo, which is South East of central Nigeria. Pop Oliver Mobisson was an educator and engineer and was associated with wealth because of his career, even though the family was far from rich. At age five, Jidenna was shot and his family robbed. A year later they moved to Boston, Mass and would go back and forth from Africa to the US until the mid-90s when Jidenna and his mom settled back in Bean Town. He spent his formative years there where he excelled in academics (that, he gives credit to his dad for being a heavily influential on his schooling) and was introduced to hip-hop.
The singer divulges that when he came back to America he was dressing like Michael Jackson and mostly listening to MJ and Bob Marley. His brother made him listen to his first rap LP, A Tribe Called Quest’s People Instinctive… LP. From there he was put onto Tupac then it was Nas and Cormega.
“In the Boston area Queens rap was supreme,” he thinks back with a smile. “’We ill-lust-Strious!/ Ashes to ashes and dust to dust./ It’s must we bust.’ I was into early shit peoples don’t remember anymore like Ali Vegas. Then Jay Z , Biggie, Brooklyn rap came a little later for me. DMX, oddly was a dude that made me really want to rap. It was him, Mase, Black Thought. I was playng football, I was skinny. The only thing I could rev myself up till I was getting hit, was DMX and that hard ass shit. So my white mom bought me his second album with him and the blood splattered all over him. She was like ‘I don’t know about this Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of my Blood.’ From there it was a wrap.”
Jidenna began to learn making beats–he produces most of his own music including all of the singles that have dropped thus far, with his partner Nana (pronounced Nun-Uh)—and developing himself as an MC. With his skills fully honed, the Stamford graduate wants to push the limits of hip-hop and develop an off shoot of the genre. That’s a life goal.
“I think a new genre or something that violate some of laws of hip-hop is born. For example one of the laws of rap music is that it didn’t have melodies early on and now we’re pretty much dominated by melody,” he explains. “One of the laws is that his was super hyper masculine art form. Now you’ve got guys from Kanye to ASAP Rocky to Jaiden Smith to Young Thug arguably wearing things that some of the older cats will say ‘man that’s a dress.’ But we’ve moved on. In the middle of moving into new sounds. My contribution from Long Live the Chief to the next [album] is to define that sound where it’s more global.”
And the LP, in question, Long Live The Chief, although it doesn’t have a release date at press time, Jidenna insists it is done and heavily inspired by his dad.
“My father, like a lot of fathers was in and out of my life,” he explains. “Even in his mistakes, like any human being he tried his best. Most of the time what we hear is a lot of songs that are basically saying ‘fuck the father.’ I had the privilege of at least living with my father for about five years. Our relationship was on and off throughout my life. Because I had that time with him I wanted to make sure I had an album honoring my father. ‘Jidenna’ literally means ‘embracing, or holding the father.’ I’m excited to give them the body of work. I think it’s important that an album is dedicated to a father that tried his best to be there and developed a son and really a family that had large dreams and large visions. I wouldn’t be who I am without him. The whole album is me post his passing and my adventures, the different things I’ve gone through over the last few years since h’es passed. And me trying to discover what it means to be a chief in America.”