Photo courtesy of Jidenna

Last week, the 59th Grammy Awards were televised to an audience of 26 million people across the world. Some might consider the annual award show to only be a self-serving award ceremony for the year’s popular artists, but the four hour long spectacle of anticipation, performance and acceptance speeches represents much more than that.

The Grammy’s, as all award shows today, serve to reaffirm an age-old idea within the art-creating community: the best creations will thoroughly entertain their audience, function as reflections of the current attitudes and beliefs of their creators and respond to societal realities that exist at their particular times of creation.

Adele’s “25” was praised for its diverse musicality and its statement as a profound personal comeback for Adele after experiences with motherhood and subsequent writer’s block.

Beyonce’s “Lemonade” received critical acclaim for its empowering messages and amazing musical collaborations, and with its visual performance component, the album reflects the current realities of the changing definition of music in the 21st century. Applying the same metrics to “The Chief,” the debut album by Nigerian-American recording artist Jidenna, this first release is nothing short of excellent.

By making effortlessly enjoyable music, reflecting on his own unique life and offering commentary on the world around him, “The Chief” proves that Jidenna deserves all the fame that is about to come his way.

Jidenna is the artist best known for singing “Classic Man,” which was his contribution to “The Eephus,” the debut extended play for all artists signed to Janelle Monae’s new record label, Wondaland Records. He was born in the United States to a white mother and a Nigerian father and lived in Nigeria for the first six years of his life. He then moved back to a small Wisconsin town with his mother.

Jidenna developed his unique aesthetic style (seriously, Google the guy — he’s always dressed to the nines) while attending college at Stanford University. He has stated that his musical style is heavily influenced by West African music and culture. While it is common for musicians to come from all different kinds of backgrounds, Jidenna’s background is particularly different, and like all good artists do, Jidenna allows the differences in his influences and thought process to shine through in his music.

With “The Chief,” Jidenna tries his hand at several subgenres of hip-hop, and in every instance succeeds because he adds his own flair to every song. “Trampoline” is the rap album’s requisite ode to women who can “bounce it up and down like a trampoline.” Within the song are lyrics that speak to any free-living millennial who can party as much as they study: “got a right to get lit/she might even have a wedding ring/or a doctorate in medicine/or the daughter of the reverend/or the daughter of the President!” The songs “Chief Don’t Run” and “Long Live the Chief” contain the most braggadocio.

Both reference the importance and power inherent to being a chief, oftentimes an important societal position in African culture.

“White N****s” offers a Kendrick Lamar level of analysis of the double standards that exist when evaluating the black community. Both “Bambi” and “Adaora” have clear musical influence from traditional West African instrumentation and are dedicated to lost loves that escaped Jidenna in the past.

In an unsuspecting way, the 14 tracks of “The Chief” tell the story of the American Dream from Jidenna’s perspective. For people like Jidenna, and most people whose lives have been heavily shaped by more than one culture, fulfilling that dream is much deeper and much more difficult than attaining a loosely defined idea of “success.”

For immigrants and children of immigrants, the American Dream also entails finding the sweet spot of cultural assimilation that exists somewhere between being dubbed “fresh of the boat” and “completely whitewashed.”

The true joy of “The Chief” lies in the fact that Jidenna has arrived at the perfect middle, and he exists there with such a confident exuberance that listeners will not be able to help singing and dancing to the music of an
entire generation.