By now I’m certain you’ve heard the infectious earworm "Classic Man." If not, I invite you to promptly roll the rock from atop your body, brush yourself off and listen below. I’ll wait.
Now that you’re up to speed, let’s continue, shall we?
Fashion-forward frontman Jidenna has seemingly burst from obscurity with a sound and style that promises to shake things up. His swanky anthem strikes the perfect balance between fun and braggart, and its anchoring theme of “you can be mean when you look this clean” brings the song as close to pre-party perfection as you can get.
So who is this Jidenna fellow, and why should you care? I’m glad you asked.
He’s Got Bay Area Ties
With connections to Nigeria, Wisconsin and Boston, Jidenna began developing his artistry in the Bay Area, performing in East Palo Alto and Oakland and frequenting popular East Bay music venue the New Parish. While performing at a masquerade ball in Oakland, he met Janelle Monáe and was later signed to her Wondaland Records label. In a recent Complex interview, he spoke of his time as a self-described demonstrator bringing attention to high incarceration rates of black and Latino youth in San Quentin prison. And he's a Stanford graduate; he studied engineering and “Ritual Arts,” a major he created.
His Unique Fashion Has a Backstory
Citing Malcolm X and English fashion designer Ozwald Boateng as inspiration, Jidenna has explained how he refined his thrift store style, born out of financial necessity, to embody “what was going on in the old Jim Crow.” In multiple interviews, the newcomer has echoed the cry of civil rights activists like Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnes), citing the spike in rates of incarceration and vigilantism. “This is the new Jim Crow era and I want to dress according to the fashion of the times.”
Remember those oh-so-amazing Solange Knowles nuptial photos? Here’s a few degrees of separation to decode: The "Classic Man" music video was directed by Alan Ferguson, who is now married to Solange Knowles, which makes him Beyonce’s brother-in-law, which means Jidenna is kinda sorta family? One could say they’re practically play cousins. Well, at the very least if he DM’ed Beyoncé or Jay-Z, they would likely respond.
Full disclosure: I just needed an excuse to pour over these wedding shots once more. Magnifique!
He’s Endorsed by the Electric Lady
Signed to Wondaland Records, Jidenna is part of an artist collective handpicked by the Electric Lady herself, Janelle Monáe. Alongside a roster of young, gifted and black talent, including Monáe and fresh talent St. Beauty, Deep Cotton and Roman GianArthur, the group is slated to deliver a five track compilation, EEHPUS (a baseball term meaning slow motion pitch), that Monáe assures will be a music industry game changer.
If the second single off the EP — "Yoga" by Monáe and featuring Jidenna — is any indication, it would seem she’s making good on that promise.
He’s Bringing Sexy Back (Again)
With over 40 candles planted on hip hop’s birthday cake, Jidenna has made no secret of his plans to usher the art form into a new era he refers to as Swank. Inspired by Biggie, Nas and Tupac, the 30-year-old rapper exudes an air of Harlem Renaissance meets trap music and harkens back to the peaceful and free flowing days of KRS-One and Afrika Bambaataa. Challenging hip hop norms and stereotypes, Jidenna breathes fresh energy into a saturated space, effortlessly weaving between gritty lyrics and his affinity for yoga and tailored suits, while unabashedly discussing social issues impacting communities of color.
Will his unique mixture of social consciousness, unflinching creativity and catchy hooks amount to a game-changing ripple in hip hop’s next evolution? Pose that question to the newly formed Jenerals (think Beyoncé’s Beyhive, Nicki Minaj’s Barbz and Taylor’s Swifties) and I’m certain you’ll be met with a resounding yes!
While we’re on the topic of earworms like "Classic Man", what’s your song of the summer? Tweet @KQEDPop and share the tune you can’t enough of.
For arts stories you won’t read anywhere else, come to KQED’s Arts and Culture desk.