It’s easy to get lost in Classic Man‘s hypnotic beat, a new genre of melodic hip hop and funk that Jidenna calls ‘Swank’. But for the artist, as well as his colleagues at Fear & Fancy and label mates at Wondaland, the message and creative aims go far beyond the dance floor and record sales. Jidenna is one of those exceptional artists who show that a song suitable for heavy rotation on the radio and in the club can also be meaningful.
He describes the single as: ‘[A] celebration of manhood, of being a man that stands upright, especially in the face of the cruel world that we sometimes encounter [as] African Americans and Latinos. We definitely have an intense obstacle course in front of us. So, when we say, “I’m a ‘Classic Man’,” to me, that gives us the fervour to really cut through and fight in whatever the daily struggle is.’
It’s a ‘celebration of manhood, of being a man that stands upright, especially in the face of the cruel world that we sometimes encounter as African Americans and Latinos.’
Jidenna was committed to partnering with a label that respected his social perspective and creative vision. He believes Wondaland and their partnership with Epic records was the perfect fit because: ‘They’re concerned with the art and love of humanity. Wondaland is about magic.’
Jidenna is deeply inspired by his Igbo heritage, the love of culture his anthropologist mother instilled, and commitment to art that makes us both ‘party and ponder.’ His fashion, which combines African prints and formal attire, is another expression of his individuality. A self-described ‘formerly broke artist’, Jidenna would shop for elegant suits at thrift stores which he would then get tailored at a local family-owned business: ‘I always knew the fit was more important than fitting in.’
It also communicates a deeper political message. He explains: ‘The gross amount of men, specifically African-American men, that are incarcerated, on parole or probation that exceeds the amount [enslaved] in 1850 exhibits the new Jim Crow era that we live in today. So, I like to dress like the old Jim Crow so I can remind myself of what times we’re living in. Everyday I wake up, I remind [myself]: “You gotta go to work today just like they went to work for you.”‘
‘The amount of men, specifically African American men, that are incarcerated, on parole or probation exceeds the amount enslaved in 1850 and exhibits the new Jim Crow era that we live in today.’
Taking every aspect of artistry seriously, Wondaland does not make music videos, but cinematic ’emotion pictures.’ Committed to truly doing justice to the song, Jidenna and his manager/stylist/creative director, Whippa Wiley, collaborated with director Alan Ferguson, for the video. Inspired by both the sound and message, Ferguson, who won the BET award for director of the year for Beyoncé’s Party video, volunteered to direct Classic Man. Well, he didn’t exactly offer his services. Over a meal at Waffle House Ferguson simply told Jidenna: ‘So, you know I’m directing the video for Classic Man, right?’
Women will also appreciate a celebration of manhood that doesn’t seem threatened by the opposite sex. Jidenna says: ‘To me a classic lady [plays] an active role in shaping and manipulating the universe so that she can manoeuvre through it with power and respect. She’s a boss. Those are the kind of women I surround myself with because that’s the kind of woman I came from…The women in the video weren’t just for show…I hope that people can really see that these women were carrying themselves with a certain elegance and grace as classic women.’
Jidenna will soon return to his homeland where he will commemorate his father’s passing in the village where he was from. In Igbo, Jidenna’s tribe and native tongue, his name means, ’embrace the father.’ Chief Oliver Udemmadu Ogbonnia Mobisson, Jidenna’s father, was an accomplished engineer, scientist, activist and entrepreneur who created the first African PC. Inspired by his memory, Jidenna says: ‘With a legacy like that…I have to make it. I have to be great.’ During the trip, Jidenna will visit a council of village elders to be inducted as a chief. He recognises this coronation as a sacred honor and, smiling, adds: ‘I hope I can convince them and that I have enough charm like a leprechaun to have them accept me as a young chief in the village I’m from.’
For his next single, the classic man partners with the electric lady, Janelle Monáe, in Yoga. Jidenna says the follow-up ‘will [definitely] stretch our careers and everybody’s perspective on what music can be right now.’ Certainly, his swag, vision and next level debut have his fans expecting nothing less. To hip hop fans with a discerning eye for talent, it’s obvious: the next boss is a chief.
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