Jidenna is in Nigeria, and everyone is super hyped about it. From hugs on social media, to press interviews and appearances, he has pretty much been the talk of Nigerian music enthusiasts.
But why is he such a presence? What’s the big deal about Jidenna? And why should you care?
Jidenna Theodore Mobisson is a Nigerian and a US citizen by birth. Born to an Igbo academic in 1986, the singer grew in various place, in Enugu, Lagos, before finally, together with his family, moved to Boston, Massachusetts. He was just 9 years old.
His first album was released as a final project at Milton Academy, in Milton, Massachusett, a schooled he graduated from in 2003. But during High School, he founded a rap group, where together, they wrote songs, rapped and sang. True Nigerian to the core, he rejected a record deal because he had to attend Stanford University, where he began with sound engineering, but later switched up to major in Ritualistic Arts. He left in 2008, armed with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and began to chase the bright lights of music.
Signed to Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records, and distributed via a subsidiary of Sony Music, Epic Records. Constantly working for his next hit, he has worked on new music with label mates Roman GainArthur, St. Beauty, Deep Cotton, and boss Janelle Monae, together they created the compilation titled “The Eephus” EP.
Jidenna’s first official single – ‘Classic Man’ – was a hit. The song debuted at number 49 on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-hop Airplay chart. ‘Classic Man’ was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 58th Grammy Awards. In June of the same year, Jidenna performed the song with Monáe at the BET Awards. Jidenna also received an award for best new artist at the 2015 Soul Train Music Awards in November.
‘Classic Man’ was more than a song. It was a way of life, a whelming movement with a manifesto, which reads below:
Class ain’t just a glass of champagne. It is more about taste and discretion than it is wearing a 3-piece suit. When we say a man is classy, it is because he carries himself with dignity and integrity. Whether rich or poor, he espouses the elegance of the working man. The pride he takes in his appearance is rooted in the pride he takes in his self and his livelihood. A mechanic can have more class than a banker in a midtown barbershop. A young man can have more class than a senior. It is not capital or age that defines a Classic Man. It is character.
The Classic Man is a distinguished gentleman. He keeps his gloves dirty but his hands clean. He is absolutely certain that less is more, that actions speak louder than words, and that quality is better than quantity. He avoids making excuses and accepts both praise and criticism with the same cool. He doesn’t like to complain unless it’s funny or interesting. A Classic Man is observant, so he is naturally concerned with the details of his appearance and the presentation of his reputation. Thus, he is sharp in mind, body, and style.
A Classic Man is always an old soul. Nevertheless, he is not confined to tradition. He adapts to the times. Every Classic Man we think of in the past was actually a fresh new face of that era, a symbol and mouthpiece of his generation. Therefore, the archetype of the Classic Man is both timeless and relevant. Although he pays homage to his legacy, he is not merely a retro mannequin. Whether his choice of uniform is a denim jumper or a varsity jacket, he knows how to reinvent the suit for the modern day. His vintage style makes the elders feel young and the young feel grown.
All the Classic Men of the last century stood up straight. When you stand up for something, you stand out. The beauty of a bespoke suit and stiff collar is that it supports a stately posture. A great tailor is like a personal trainer, cutting around your body and into the power of your natural physique. The power of being one’s self is at the heart of every Classic Man’s wardrobe. He is more concerned with the fit than fitting in.
The “Classic Man” record celebrates the neighborhood gentleman that everyone knows and respects. He is the man that steps up to care for that which is not his own. He is the street elegant old-fashioned man, the urban sophisticate. He is a man that every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with. To both his lovers and his enemies, his charm is a necessary evil. Under fire, the Classic Man remains cool as Nat King Cole. He sons immature men without them knowing they’ve just been sonned. He can pull the wool or be a bull while being polite. A Classic Man never rants in public; he delivers speeches with passion and conviction.
The Classic Man believes that there is a deal for everything. Even when he is seemingly cornered, he has more moves than a flamenco dancer. Diplomacy is his strong suit and most conflict can be resolved without violence. He is no stranger to hand-to-hand combat, however, and is an excellent marksman. When all other options are exploited, he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves.
The Classic Man holds women in the highest of regard and will lay down his life to protect them. He believes that great women are the backbone of a successful nation. While others struggle to admit it, he believes that women are generally wiser and more loyal than men. Regardless of sexual orientation, boys and young men struggle with maintaining valuable, platonic relationships with women. Many of us do not have the male role models or father figures that teach us exactly how to relate with the opposite sex let alone a potential mate. Classic Men are usually found in the company of brilliant, successful women.
While other men can’t control their hormones in the presence of beauty, the Classic Man can stare into your eyes and hold an enlightening conversation without making a pass. He feels no need to hunt on the prowl; his patience and wit captures your heart and mind. He takes his mates on adventures, not dates. He knows that texting is not courting and courtship is not a means to an end. Well, on second thought, it is…but the key to wooing is to focus on the present moment. It is extremely challenging to civilize one’s primal desire especially after a few drinks. The more you hold out, however, the more you will be desired and ultimately rewarded. Once you invite him in and ask him to check his coat at the door, he understands that he can finally check some of his manners as well. To quote Enitan Bereola, “Etiquette has no place in the bedroom.” It is usually at this point that you realize that the Classic Man is still a man and that Man is still an animal."
Jidenna is a founding member of Fear & Fancy, a social club that began in California in 2006. The society, reminiscent of the social aid and pleasure clubs of New Orleans, is an international collective of entrepreneurs, activists, educators, scientists, and artists who host soirees, dinner parties, and demonstrations.
In 2016, he is working on his debut album, and has released new singles ‘Long live the Chief’, ‘Chief don’t run’, and ‘A little bit more’.
Why He Is A Big Deal In Nigeria
Jidenna is a big deal in Nigeria. That’s why his recent trip to Lagos has been achieved great marketing, which the Nigerian public has been receptive to. Photos from his trip have been shared, he has been fawned over at every point, cameras have documented his every action since he stepped in, and commoditized it. He is a star, and Nigerians have accorded him that respect and adulation.
Jidenna is a Nigerian, and he flaunts it every chance he gets. His ‘Classic Man’ swag is crafted with a huge leaning on Nigerian traditional print outfits, and styles. He incorporates these fabrics and designs into his debonair look at every turn, inspiring a sense of pride in citizens of his birth country.
Jidenna also loves to share his Nigerian story. His roots fascinates him, as much as everyone else, and he ceaselessly, and proudly talks about it. Perhaps a little bit too much. In July 2015, he ran into trouble for granting a controversial interview to VladTV, on his experience when he returned to bury his father.
“Our family was light. When you’re light-skinned you’re a heavier target for being kidnapped. Because you’re seen as more valuable. You’re seen as white. You have more money. We were robbed. Our family has been assaulted. It’s different. For us, we’ve always been a target. When you come to America, it’s different.”
He then spoke about the violence his family experienced because they were perceived as White and wealthy, saying that the family had been robbed and assaulted. After that incident, when Jidenna returned to Nigeria for his father’s funeral, his family, remembering their other experiences, came armed to protect themselves from any potential danger.
Well, the comments were not well received, particularly by those in the Nigerian community. While, some understood that he was referencing his unique set of experiences, others felt he painted the country in a negative light.
There was no way Jidenna could have avoided the criticism and backlash. So in response, on his personal website, the artist penned this open letter to the Nigerian community.
July 15, 2015
To all my Nigerian brothers and sisters…
I am, always have been, and always will be proud of my Nigerian heritage. I understand the pain and anger caused by some of the comments I made in a recent interview, and I wanted to address you directly. Contrary to popular belief, this interview was not the first in which I mentioned Nigeria. In fact, I’m frequently bragging about how Nigerians attend the world’s most prestigious institutions, and how we are known to produce world class doctors, entrepreneurs, innovators, lawyers, engineers, professors, athletes and artists. Unfortunately, people tend to leave these moments out, and, in this case, highlight stereotypes. I would never do or say anything to intentionally disgrace the legacy of my father nor my fatherland. But to not relay my own story, both the good times and the bad, would be a disservice.
My name is Jidenna, which means “to hold or embrace the father” in Igbo. It was my father who gave me this name and who taught me countless parables, proverbs, and principles that made me the man I am today. These same principles helped me to write the record “Classic Man.” When I brought home a 98 percent on a test, my father would say, “ah ah, where are the other two points? Go and get them, then bring them back.” My father and Nigerian culture has always stood for excellence. While the majority of my childhood memories are beautiful, I also have experienced the challenges that Nigeria has faced since Independence.
When I was 5 years old, my family was robbed at gunpoint, my mother was beaten, family members were kidnapped, and I was shot in my foot. As is the case with all kidnapping, targeting those who are perceived to be wealthy is the objective. In this instance, my father was the target because of his prominence in the community. This was a traumatic experience for my family that would shape our entire lives and our experiences in both Nigeria and America. As a little boy, I swore that I would never let that happen to my family again. As my father often said, “Once you’re bitten by a snake, you‘ll be ready to shoot a lizard!” At the time of my father’s burial 5 years ago, my family in the village was concerned about increased targeting for kidnapping since the rate of abductions had increased dramatically in the area we are from. We were traveling from America, which along with our biracial appearance, had the potential to attract attention and pose a threat to our security. In light of what happened in the past and the tense climate at the time, my family took precautions to ensure our safety. This was not an uncommon protocol at the time. I recognize incidents such as these are not unique to Nigeria or the African continent, and there have been significant improvements in the region since this period.
In the recent interview to which I’ve been referring, I shared my family’s experience traveling from the States back home for the burial. In this interview, I used the term “light-skinned.” When using this term, I was actually referring to my immediate family’s mixed or biracial appearance. See, no matter what language I use to describe my heritage, I’m certain that someone will feel some kind of way. This is a larger discussion not meant for this statement, but certainly derives from our colonial past and postcolonial present, and in the States, from the days of slavery to the present times. My comments about skin tone were related to the notion of perceived wealth and value, not my personal beliefs. My point was never to imply that biracial or “light-skinned” people are the only ones or the most targeted group of people kidnapped, or that I myself was wealthy at the time. Rather than focus on my perceived value, let us continue to focus on the value of Nigeria.
There is no question that Africa is playing a pivotal role in the future of our planet and that Nigeria, with it’s booming economy and burgeoning middle class, is a driving force. I will continue to play my role in the Renaissance taking place in Nigeria and Africa at large. We may not agree on everything, but know my heart is your heart, and my experience is part of our collective experience.
All of that is good now. Everyone has moved on, and all that exists for Jidenna right now on the shores of his homeland is love. And it is that love currency that he is spending on his visit to the country, where he has immersed himself into the celebrity culture of Lagos, and performed songs off his forthcoming album. Something he hasn’t done in the US. He is also shooting a documentary of his return to Enugu, his hometown, and all of this content is to showcase Nigeria in the right light.
“I think it’s important that people get go see Nigeria in a different light. It’s not all Boko Haram. It’s not all robberies and kidnappings. These are things that happen. But it’s just like going to the US, it’s not all mass shootings, and police don’t shoot everybody, although they do shoot some of us.” He told Pulse in an exclusive interview.
“I’m excited that people are following me because I want to make sure they see the different sides of what we have here, and for me to learn. It will be a learning experience, not juts for the people watching that are not from Nigeria, but for me also.”
Finally, Nigerians love him because there’s a general sense of pride we all take from having a son of the soil find his feet and thrive internationally in global pop culture, without denying that he is a Nigerian through and through. Jidenna has held Nigeria up high, and celebrated the good in the country at every chance he gets, and he is rewarded for it, with love, adoration, and idol worship. That’s why he is a big deal in Nigeria.