Photo Credit: Marc Baptiste


Seemingly out of nowhere, 30-year-old MC Jidenna's hit song "Classic Man" has been blazing up the Billboard charts for a few weeks now and today, the Wisconsin-born, Boston-by-way-of-Nigeria-raised artist decided to let loose the official remix to his smash single. With two added verses from Kendrick Lamar, Jidenna's track is only gaining more momentum as the summer rolls along and helping the Wondaland Records artist become a new figure in hip-hop that listeners need to keep an eye on.

As the first artist signed to Janelle Monae's Wondaland Records, Jidenna stands apart from the rest of the hip-hop artists in today's game. Elegantly dressed in three-piece suits and with a style reminiscent of the social aid and pleasure clubs of New Orleans, Jidenna looks to develop a new genre of music within hip-hop that he defines as Swank. Highlighting the classic hip-hop record "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Jidenna looks to provide listeners with party music to jam to while at the same time incorporating positive messages into his lyrics.

With Kendrick now on the remix to Jidenna's breakout hit, the world is becoming more familiar with the MC and after his performance at the Bay Area Summer Jam last week, the "Classic Man" stopped by XXL to speak on the impact of his record and the movement he looks to create. —Roger Krastz 

Photo Credit: Marc Baptiste

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XXL: What artists did you grow up listening to?
Jidenna: First I started listening to Michael Jackson and Bob Marley when I was a little boy, but once I got to high school I was heavy into Queens rap. It was Nas, Cormega and Mobb Deep, because Boston at the time listened to anything that was Queens-related. Queens and Boston made sense. And then after that it was anybody from Wu to Noreaga. Slowly, I think I got older and fancier and it was all the Harlem cats, so honestly from middle school to high school it was all hip-hop. After I got past the Michael Jackson phase it was straight hip-hop.

What do you think is something that people don't know about you?
Well, the first thing is that I'm an MC before anything. Also, that I used to sag my pants and used to wear big baggy t-shirts and fitted caps and all that. That's really where I come from. I come from that culture. I come from neighborhoods where I still see that around. I didn't always wear the three-piece suit.

Growing up, who were some of the rappers you looked up to fashion-wise?
When Jay Z started wearing button-ups, we had to start wearing button-ups. He always dictated what the fashion trend was. But then there was Pharrell and there was other people that I started realizing as I became older—and I'm talking 14-15—that I could be myself. I could start dressing outside of the norm. Where I was at the time in Boston and commuting to Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York, it was really conservative in terms of dressing, so Pharrell opened the gate. André 3000 opened the gate. Even actually Dipset, to a certain extent, opened up the gate. But secretly, the whole time the first fashion icon that I looked up to was Malcolm X. When I saw Denzel Washington portray him in Spike Lee's X I said, "Man there's something about this guy, even how he looks and how he carries himself, that I love." I guess now as I moved into my 20s I started to embrace that kid in me that always looked up to that kind of man.

Has your music and style been compared to anyone else?
Not really. The aesthetic, look and style has been compared to somebody like André in his Idlewild phase, because he had a lot of different phases. The sound of "Classic Man" has been compared to [DJ] Mustard, but to me, I lived in the Bay and that sound was actually an old sound that's now the hip sound. So for me I don't mind that, because a lot of my music has a bit of the Bay influence.

When you finished recording "Classic Man," did you feel like it was an automatic hit?
I mean yeah, I enjoyed the record. If you get goosebumps, usually the people that listen to it are going to get goosebumps as well. So I just enjoyed it. I was thinking hit record. I was thinking radio. I was thinking, "Do I enjoy it and will people jam to it? Can they party and ponder to it?" That's usually my criteria. That's what I want to be known for.

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How did you end up linking with Janelle Monaé?
Janelle attended a Masquerade Ball that I was hosting. I used to host Balls in East Palo Alto in Oakland around the Bay Area. She came to an Oakland event with her crew and there was just something special that I hadn't seen and they felt the same way about our crew. So from then on, it was a creative partnership between us. We've worked on some previous Janelle Monaé records and this year we decided to launch the whole entire thing and form a partnership with Epic Records. And here we are. The Eephus compilation EP drops in August. The "Classic Man" remix will probably be on there.

What would you say are your ultimate goals in hip-hop?
I would say, when I look at the foundation, I'm trying to go back to "The Message," both literally and figuratively. If you listen to that record, the beat is actually funky, but it still talks about something. That's all I want to do. Make music that you can party and ponder to at the club. It doesn't have to be hella deep, but it just has to mean something, that's all. And that's what I believe I'm doing. And that's what "Classic Man" does. All the records I will put out mean something. I'm the type of man that one day I'm having dinner with a Congresswoman and then I go to Atlanta to Magic City [strip club] on the same night. So I want to make records that feel like that and that is true to my life and everyone can relate to. If I'm in the Capitol in D.C. and at a strip club at night, I'm going to be talking about strippers in the same sentence that I'm talking about politics. There have been people that have done this for a long time, but lately we've been lacking on that. There was 2Pac, Ice Cube, Rakim, so why can't we do it?

I want to create a whole different genre. The genre that I'm working on is called Swank. My biggest goal in hip-hop is to be the swankest man in hip-hop history and the swankest man alive. I already have the swankest DJ you've ever seen, Nana Kwabena Tuffour, who is also my co-producer. People compare me, though, and say, "This is the millennial version of André 3000." Those are big shoes to fill and that's an admirable position, but my goal is to redefine and create a new genre.

As far as production, who are some of the people that you're working with?
I produce the vast majority. I work with Nana Kwabena Tuffour. I work with my team, Fear & Fancy, and Wondaland. I love collaborations. I just don't sit alone, but most stuff is in-house. But I'm down to work with anybody from Pharrell to Timbaland. It don't matter.

What's been the biggest moment of your young career thus far?
It would have to be the Summer Jam in the Bay Area. I just came back from that. I was in the Oracle Arena where the NBA Finals were played and Lil Wayne and Trey Songz were headlining, so just being in front of that kind of stadium in an epic arena where the Finals took place, that has been the stand out moment for me.

Photo Credit: Marc Baptiste

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Jidenna's 5 Elements To Becoming A Classic Man

1. Composure
Jidenna: You gotta keep cool even you're under fire. If you can do that, you can master the game. You can master the world. Look at chess, politics, religion, hip-hop; the ones on top are usually the ones that can compose themselves. Jay Z, my mentor Diddy, these men carry a certain amount of composure in the midst of all the madness.

2. Dignity
Jidenna: You have to walk with a certain amount of power and command a room and command attention without speaking the loudest. I don't need to raise my voice to make you hush. There's something about just walking around with dignity that any classic man has to this day.

3. Charisma
Jidenna: I think charisma, wit, charm; they're all necessary to use for your lovers and your enemies.

4. Admiration For And Humility Towards Women
Jidenna: I believe that if you acknowledge women with a certain amount of admiration and acknowledge what I believe to be true, which is that women are generally wiser and more loyal, partially because of their design and their body clock, because at some point they are going to carry a baby for nine months so they are hardwired for it. I believe that if you have that for a woman, then you're able to really learn what it means to be a man. It's like James Brown said, "It's a mans world, but it wouldn't be nothing without a woman or a girl." And he's a Classic Man. That's a man's man.

5. Compassion
Jidenna: And the last element would be compassion for people beyond your own family.