“The Chief” is the debut studio album by Jidenna, the Nigerian-American hip-hop and R&B artist previously best known for his Grammy-nominated single, “Classic Man.”
The album starts strong with “A Bull’s Tale,” a song about Jidenna’s childhood in Nigeria. The track begins with narration from Uncle Palmwine, a fictional character based on the advice Jidenna received from various family members, voiced by Nigerian-American comedian Chief Obi. In a distorted voice the uncle also warns him in the last line, “You are with your family but your family may not be with you,” which is also repeated by Jidenna later on in the song to show that his mistrust of his family is one of the obstacles he faced in Nigeria.
The instrumentals create an intimidating atmosphere throughout the song. It starts with just a bass tone, but then gradually adds drums, pulsating synth notes and chants of “ra” that create a chaotic sound, reflecting Jidenna’s experiences growing up in Nigeria. Yet, Jidenna’s verses start as boastful about his experiences in Nigeria, like his decision to bring armed guards to his father’s funeral in Nigeria, which then turn aggressive as the instrumentals become chaotic. Jidenna’s pitch alters throughout the song and by the end of the song, Jidenna’s vocals reach a high and shaky pitch to show that he is in a hurry to get out of Nigeria.
While not as aggressive as the opening track, his single, “Chief Don’t Run” has a hook that sounds almost like a battle cry, but in a more subtle tone. “Chief Don’t Run” gives off a tone of perseverance that matches its chief-like fortitude. The hook references how a tribe leader proudly leads their people into battle and as the phrase is repeated throughout the chorus, it creates an atmosphere where Jidenna is a chief about to lead the listener into battle. It then adds trombones as it crescendos into a climax of two loud drum beats. Jidenna’s verses embody the confidence of a chief as he shares his struggles of growing up and desiring to make an impact as a leader. “Chief Don’t Run” stands out on the album for its empowering storytelling and inventive sound.
The lead single, “Long Live the Chief” is more sonically aggressive. It is also reminiscent of boom-bap rhythms while incorporating trap elements such as a kick drum in the background merging with an obnoxiously loud synthesizer that competes with the percussion. The result is an unapologetically heavy sound that matches the class radiated by Jidenna’s single rage-fueled verse. Compared to the previous songs, “Long Live the Chief” delivers Jidenna’s most assertive performance as he proclaims his role as chief on the album.
“White N****s” elicits a somber tone as Jidenna reimagines racial roles within the historical backdrop of the War on Drugs, by putting Euro-Americans in the positions of African-Americans. The song provides commentary on what life is like as an African-American in America and is reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar for its melancholic mood and prominent bass guitar, yet Jidenna still adds his own style by focusing on the storytelling in the song. Politically charged, the song shows Jidenna’s diverse rap style as he takes a break from his confidence-driven raps to deliver a song that is slow and serious to make a political statement about racism in America.
Overall, “The Chief” brings a new sound to the hip-hop genre with Jidenna’s verses and unapologetically aggressive attitude.