How can you not love “Classic Man” by Jidenna? That is our song here at TBA! Not only does it have a great message about being mannerable and taking care of business, but it also has a great beat and vibe that you just can’t help but to dance too. Well of course we love the music, but we wanted to know a little more about the man behind the sound.
Jidenna Mobisson, is signed to Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Art Society and he is also featured on her newest single, “Yoga” (also one of our jams!). The dapper MC and former school teacher recently did an interview with Esquire Magazine, where he dished on his upbringing, his style, his music, and what’s next.
Q: You’re a nomad of sorts. Tell me a little bit about the places you’ve lived and how they affected you?
I was born in Wisconsin, but I quickly moved to Nigeria as a toddler. I think one of the things that I picked up from Nigeria is the constant pressure to be excellent. Parents drill in this responsibility towards family, but also a responsibility toward making sure your family name is heralded. Looking back at “Classic Man,” the idea of being precise and being sharp stems from the Nigerian culture I was raised in.
Then there’s Boston, obviously it’s a college town. I was around a lot of great men and women there that were very passionate about sports teams and that passion also had an effect on me as a man and an artist.
California was special, it’s a place where I learned how to be adventurous, both in style and fashion, but also in terms of the way I think.
Then I’d say New York is the city that made me a man. They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s true, this has definitely been the city that refined me and made me sharp and shrewd when necessary.
Q: What were you doing before your music career took off?
There are a couple of things that I was doing. I was studying to be an engineer when I was in school. When I got out of school, I actually became a teacher. That’s what I was doing right before “Classic Man” or anything popped off. I was working in New York City public schools, in actually the worst school in the city. Myself, my manager, and our social club Fear & Fancy all work in a program that combines hip hop and Kaplan. It’s a Schoolhouse Rock kind of approach, so the kids write hip hop lyrics and executive produce albums that are in accordance with what they call a common core curriculum.
Take me back to when you made “Classic Man.” Where were you and what was the thought process when you put it together?
I was actually in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where I am now. There are a lot of amazing men that I don’t think are celebrated enough, especially just neighborhood men. Men who aren’t even remotely famous, but they’re famous in their locale. I just wanted to make an anthem for those men. Like the sanitation worker that lives next door to me, the Vietnam vet that’s two doors down, the man that some might consider a thug who actually holds down the neighborhood.
When there’s an accident, when there’s a fire hydrant busting open, or there’s a fight, these are the men who diffuse the situation. I wanted to make an anthem that made them feel powerful. I felt like our generation, the millennial generation, was missing true anthems for men. We have a lot of anthems for boys, and I wanted to do something for the real men out there.
What inspired you to begin dressing the way you do?
I think that necessity often times dictates creativity. I used to go thrifting because I couldn’t keep up even with the hip hop fashion. A cap is $30, you can get a pair of jeans for like $100, and then some t-shirts cost like $50-60. I got tired of it so I started thrifting. Through thrifting, I found a lot of suits for very, very cheap and I paid tailors to customize them to fit me.
As that evolved, I started designing bespoke suits, but it all came out of not really being able to afford it as a young man and as a broke artist at the time. That’s the beauty of it though, when you don’t have things you make due with what you do have and create something special out of it.
So most of the stuff you wear, is it custom?
Yeah, most of it is. I have a great team. Whippa Wiley, my manager and creative director, co-designs pretty much everything that you’re seeing. I also work with a designer named Eleanor who works on the accessories like the pocket squares and the ties and whatnot. We do a lot of the core designs in-house.
Who are your style icons?
There would have to be three. The first is my father, he wore three-piece suits in the ’60s and ’70s a lot. He was a professor and an electrical engineer. He used to walk with a cane as well so he was definitely the first one. He’s actually the reason why I walk with a cane. The reason I continue to evolve in my style is in honor of him. He passed a few years ago and that was a turning point in my life. Then I would have to say Malcolm X, I think he’s one of the most fashionable men of the last century. Ozwald Boateng, I love the cut of his suits and I love that he comes with a very sartorial style. He’s just very sharp. So I think those three. Janelle Monáe as well, I love her sense of style. It’s great to be around somebody like that who’s continuously innovating.
What’s the biggest change for you since “Classic Man” really took off?
Not being able to go anywhere freely. Everywhere I go now, people come up to me and say “Hey! You’re the classic man right?” It’s great that the song is doing well, but it was nice last year where I could walk through the different neighborhoods that I frequent with a certain amount of anonymity.
What’s the one message you want listeners to take away from your music?
I believe people can walk and chew gum, so I believe people can party and ponder. If there’s anything that I want it’s for people to have music that hits their soul and move their body to actually be free. We don’t sweat enough in our generation and I’d like to be a part of the artists that are moving people so much that they literally go to the club and sweat instead of staying on their phone.
What are you working on currently?
Right now we’re just excited about the Wondaland Records compilation project and the Eephus EP. If all goes well, it will drop this summer. After that, I’m definitely working on the follow up to “Classic Man.” So I have some singles that will launch sometime. But I like to surprise people, timing is everything.
Well we here at TBA love to see a new face in hip hop, especially one as unique as Jidenna. We hope to hear more from him soon and be on the look out for “The Eephus” EP. The EP will feature Jangle Monae and her Wondaland Art Society label mates, Jidenna, Roman, St. Beauty, and Deep Cotton.
Lastly, check out Jidenna’s hit single “Classic Man” below:
[Esquire Magazine interview cred: Adrian Nuñez]