March 27, 2017


Jidenna Talks 'The Chief' Album, Having Janelle Monáe's Co-Sign at The Roots' Bud Light SXSW Jam

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW

Among the breadth of artists involved in the Bud Light x The Roots & Friends Jam Session at SXSW 2017, Jidenna was coming in with a whirlwind of hustle both in real life and online. Fresh off the February release of his multifaceted debut album The Chief, the rapper-singer released the video for current single "Bambi" and video vignettes of album cuts while hitting events like the the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and spending an entire week performing at SXSW.

Backstage in between rehearsals for The Roots' Jam Session, Jidenna speaks with Fuse with a cool and excited manner, emphasizing how he needs to "fight hard" for what he does but is undoubtedly grateful for his opportunities. Read on for more of The Chief's thoughts on collaborating with his friends, how mentor Janelle Monáe feels about his latest accomplishments, why he supported Snoop Dogg's anti-Trump video and much more.

Fuse: How is it being involved in this year's Bud Light x The Roots & Friends Jam Session?
Jidenna: It's The Roots, you know? It's legendary. The legendary Roots crew. We were just talking about how when we were kids, performing with The Roots would be a dream. They're the hip-hop band so to have them reinterpret your music is amazing. It's an important occasion when you have your heroes and your legends sharing the stage with you. If this was 1979 and The Beach Boys were doing my music, that's kind of what this is to hip-hop. I'm not on that level, but The Roots would be that level of the late '60s bands—The Beach Boys to The Beatles to The Rolling Stones—they're that to hip-hop.

The Chief just came out and there were a lot of moments that surprised me when I was listening. Does an opportunity like this help showcase more of who you are as an artist?
I think The Chief does that and that was my sincere hope when I made the album. Bud Light's all about making friends, right? What I wanted to do is, I made friends early so I could choose my enemies later. And the best way to make friends is by showing them all your colors at the front side. True friends stab you in the front—that's the kind of businessman I am and that's the kind of guy I am. I wanted to make sure everyone knew my story, my narrative, who the fuck I was upfront. And then, if you don't like it, you can skata skata away. And if you like it, then stay with me, we got a long ride to go. I ain't going nowhere.

What are you looking to show next?
I'm still in my rookie years, so I gotta tour, a proper tour. I'll be wrecking havoc onstage most of the year. I'm going out to South Africa and Nigeria, then doing a domestic tour starting late May all the way through June, and most of the summer I'll be touring.

The Roots and Bud Light crafted a really diverse lineup. Who are you a fan of?
BrandyRae Sremmurd, Nick Grant, he's a good kid. Method Man and Redman, of course, CyHi [the Prynce] with "Nu Africa." It's a crazy lineup. I'm definitely a fan of all those I mentioned. Rae Sremmurd got me hyped on their melodies, their stage show, I really love them. As soon as they came out, I knew what they were [capable of] and I knew them early too because the Midwest put me on to them.

I’m proudly one of the only, if not the only, male rapper whose co-sign is a woman.

Jidenna on mentor Janelle Monáe

Sometimes I think people consider them a bit underrated too...
Underrated? Didn't they go No. 1? 

It seemed like for awhile people might have thought they were a gimmick.
Oh like a new-generation Kriss Kross or something? I mean, they got great melodies and they're writing for other people too. That's how great their melodies are. I never saw them like that. People saw them like that, people saw me like that, but now people are like, "Oh shit, he really is Willy Wonka."

What's been Janelle's response to everything going on?
Janelle just sent a message from space at the Woody Awards. For those who saw it, she sent a message about the importance of a co-sign. I'm very proud to have her because she's such a model in both how she maneuvered the industry, how she presented her first, real, full-length album The ArchAndroid and the versatility on that album. She's such a model for me as a young artist. Lastly, the fact that she's one of the few female executives in the game to have an imprint like Wondaland Records and I'm proudly one of the only, if not the only, male rapper whose co-sign is a woman. Fun fact.

You were one of a couple artists to support Snoop Dogg's "Lavender" video that saw him shooting a clown version of Trump. Why was it important to speak out about it?
Here's the thing: If I meet somebody and I stand by you, I stand by you, your values, and your peaks. This, to me, is just who he is. I don't know what it means for him—I think it's probably a peak for him because he's taking a stance. I think that Snoop Dogg is a standup dude, a great guy, he's a powerful chief, and if he wants to use his artistry to share his opinion on something, then I stand by that and by him as an artist. That's really it. I don't really know what everyone else thinks about it, I'm sure some people are mad, I'm sure it's split. But what I am glad is that he presented it in a clownish way so at the end of the day we can all joke. And I don't believe and I hope he wouldn't encourage violence. He smokes weed for god's sake! [Laughs]