My Favorite Album of 2019
How much do I love Jidenna? I’m not even worried about what drops in the rest of November and December. Bring Frank Ocean, Drake, bring a thousand Future features! None of it will replace the uniquely fly experience of listening to 85 To Africa. My excitement for his music might come from the fact that I never cared about Classic Man. I didn’t have him in my head as anything. First time I saw him work was when he torched his performance on Luke Cage. In 2017, he dropped The Chief and I think Pitchfork called him a “Versatile Dandy” which is the meanest compliment an English major is comfortable with.
The Chief is dope but it has a mix of songs. Some that are perfect 10’s (Trampoline, Bambi, Long Live The Chief) some that are darn good 7’s (Helicopters/Beware, The Let Out) while some are emphatically unimportant and you won’t ever come back to (last 2 songs). It got knocked for its unevenness but I always thought of it as the home run derby where the power hitter gets to flex. I was excited at what he was capable of doing.
85 To Africa doesn’t go from 10 to 7 to 4, every song is an 8.5 and you can let one song run into the next. Can’t go wrong with a triumphant intro featuring the words of the legendary Fela Kuti’s youngest son (Seun Kuti). Like a lot of the years best projects(Bandana, Kiwanuka,Anger Management, Retropolitan) this one is born from the synergistic relationship between producer and MC/singer. Nana Kwabena is listed as producer or co-producer on 10 of the 11 songs. He did 13 of 14 on The Chief. The flavor is even more consistent this time, dope artists growing together is fun. 85 To Africa decided to leave nothing extra. It is 41 minutes and out. Personality wise the album doesn’t care if you think the party is too loud. You might hear him talk about how he didn’t trust Morgan Freeman because of his earing (Babouche) or look at the cover or hear the powerfully catchy beats and think 1. This guy is trying too hard 2. These bars are too cute 3. He thinks he’s cool and I hate that.
I know he doesn’t care because the hottest Jidenna line of all time is “I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” He’s dedicated his time to feeling looking and living good in a way that makes him proud. On Tribe, he is espousing his crew but not in a waving guns at the other side sense. He’s flossing the culture, in the video he walks through rooms where games are played weights are lifted and he’s rapping about the varied “funky ways of dancing.” If the Cary Grant cool is too much then be gone and find someone less intimidating or more gritty to bump. Jidenna wants all the bright beautiful colors mixing because what is this all for if we aren’t appreciating the different shades? Not just skin or cultural background but of intellectual oddity, strength and essence. Strong shout out to DJ Burn One who also was involved in the utter head nod capacity of this beat. Five Points Music always.
The songs get prettier and prettier. Is it an escape, reading Rumi with a fly Sufi Woman? Comfortably falling asleep with her? Or heeding Jidenna’s voice as it echoes and the music stomps, shakes, and sweats on Pretty & Afraid. Thinking of it as an escape pre-supposes that the best music must suffer as the world does. It leaves suffering as the only part that’s real and paints all the smiling as a big cover up. Artificial light is bad for you but honest light replaces darkness with not just sight but clarity. If you make the suffering all that is real it is all you will have.
I hope I wasn’t the only one who sang loudly “Pop, I’m working all night JUST LIKE YOU!” as he walked us through his parents relationship (as well as his childhood) on Jungle Fever. I made fun of Pitchfork earlier but their review of this album ends with a begrudging acknowledgement that they are onto something. My 5th favorite album of this year is Burna Boy-African Giant which is monstrously catchy creative and fun Afropop in a similar sonic language. I know next to NOTHING about African music but I can see the shadow of a wave as it starts to break. Jidenna is calmly atop this one synthesizing the best parts of large sections of American and African music into something that is new and radio ready. Nana Kwabena and Jidenna have been looking for this balance since Classic Man and in 2019 they hit on its head. May their next move be their best move.