Jidenna Theodore Mobisson, known simply as Jidenna, is a Nigerian-American recording artist and former history teacher, currently signed to Janelle Monáe’s label Wondaland Records. You probably heard his single “Classic Man” last summer, which was released as part of Wondaland’s compilation EP, The Eephus in 2015 and even received a Grammy nomination for best rap/sung collaboration.
The idea of a classic man is central to Jidenna’s public persona and message. According to the “Manifesto” on his website, being classic is not just about elegant styling, but something that stems from dignity and integrity and the corresponding song is meant to speak to the spirit of being a man in its many manifestations. Jidenna has since also released the singles “Knickers,” “Long Live the Chief,” and “Extraordinaire.”
Rapping since high school in a group called The Black Spades, Jidenna took a break to study at Stanford University, where he has said he first understood the power of fashion on impacting perceptions and sending a message. He invokes this concept frequently now, having become known for his dapper suits. He adopted his current style in 2010 after the passing of his father, Oliver Mobisson, a Nigerian Igbo professor who helped design Africa’s first personal computer and was also a revolutionary during the Nigerian Civil War. Oliver Mobisson was himself a very elegant dresser and so initially the new style was a way for Jidenna to grieve his father’s loss. However, it has since become means for Jidenna to bring to mind the Jim Crow era, highlighting the fact that we’re living in the new Jim Crow era.
His Nigerian heritage is not only an endless source of pride for Jidenna, but an endless source of inspiration as well. Although the similarities may not always come through in the production of the beats and the sound, the inspiration is ever present in Jidenna’s vocal delivery, as he emulates the style of “singing through the nose” specific to Highlife music in Nigeria.
Together with Janelle Monáe, he also led an August 2015 march against police brutality in Philadelphia, although Jidenna has a long history of community organizing, both during his student days at Stanford and after. Jidenna is also a member and co-founder of the Fear & Fancy arts society / social club, founded in 2006, which brings together entrepreneurs, educators, activists, and recording and visual artists, all with a commitment to social change.
If you’re interested to know more, you may want to read this interview he gave on the commercialization of Black History Month.