Rapper/singer Jidenna set himself apart from his hip-hop contemporaries out the gate by blending his African roots with verses and flow informed by his American life and influences.
His intention when his “85 to Africa” tour landed at the Pageant Tuesday night was made plain before he took the stage. His set, with the foliage and ambience that was apparently inspired by urban Africa, was already in full view as featured performer Kelechi warmed up the stage. The title of the tour let the fans know what was in store for them musically. But Jidenna took things a step further by carving out time to speak to the crowd directly about Africa and the power and strength that claiming the motherland can elicit.
Endorsed by alternative soul star Janelle Monae, Jidenna introduced himself with the catchy hit, “Classic Man.” But through his latest tour and album for which it is named, his next move appears to be to show fans – and the world – that there’s more to him than his “fresh.”
After an intro that included “Worth the Weight,” the title track from his latest album and “Long Live the Chief,” Jidenna shared the story of how a Nigerian man and a woman from Wisconsin came together and created him in their union. He shared with the crowd how he became empowered by embracing his African roots and strongly suggesting that they do the same.
“Everybody in the world is a descendent of Africa,” Jidenna told the crowd in one of several lengthy sidebars that added context to his own enlightenment and implied that the audience following suit is the challenge of the current generation.
“Declaring yourself as an African in this country after 400 years – to the year – since we were brought here is a revolutionary act in it of itself,” Jidenna said. “That’s a revolutionary act.”
He confessed that leading with the African portion of his roots didn’t come easy, because of the false narratives force-fed to America and other Eurocentric cultures, but doing so was a turning point for him – and he encouraged them to do so as an entire culture.
“I will fight any of the 8 billion people on this earth who say that I’m wrong when I say declaring yourself as African in this country is the mission of our generation, He said. “Our mission is to integrate the diaspora with this continent – and when we do, we will be in a new world.”
At several points within the 85-minute set, he inserted mini-lectures and history lessons that seemed as important as the music.
Towards the end of the show – using a reference that once again included his father – he told the crowd that the messages were more important than the music.
His father, who suffered a stroke and required several medications asked that his pills be given to him with apple sauce to make them more bearable.
“All of this is the applesauce,” Jidenna said, motioning to his band and the stage.
It was a tasty serving that fused his rap, R&B and Afrobeat influences. In what he called a “trap karaoke moment,” Jidenna encouraged the crowd to sing along to the “ratchetry’ of the City Girls’ summer club banger “Act Up.” There were also clips from Busta Rhymes as he transitioned into “Zodi,” “Little Bit More,” “Particula.”
The highlight of the show came just before the encore when he dove into “Sufi Woman,” which felt as if it were arranged to pay tribute to the late great Fela Kuti – the architect of Afrobeat.
Through “Sufi Woman,” “Bambi” and “Long Live the Chief,” Jidenna shows that his niche of blending Afrobeat and hip-hop is his best groove.
He saved heaviest message – about descendants of the Diaspora coming together as a centralized unit to erase borders and build communities and dismantle “Afro-phobia” – for just before the lightest of his musical offerings, leading into the finale with his debut hit “Classic man.”
He returned to the stage for a lengthy encore that didn’t fare as well as the main portion of the concert. But the audience left clearly affected by his music – and his call for a unified pro-African movement.