It’s September and “Classic Man” is still in very heavy rotation. So much so, that I was shocked to discover that the song was released way back in February. When I first heard the voice on the song I imagined a New York guy rocking a fitted cap, jeans, some sort of branded tee with a grill. Kind of like an A$AP Rocky style, minus the braids. Boy, was I so wrong. What I got instead was a man that looked like he stepped right out of a scene of “The Great Gatsby”. And you know what… I loved it. The classic man, Jidenna, brings a special kind of flavor to music. A flavor that isn’t based on his “dandy” style alone.
Not only did his style not match that of my imagination, but also his roots were far from what I predicted. Jidenna hails from a very unexpected place in the United States, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin where he was born. In case you may not have known, he is of Nigerian descent (his father is Igbo) and his name means “embrace the father”.
In 2008, Jidenna graduated from Stanford University where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. At one point, the rapper interned at the Martin Luther King Institute where he transcribed the CIA’s wiretaps of Dr. King. Because of this position he held, he developed an strong interest in the Civil Rights era. This speaks heavily to his and Janelle Monae’s strong convictions regarding the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He told Philly.com, “It's imperative to stress the worth of each and every human. We wouldn't have to say [Black Lives Matter] if all lives mattered. We say it because they don't to some people, but they do to us. For us, it is about humanity and valuing each and every life.”
Jidenna’s style is more than about an attention-grabbing image, but for him it is a bold statement and a form of social protest. He uses his debonair and classic style to pay homage to his Nigerian roots along with the Antebellum south. He explained that his father was always well dressed on a daily basis, which he found to be very important in his own life. “For me, I wear a suit because I need to remember what's happened before me. I wear what I want every day. Our generation is super individualistic and that's cool, but it only gets you so far—you need people. We’re social beings and I need to know and remember where I came from,” Jidenna shared with The Fader.
He also revealed that the collars on his shirts are all in the style of garments from the 1800s. He felt it was important for him to have a collar very specific to that of the days of the old Jim Crow. “I wanted to know what the freedmen that fought in the Civil War looked like right after the war was over. The freed slaves that went to Nova Scotia or went up north and started settlements—what did those men and women look like?” he said.
Jidenna’s meaningful get-up fits in perfectly with Janelle Monae’s Wondaland crew. As some may or may not know, Janelle Monae’s signature style that consists only of black and white classic looks is a form of protest as well. She calls it her “uniform” in order to pay homage to her mother who wore uniforms to work on a daily basis.
The story behind why Jidenna dresses the way he does speaks volumes more than ever before. He is indeed an “elegant old fashioned man”.