Jidenna: “85 to Africa” Album Review

On August 23rd, Jidenna delivered his sophomore album, 85 to Africa. It’s been a little while since Jidenna released something new since his debut album, The Chief and EP, Boomerang. The self-proclaimed new age Garveyism, 85 to Africa, figuratively represents an African powered highway to Africa that has multiple lanes to connect the diaspora to the continent and vice versa. In this eleven-track album, Jidenna pays homage to his Nigerian and American roots with guest features from Afrobeats finests, Seun Kuti (Fela Kuti’s son), Mr. Eazi, Goldlink, Mereba, and his label mates, St. Beauty. Jidenna continues to showcase his intelligence with fuel-powered bars that float seamlessly on records that intertwine hip-hop, afrobeats, highlife, psychedelic rock, and even R&B/soul. The album would not be complete without the production and alchemization by Nana Kwabena. Lyrically, 85 to Africa doesn’t stray too far from The Chief. He influences the listeners to connect with their culture and believe in the power within themselves, especially individuals within generationally marginalized groups. 

The album opens with “Worth the Weight” featuring Seun Kuti, which prepares us for the road trip to Africa. “Worth the Weight” is a personal favorite of mine. Through this song, Jidenna suggests that it is time for black people to move away from these comparisons that have kept us in mental slavery. Jidenna enforces the idea that we need to collectively shift our perspective. The African diaspora is wide and vast, yet for decades, there has been a crab in the barrel mentality that hinders us from seeing our true power, worth and identity. In doing so, we will find that our inheritance was worth the wait and the weight. The songs closes out with the words of Seun Kuti, a reminder to the African diaspora: “…that the only thing that unites black people, globally, the only thing we all have in common is that we are from Africa.” 

The album-titled song “85 to Africa” follows next, giving us the car cruising, head bobbin, hip-hop bounce that makes you fall in love with the song instantaneously. Jidenna allows us to truly begin our road trip to Africa. In recent interviews, Jidenna has shared that the 85 represents I-85 in Georgia that leads to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where you can take a direct flight to different African countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, and Senegal. Whenever we as Africans feel displaced and disempowered in the West, we can take a direct flight to Africa where we can regain our power and see our continent through an un-Westernized perspective. As easy as Jidenna makes it sound through the rhythm. Some can argue that it is not. There are years of trauma and history, on both sides of the Atlantic, that need to be unpacked, exposed and healed from. For many, Africa is misconstrued. A single trip to Africa will not permanently erase that, but it can be agreed that African artists have continued to pave the way for more creatives from the continent. Art, in my opinion, is the beginning point of the bridge that connects us all. 

Jidenna meets the diaspora halfway on “Babouche” with Goldlink.  If you are wondering what a Babouche is, it is a Moroccan leather shoe-like slipper that lacks a heel. Earlier this summer, Goldlink released a tape called Diaspora which is a “confluence of black music that stretches beyond his home in the DMV to the universal sounds of Africa.” Featuring Goldlink adds more intention to the metaphorical highway that connects all black people to Africa, however, the lyricism of the track doesn’t quite live up to the overall theme of the album with the most notable verses being: “Ay, Uncle, tell ’em what they’re talkin’ ’bout / Ooh, you slimy too, you sleazy, ooh / Auntie, tell me what the message is / Uh, in the midst of all, I swank on you.” All thoughts aside, you cannot deny, that the song has a groovy and goofy tone to it with subtle Andre 3000 vibes.

“Tribe” and “Sou Sou” were among the prior released singles. Together these tracks sonically carry a trap accent. Jidenna continues to further his thesis of black excellence through connecting with our African roots on “Tribe” with timely references from Black Panther and “stadiums full of vibranium.” Sou Sou or su-su carries its meaning from esusu which is an informal way financing, in which individuals come together to further their individual and collective interests. Su-su is not just native to African communities, but can also be found in many POC communities that span from the Caribbeans, Asia, and the Middle East. Jidenna conjoins sex and money on Sou Sou with a chorus that sings “Bring  it back, she said, “Put it in, sou sou” / Shawty come now, let it rain down / Put  it in, sou sou.” One could assume that the reason behind this was to allude to a mutually beneficial exchange within relationships and sexual exchanges, where both parties reap positive benefits. If you know, you know.

The listener finally arrives in Africa with Jidenna to the first stop – Nigeria. Giving us an afro-banger with “Zodi” featuring some assistance from Mr. Eazi. While the track definitely has its root in Afrobeats, it does include a tasteful sample from Busta Rhymes “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” In the era of astrology-centered spirituality, Jidenna asks her, “How many signs it go take before it’s real for you?”. The next stop, “Sufi Woman”, continues with African-themed instrumentals. The guitar riffs blend in with the soca drum pattern. In this track, Jidenna alludes to real-world mysticism from across cultures to illustrate his doting devotion to women while sharing this open love letter. 

The second half of the album brings out the slower and calmer sounds that are more unique to indigenous and post-colonial Africa. “Vaporiza” brings with it an easy, smooth and calm melody that taps into a high-life cadence and sultry vocals. It’s difficult not to fall in love with this song. It has you feeling loved and brings about it a velvety sensation. In “Pretty & Afraid,” Jidenna acknowledges that people are jealous of his lifestyle, but he doesn’t always want to be himself. He mentions that he’s afraid of death and that he will do anything he can to avoid it. “Jungle Fever” seems like a filler track, but it adds a charming ode to his parents.

Closing out the album is “The Other Half” featuring the Wondaland duo St. Beauty and Ethiopian-American singer Mereba. The perfect end to the road trip, leaving the listener somewhere floating in East Africa. Yet the lyrics are far from sweet (“Ain’t that the root of the drama? / How we just lock out the trauma / Fighting within, fighting without / Fighting, divide it, and conquer / Like God didn’t make us compatible”). This song forces you to look inwardly at how many of our actions have hurt others and have further divided us as people. Though the song is not as inclusive of the LGBTQ community, it is safe to infer that in this last song, Jidenna combats topics closer to home with toxic masculinity, mental health, and disunity among Black men, women and everyone in between. 

Ahead of the official 85 to Africa tour, Jidenna has toured North American cities with album listening parties that remind you of a college basement party with energy and music that is guaranteed to leave you drenched in sweat from dancing all night. Whether Jidenna admits it or not, the pop-ups are a statement that humanizes him as an artist and dives deeper than music for him. It reveals how music can connect us together. The pop-up tour has concluded in North America and has now touched down in Africa starting with Lagos, Nigeria. Although 85 to Africa has a number of varying reviews, regardless of how you feel, one cannot deny Jidenna’s overarching message to all Black people – Africa is the way, the truth, and the life. It is time we unite and invest our efforts together to Make Africa Great Again. 

Stream 85 to Africa on all platforms here.

Written by:

Crystal Anokam is a Nigerian-American portrait photographer and writer based in Philadelphia, PA. Crystal's work resolves around themes of blackness, identity and community. She is dedicated to capturing authentic narratives that transcend time, connect with people and move culture forward.

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