When Jidenna dropped “Classic Man” last year, both the track and its accompanying video were greeted with lavish praise, with both seen as antidotes to the multiple ills dogging mainstream rap and hip-hop culture. But a few dissenters pointed out that the video flirted with respectability politics, while others chimed in that the embrace of the dandy aesthetic itself as a corrective to negative racial stereotype is riddled with unexamined classism and fetishism. The remix video featuring Kendrick Lamar underscored the idea that the two are brothers-in-arms and mission even if their styles are worlds apart. (And seemed a conscious rebuttal to some of the criticism launched at the first video.) It’s a lot to unpack, and the layered conversation will undoubtedly continue for a while.
The dapper wordsmith’s latest track and accompanying video “Knickers” dives headfirst into a clarified conversation about race, representation, and respectability – and the limits to just how much the last one can effect change or protect black bodies. And he does it without sacrificing any of his signature style. Jidenna’s lyrics celebrate the history of black cultural innovation and decry cultural appropriation while also making note of everyday battles black folks wage against everything from police brutality to a stacked-deck school system. Oh, yeah, he also slips in a call for reparations. The video, set in a swanky art-deco dance club, fuses classic swing and Lindy hop moves (homage to early and mid-twentieth century black expression) fused with contemporary choreography, smoothly tracing the lineage and trajectory of popular black dance. It begs to be kept on repeat.
Photo by Marc Baptiste