Up and Coming Singer-Songwriter Jidenna On His Old-School Swag

But his Gatsby-esque attire isn’t the only reason he’s turning heads.

Singer-songwriterJidenna has adopted a sharply tailored signature style that has very little to do with maintaining formalities. The Wisconsin-born artist, who grew up in Nigeria and holds a Stanford degree, sports his ensemble as an overt reminder of the past. “I wanted to look like the old Jim Crow, so every time people see me, they should think of the new Jim Crow,” explains the rising star, who now makes his home in Brooklyn. “They should think of the lynching. They should think of the slavery. I want that. Every single time.” 

Jidenna started as an indie rapper in Boston as part of a crew called Black Spadez before migrating to the Bay Area, finding his singing voice, and cofounding a social club–slash–art collective called Fear & Fancy. After the group booked Janelle Monáe for one of its masquerade balls (before she was famous), she and Jidenna became friends. He joined her label, Wondaland Records, in 2014. Jidenna’s first big appearance came on Monáe’s single “Yoga,” but he quickly found his own footing with the summer smash “Classic Man.” An assist from Kendrick Lamar on the remix didn’t hurt, either, and now Jidenna is set to release his debut album, bringing his next-level swag to soulful pop music. 

The Gatsby-esque attire does pose certain challenges, he notes. “The other day I was playing basketball in suspenders and knickers,” he says with a laugh. “I dunked on a dude like that, but one of the straps broke, so I’m not gonna do that anymore.”

Jidenna still loosens his tie from time to time. “For Fear & Fancy, we love dressing to the nines and ripping our clothes off,” he says. “It’s always a combination—partying and pondering.” 

Photos by Marc Baptiste