Childhood & Early Life
Jidenna Theodore Mobisson was born on May 4, 1985, in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, USA. His father Oliver Udemmadu Ogbonna Mobisson was a Nigerian Igbo scientist and the founding Professor of the Anambra State University of Technology (later renamed Enugu State University of Science & Technology) in Enugu, Nigeria.
His mother Tama Mobisson, a white American, is an accountant by profession. Born youngest of his parents’ four children, he had two elder sisters, one of whom is Nneka Mobisson-Etuk who is the Executive Director of African Operations, Institute for Health Care Investment. He also has an elder brother named Geoff, a Harvard MBA.
When Jidenna was a few weeks old, his family returned to Nigeria. During those early years, he suffered from severe lactose intolerance, resulting in distended stomach and large head. His parents became aware of the problem only when a team from UNICEF visited Nigeria, asking Jidenna to pose for a photo.
Initially his parents protested, saying that he did not belong to the poorest of the poor. Their eyes opened when they were told that their son looked like a UNICEF baby. After the diagnosis, his father flew back to the USA, returning with a huge amount of soya bean products for him.
One of his early memories involves his mother, the only white lady in the whole area. Whenever they went to the market, their car was swarmed by the local people who often mistook them for rich tourists.
Another memory involved his father’s meetings with chiefs of the area. During those meetings, Jidenna would often slide in cassettes of Bob Marley or Michael Jackson on a boom box and then quietly leave the room. From his childhood, he was very fond of Michael Jackson.
The most traumatic experience of his life occurred when he was five years old. One day, while on their way to the airport by bus, they were abducted by a group of armed robbers who molested his sister and beat his mother mercilessly. Jidenna also received a gunshot in his foot.
Although they were able to escape, the incident left them too terrified to remain in Nigeria. The following year, his mother returned to the USA with her four children. His father who was immersed in his work remained in Nigeria, but maintained a close touch with his family.
In America, they lived on the outskirts of Boston where Jidenna was enrolled in a school. He experienced racial prejudice from the very first day of school. As he began to recite his alphabets in his Nigerian accent, a boy named Philip kicked him under the seat, calling him an ‘African nigger’.
Due to his skin color, Jidenna had to face racial prejudice regularly, being called a ‘nigger’ or a ‘coon’, words that he could not understand. When he was seven years old, he asked his mother the meaning of the word ‘nigger’.
In 1995, the family moved to Norwood in Greater Boston area where he was introduced to the music of Prince and Fela Kuti by his sisters and to ‘A Tribe Called Quest’ by his brother. However, he continued to be obsessed with Michael Jackson, often dressing like him to school.
His dress code changed when a girl named Reniesha told him that Michael Jackson was not cool anymore. She also introduced him to hip-hop, which he liked so much that by the time he was in seventh grade, he had decided to become a rapper.
Although they did not have a lot of money, his mother made sure that all her children received good education, sending Jidenna to the prestigious Milton Academy for his high school education. In 2000, his family also moved to Milton.
Although he hated the school uniform, Jidenna flourished at Milton Academy, becoming the captain of the school’s basketball team. Inspired by rappers like Mase, Biggie, Nas and Tupac, Jidenna co-founded a rap group called, ‘Black Spadez’, and started writing and arranging music for it. He released an album as his final year project.
In spite of his success at the Milton Academy, he still faced racial prejudice although in a subtler way. In his senior year, as he was applying for college admission, he was told that he would certainly get a seat because he was black.
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In 2003, Jidenna graduated from Milton Academy. Although he had received offers from both Harvard University and Stanford University, he chose the latter institution to study sound engineering. Later, he changed his major to ritualistic arts, finally graduating with it in 2008.
His time at Stanford University was musically very productive. Here, he not only met many future musicians, but during a spring break visit to the University of Pennsylvania, he also met record producer and rapper Nana Kwabena Tuffuor who at that time was studying medicine at UPenn.
While studying at Stanford in 2006, Jidenna co-founded a social club called ‘Fear and Fancy’ with the intention of uniting people, not just musicians and artists. The club held many social gatherings, which they called Masquerade Balls, in which it was mandatory to come with fully pained faces.
Their focus was on human intimacy and phones were not allowed, but staring was legal. One of these balls, held in Oakland, was attended by Janelle Monáe Robinson, one of the co-founders of Wondaland Arts Society. Eventually, the two would become long time collaborators and friends.
After graduating in 2008, Jidenna moved to New York to take up a teaching position in a hip-hop academic program, simultaneously teaching in four schools in South Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Although he did not enjoy the work, he continued teaching until early 2014 simply because he needed money.
In the course of his job, which involved making children’s music, he had to study different types of music and then put rhymes to them in a way that children would love. Concurrently, he continued to pursue his own musical career, moving between New York, Los Angeles, Oakland and Atlanta.
Jidenna’s father died in 2010. Before his death, he told Jidenna that if he was going to make music, he should make sure it reflected the world so that people could relate to it. He also asked Jidenna to invent himself and write music that nobody has heard before.
Jiddena took his father’s words as the guiding principle of his life, eventually taking up music as his fulltime career and signing to Janelle Monáe's Wondaland Records label in 2013. Here he began collaborating with a number of Wondaland artists, including Janelle Monáe, Roman GianArthur, St. Beauty and Deep Cotton.
In 2014, he started working on a 5-track EP, ‘Wondaland Presents: The Eephus’, with Janelle Monáe, Roman GianArthur, St. Beauty and Deep Cotton. It included two of his numbers; ‘Classic Man’, his solo and ‘Yoga’, in which he appeared with Janelle Monáe.
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On January 4, 2015, ‘Classic Man’ was released as the first single from ‘The Eephus’, debuting at number 89 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by ‘Yoga’, which was released on March 31, and ‘The Eephus’ was finally released on August 14, 2015, by Epic Records and Sony Music.
In 2015, he released two music videos of ‘Classic Man’, one featuring Roman GianArthu and the other with Kendrick Lamar. On December 21 of the same year, he had three more lead songs released; 'Long Live the Chief', 'Knickers' and 'Extraordinaire'. Among them, the last two were released as stand-alone singles.
From 2015, he started working on his debut studio album, ‘The Chief’, and 'Long Live the Chief' was the lead single from this album. The song peaked at number 10th position on the US Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles (Billboard) chart and 48th position on US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard) chart.
Continuing to work on ‘The Chief’, he released two more singles from the album in 2016. ‘Chief Don't Run', featuring Roman GianArthur, was released on June 27 and ‘Little Bit More’ was released on July 8, 2016.
On February 3, 2017, he released the fourth single from his debut album, ‘The Chief’. Titled ‘The Let Out’, the track featured Nana Kwabena. On February 9, 2017, Jidenna released ‘Bambi’, the album’s first promotional single. The album itself was released by Wondaland Records and Epic Records on February 17, 2017.
On November 10, 2017, Jidenna released an EP called, ‘Boomerang’. Apart from four new tracks, ‘Decibels’, ‘Boomerang’, ‘Spy Candy’ and ‘Out of Body’, it also had two remixes from his album, ‘The Chief’. They are called, ‘Bambi Too’ and ‘Little Bit More’.
Jidenna is best known for ‘Classic Man’, his commercial debut single released in January 2015. Within 16 weeks, the song peaked at number 22 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, selling 399,000 copies by August 2015, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance.
He is equally well-known for his debut studio album, ‘The Chief’, released in February 2017. He dedicated the album to his father, who was appointed a chief in Awo Idemili in 2005. Debuting at number 38 on the Billboard 200, it sold 13,312 album equivalent units.
Family & Personal Life
Jidenna is single. At one time, it was rumored that he is a gay; but that was found to be baseless. It is also rumored that he has been dating Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, a fellow Nigerian and an American sports analyst; but nothing is confirmed.
Jidenna is proud of his Nigerian heritage and often journeys to Nigeria, taking pains to bury his father in his ancestral village. Recently, he and his sister travelled to Nigeria, where they have decided to issue an annual scholarship in their father’s honor at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology.
He is an advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement and had physically participated in rallies supporting better relationship between the Police and the African Americans.
Although raised as Catholic, Jidenna keeps an elaborate shrine in the studio, having holy books from various religions including Islam as well candles, herbs, rice. Before making a record, he reads one of the books and calls upon the ancestors of music to help him, flipping the rice in the air.