If you’re an avid reader of The Verge’s entertainment coverage, you might remember Emily and I talking about this year’s Songs of the Summer candidates a few weeks ago. We had fun discussing the topic, but we didn’t manage to come to any sort of consensus. There were songs we both liked that didn’t have the commercial firepower to capture the nation; there were songs that ruled the charts but left us both feeling flat. Neither of us left the exercise feeling like our thorough search had found us a real match. Perhaps we should’ve known better: a true Song of the Summer isn’t something you pick up scouring the charts or assessing a song’s merit. You feel it in your heart, and it slowly blooms within you. I’m here to tell you today that I’ve found my Song of the Summer, my sonic OTP for 2015. Say it with me, everyone: I’M A CLASSIC MAN.
You might have a few questions right now: Who is Jidenna? What is a "classic man"? How can you become one? Why does this guy look like one of steampunk Sherlock Holmes’ sidekicks? Allow me to help. Jidenna is a rapper born in Wisconsin and raised in Nigeria. He’s signed to Janelle Monáe’s record label, Wondaland Records, and he’s only released two singles to date: the searing "Long Live the Chief" and the aforementioned "Classic Man." He also guests on Monáe’s playful, poppy "Yoga," where you may have heard him first. (That song, and "Classic Man," will be included on Wondaland’s collaborative EP The Eephus, which is due out August 14th.) He dresses like Jay Gatsby after one too many cocktails and serves face like a very dapper leprechaun, all of which makes him a very fun person to watch in a video or live setting. And he’s stumbled on a mixture of goofiness, elegance, and smart pop decision-making, a mixture that makes "Classic Man" one of the best things you’ll hear at a party or bar this summer.
The song has been around for a while; it was originally released in February, has been lurking on the Billboard charts since May, and was given a little boost by the release of the above Kendrick Lamar remix this month. People have been talking about it for a while, and it’s probably not going to make a sudden leap into the top 10 on the Hot 100 this late in its lifespan. Why bother bringing it up now?
We all agreed "Classic Man" was both fun and dope
I was in Chicago last weekend for a music festival, one I attend every summer to see a few bands and even more friends who live around the continent. There was plenty of great music on hand, and plenty of people interested in talking about it and enjoying it, and one song came to dominate the weekend: "I’m a classic man!" You heard it everywhere you went, from both speakers and the mouths of drunk festival attendees. I was hanging out in a bubble, sure, but in that bubble it felt like something we could all agree on: "Classic Man" was both fun and dope, and we should listen to it and make jokes about it as much as possible.
If you want to dismiss this enthusiasm as the product of both inebriation and reaching critical music nerd mass, I totally get it — but give me a chance to convince you of the merit of "Classic Man," both musical and otherwise. It goes down easy, and that’s because it’s familiar: "Classic Man" actually samples last year’s Song of the Summer, Iggy Azalea’s mind-numbing "Fancy," for its fourth-gen Costco DJ Mustard sound. The beat isn’t compelling or groundbreaking, but it’s catchy, and we’ve all heard it before. That allows "Classic Man" to slide right into your ears — and before you know it, Jidenna is fitting you for a three-piece suit and pocket chain and telling you to put it on your credit card. Speaking of Jidenna, let’s talk about his vocals: he sounds a lot like a hitmaker of years gone by, one who was vying for his own Song of the Summer titles just a decade ago. Remember "Smack That?" What about "I Wanna Love You?" Akon and Jidenna both have a whiny, sharp tone to their voices, and an easy way with melody. It took me a while to place it, but everything clicked once I figured it out. Jidenna sounded instantly familiar because he was pulling from songs I loved hearing at high school dances a decade ago.
Jidenna is a professor, a chess master, and a black belt in karate
Beyond its sound, "Classic Man" has some specific qualities that render it appealing to almost everyone under the sun. It’s the silliest song of the year, and not just because of Jidenna’s face work: this is a song with a video where the protagonist saves a pair of youths from potential prosecution at the hands of the police through pure style and charm and teaches them a) chemistry b) chess and c) karate, all in the span of about 30 seconds. (And this is all intercut with scenes from the club, of course.) To be clear, if there’s anything off about Jidenna, it’s encapsulated by this sequence — the whole "you can escape police brutality and systemic racism by dressing very well and acquiring skills" thing plays into complicated ideas about respectability politics that don’t fall within the purview of this piece. (If you’re interested in reading more, this is a decent starting point, one with plenty of history with quotes from Jidenna himself.) And yet: watching Jidenna fashion himself a chemistry professor, grand master, and savvy hand-to-hand combatant faster than you can say "elegant, old-fashioned man" is objectively funny. Those are very hard skills to master, even for a classic man like him!
Beyond that basic hilarity, my favorite thing about the song is its inclusivity. Here’s what I mean: if you listen to the chorus, Jidenna isn’t telling you he’s a classic man and you’re not. He’s proud of his status, sure, but he worked to get there — and he’s willing to offer you a helping hand if you want to do the same. "You can be me when you look this clean," he says. Becoming a classic man doesn’t have anything to do with gender, or birthright, or how much money you have: it’s about the pursuit of an ideal. And if that ideal happens to be having an awesome time with all of your friends while listening to Jidenna, then you can be a classic man, too. Yes, you!
If you’re still not interested in accepting "Classic Man" into your life as your sonic summer savior, that’s okay. (I appreciate you letting me make the case.) The most important thing I’ve learned from this protracted search for a Song of the Summer is that you can’t force a fit. It has to dawn on you one day like an epiphany; after that, it’s all gravy. This one is mine. I hope you find yours soon.