When it comes to creating innovative concepts with Black artists and breaking barriers, PepsiCo has found itself at the forefront of cultivating a space for artists of color to share their culture on a national platform. Last Thursday, PepsiCo and MOSAIC hosted a hand-curated room of young minority thought-leaders for their annual “Beyond The Dream” Black History Month series.
The A.J. Calloway-hosted event took place at MIST Harlem and featured a performance by Wondaland artist Jidenna, whose breakout single “Classic Man” and contribution to Janelle Monae’s “Yoga” garnered him national recognition. With burgeoning success and a dapper image, PepsiCo brought on the 30-year-old emcee to serve as a brand ambassador along with his mentor/labelmate Janelle Monae.
We sat down with Jidenna to discuss Black History Month, reaffirming Blackness, and whether he’s going to use Pepsi as a platform to further the message of equality and social justice. Here’s what Jidenna had to say.
GlobalGrind: You, Janelle, and Wondaland have been very active within the #BlackLivesMatter movement, do you think it’s necessary to reaffirm Blackness?
Jidenna: That’s a great question. First of all, I just want to say I’ve done my research on Pepsi and they have a longstanding relationship with the African-American community and artists in general. I’m happy to be here to celebrate Black History Month. Black History Month may almost be over, but the celebration of Black history ain’t over. Do I think it’s important to reaffirm Blackness? Absolutely, there’s no question about it. Do Italian-Americans celebrate being Italian? Absolutely. Do Jewish people maintain relationships with Israel? Absolutely. We should never think that the American part of being African-American should trump our unique history. We should be proud of our Blackness.
Being a mixed-race person with a White mother and a Nigerian father, how did you celebrate Black History Month?
That’s two questions. I’ll list a few thought leaders first, since Pepsi has curated a room full of thought leaders. Bob Marley, W.E.B. Dubois, and Booker T. Washington, these are all mixed-raced men who are celebrated and applauded for their contribution to and provoking thought in the evolution of Black people. When you’re mixed, you see yourself as a human being because to a certain degree, you don’t fit in the spectrum of Blackness or Whiteness. You do, but you don’t. And Black people usually accept you more. I really fight for human rights and if human rights are being violated for a certain group of people, whether it’s race, sexuality, or gender, I’m going to fight and stand up for them. It just so happens that I relate to the African-American experience by nature of where I lived.
Part B, being Nigerian, my dad told me not to play with African-Americans because they didn’t take school seriously, because they did nothing with the economic opportunities given to them. And that was unfortunate, because all of my friends were African-Americans growing up. Later on in his life though, my father said to use my music to unify the African diaspora, to unify the diaspora especially economically. That will be the salvation of our people. My dad was a fan of Marcus Garvey, and I’m definitely from that school of thought. It is odd as a Nigerian-American to be living in the African-American experience. I’m sure Wale could speak to this as well. You feel inside and outside of it, but again because I approached it as my father’s philosophy in his later life, I am an African in America that thinks with the diaspora in mind. I hope other people do too, because that’s where our power lies.
What’s the Blackest thing you’ve done in 2016?
[laughs] Oh my God. I was at the Grammys and they gave us a plate to eat and I was eating with my hands. Forks are inefficient sometimes. I was just in a suit eating fried chicken – a drumstick straight up. Fried chicken is great, we should be proud of it. [laughs] Watermelon is from Africa. Cultural appropriation aside, we should be proud of these things.
Fill in the blank: “I’m Black and I’m_______”
How do you think you and Janelle are going to use the Pepsi platform to further your message of equality and social justice?
During ‘The EEPHUS Tour’ we met with local organizers of every city, specifically the families of police brutality victims. We met with those families in every single city we went to. That’s an unprecedented tour in history. We would do this if nobody were watching. I was an organizer and an artist before all of this. I know the organizers of the movement, that’s how we were able to do it. I don’t even think the press picked up that we were doing this work, and that’s how we wanted it to be. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m a celebrity and I want to use a platform and take over and make this about me.’
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PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Daniels