Review: ‘The Eephus’ Is Your Ticket to See Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland Collective Live
Jidenna’s “Classic Man” is almost 2015’s “Fancy.” Before you start huffing and puffing — hear me out.
Love it or hate it, “Classic Man” has been in our subconscious to the point where it’s virtually impossible to get bored of it. Since dropping in February, Jidenna’s breakthrough single quickly received heavy rotation on the radio, and listeners heard it even more once West Coast kingpin Kendrick Lamar blessed the remix. While music critics and fans alike are still trying to crown the Song of the Summer, “Classic Man” is really on “Fancy” levels in terms of conversation. From on the verge pieces to straight slander, the Nigerian-American singer (sometimes rapper) is reveling in his moment anyway.
What the song represents is a fine-tailored lifestyle with an emphasis on looking sharp (and feeling sharp), a musical genre he has called Swank. However, it’s just one aspect of the sonic movement Janelle Monáe is creating under Wondaland Records. The Eephus, a baseball term about the game-changing pitch, is a metaphor for the vision in the collective and their mission to move the needle in music. Jidenna may be the rising star with “Classic Man,” but Wondaland’s roster of rockers, multi-instrumentalists and all-around talents are spotlighted in their compilation EP.
The Eephus introduces Deep Cotton, St. Beauty and Roman GianArthur, who all let their eclectic influences do the talking. When this scribe attended their New York City stop of The Eephus tour at Highline Ballroom last week, I witnessed first-hand how those tastes were translated on stage.
Deep Cotton, the duo of Chuck Lightning and Nate “Rocket” Wonder have tons of energy, full of flailing movements, shouts and an irresistible bounce that erupted fans. All of it was surprisingly tamed on EP opener, “Let’s Get Caught.” No worries, though: Deep Cotton serve up an upbeat jam about hitting the town with your bae. Hey, even these punk prophets can turn down for just one night.
St. Beauty, two Atlanta natives named Alex Belle and Isis Valentino, are soul goddesses who prefer chiller vibes than their rambunctious labelmates. On “Going Nowhere,” St. Beauty offers a gorgeous and tender ballad that feature Belle’s emotionally-charged singing. The next track is GianArthur’s “I Know,” whose name you might recognize as the guest feature on “Classic Man.” On his solo work, he lets his R&B roots shine, built over jazz interpretations and smooth grooves. “I Know” fits in line with his earlier work (“I-69”), where his sweet voice will immediately make you gush. Remember his name, ladies.
The Eephus includes Wondaland Records’s biggest songs — the original and remix of “Classic Man” and “Yoga.” Both these songs have been tearing up the summer, and are perfect lead-ins for Monáe and her collective. If this release is your only means of getting familiar with Wondaland, then let this be your ticket to see them on tour this month because their music is made for a live experience. (Did we also mention it’s free?)
On all fronts, The Eephus steers some attention away from Jidenna in favor of illustrating the talents of Monáe’s other co-signs. And considering Jidenna’s career trajectory just off one song to his name, they’re poise to make their whimsical world of creation the trendy thing to do. – Eric Diep