"A Written Testimony" is not the Ten Year Album. It's not the solo album that fans have been asking from one of the most talented and mesmerizing MC's of all time - Jay Electronica. Instead, Roc Nation & Jay Z were summoned to give Jay Elec the support to get him on his feet once again, as well as the army & ammo he needed to wage war. Is this the album that fans will treasure & remember Jay Elec for?
Being the titans of the genre; this LP feels like the calm before the storm. It is strangely peaceful, insightful but is just shy of reaching the peak of the mountain for me. Something about this album feels like it's a prelude to something magnificent. Jay Elec's ring-rust after the long dormancy can be seen as Jay Z took over half of the album, and in my opinion had the best parts of the whole record. This collaboration was not unlike Sun Tzu and the Emperor: it's a Supreme Leader and his Top General, where the General is the one effectively pulling the strings and keeping the empire standing. I mean the very first verse on the album is Jay Z, a strange choice for a solo debut but normal in a collaborative effort. Essentially what we're getting, is Jay Z helping his brother rise again, something that works in the context of an album as religious as this one.
Nothing could have quite lived up to the expectations of this project, so it's normal to feel let down and see this as a "cop out" from Jay Elec to get out of his music contract and music in general by giving out the album he 'owed' the label. But I think that the real story is a little deeper than that. The fact that this was crafted in 40 Days & 40 Nights & screams religion so fiercely and clearly throughout suggests that there was an intention to deliver an album of gospel quality, much like Kanye West's "Jesus is King" in 2019. Whether Kanye influenced this album is unclear, but Jay Elec's religious influence no doubt was the driving force behind having this album be a resurrection; a BOOK 1 Genesis if you will. His life was chaotic, and religion brought him order. It gave him power. I'd certainly attribute his biblical voice as a writer to it — it's fitting as a central part of his debut album. And I'd like to think this can be appreciated without endorsing every last belief of Louis Farrakhan.
Now there were some standout tracks that I enjoyed a lot, and I enjoyed the album as a whole too. My standout track is the last: "A.P.I.D.T.A". Never have I heard grief expressed so clearly in a song that is for me an instant classic. The storytelling in "Universal Soldier" was very impactful also. Admittedly there were some issues I had with it. I didn't like some of the weird mixes of stock children laughter, overlong song outros, lack of variation in instrumentals, Jay Z completely overperforming Jay Elec, and song structures which feel like were barely holding on without crumbling. The overly long and rumbly "Ezekiel's Wheel", the strange and incohesive "Flux Capacitor" and the out-of place "Shiny Suit Theory" are just a few examples. Jay Z carried the album and made it enjoyable for me, and I believe Jay Elec didn't give me 100%. He was performing at about 30 of what I'm used to.
Overall "A Written Testimony" definitely scratched some itches, and was a good album. But fundamentally I believe it was flawed, way too overdue, and am fearful that it might be a case of "too little too late". I hope that Jay Electronica continues to make music, but next time truly delivers the "10 Year Album" that everyone knows he can do. This effort is a little too obvious in it's message, and lacks the true artistic depth that I know this hip-hop legend is capable of, although it has it's sparse moments of magic. I guess I'm just happy that something exists! And will surely revisit this album to see if anything changes as it now will have to stand the test of time.
My Top Songs: Ghost Of Soulja Slim, The Blinding, Universal Soldier, Fruits Of The Spirit, A.P.I.D.T.A
Check this review out! (It's pretty good): https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/hhga/album/213529-a-written-testimony/