Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony
Mar 19, 2020 (updated Mar 20, 2020)
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« Jay proved himself. »
And that goes for both Jay Z and Jay E.

Dozens of 'artists' have made their mark on rap with one banger, made the crowds dance during one Billboard 100 hit, then nothing. Not enough consistency. A lot of them have fallen into oblivion after only a few years without an album, but not Jay Electronica. It must be said that the New Orleans MC made a lasting impression on rap, with only a short 15-minute mixtape and an iconic single: "Exhibit C". And if Jay Electronica has managed to stay in the collective unconscious of hip-hop for so many years without releasing a single project, it's because he cultivates something very special.

His clear and succinct ambition was announced in 2007: to bring a new sound and offer an innovative experience. An extremely technical way of rapping, coupled with metaphysical and esoteric stories. The soundscape of his first mixtape? The soundtrack of the movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". A surgical amputation of the traditional rap instrumental (kick - snare - hi-hat - melody) as if to better redirect our attention to what really matters: words. His words. The musical decor fades away little by little, giving way to Jay Electronica's semantic science. The self-proclaimed "Black God" had just printed his style in gold lettering in the memory of the most perfectionist hip-hop heads.

Lyrics take a predominant place in Jay Electronica's music. First of all in his way of rapping, but also by the space he gives to the declaimed words. His songs contain a plethora of excerpts from movies, television speeches... This is why it is not surprising to see the collaborative album "A Written Testimony" (with Jay-Z) begin with Louis Farrakhan's voice, leader of the Nation of Islam and representative of the late Elijah Muhammad. Jay Electronica's philosophy is influenced by the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan's speeches are clearly a source of inspiration for the rapper. Here, the man is not to be separated from the artist, the two evolving in total symbiosis. On a melancholic and weeping piano, Farrakhan's eloquence is sublimated and the tone is set: it will be an album focused on the past and the future of the African-American community.

The Black question is central on "A Written Testimony" and is evoked on several axes. The track "Ghost of Soulja Slim" is one of the catalysts. It is perhaps on this track that the differences between the two Jay's become most visible. While Jay-Z's verse is nervous and raging, Jay Electronica's is much more soothed and serene. Their fusion is fascinating. Jay-Z is the billionaire businessman eternally searching for his next financial windfall, while Jay E is the reclusive nomad who perfects the richness of his philosophy. The two MCs are diametrically opposed, but their shared self-knowledge, lyrical ability and talent for storytelling form an incredible commensalism throughout their shared testimony.

Behind every decision, every artistic process, every idea of the album, the fear is hidden. Opposed between a flamboyant Jay-Z and grandiose productions, the MC's presence is no longer indispensable. This time it's no longer the soundtrack that's in the background, but Jay E who blends into the landscape. When he hides behind a false nonchalance: "Extra, extra, it's Mr. Headlines/Who signed every contract and missed the deadlines", it's actually the syndrom of 'stage fright', one of the main characteristics is to be petrified when THE event approaches. Every pretext then becomes valid for pushing back the deadline. An increased anxiety due to the fact that it has become a hip-hop legend. After successively postponing the release of his album in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018, Jay Electronica has locked himself in a vicious circle. He is a man who honestly wishes for success and achievement but remains afraid of the journey along these trophies.

Because "A Written Testimony" is an eminently introspective album, in which Jay Electronica questions himself, speaks to himself. He freely reveals his fears and his ambitions, trying to combine the two in order to make his clan prosper. The last track of the album, "A.P.I.D.T.A." is a real cry from the heart, this track is a funeral tribute. Reflecting our digital age, it recounts the double sorrow felt by the relatives of the deceased: absence (physical) and presence (digital). While the gloomy and melancholic guitars of the psychedelic band Khruangbin intrude in the background, the dark atmosphere of the track weighs heavily on each rapper. "The day my mama died, I scrolled her lyrics all day long," explains Jay Electronica.

You'll have understood it, "A Written Testimony" is a touching, delicate and philosophical album just like its genitor. It's an album full of qualities but not a real debut solo album. It's a dodge album, a trompe-l'oeil, a way of blending in with the scenery. Like the chameleon, we hardly notice the presence of Jay Electronica, yet he's definitely there. The proof is that you only have to change your angle of view to see him shine in the light. And that's probably the most eloquent way to manifest his existence.


Best tracks: "Flux Capacitor", "A.P.I.D.T.A", "Universal Soldier", "Shiny Suit Theory (feat. The-Dream)", "Ghost of Soulja Slim", "The Neverending Story".

Worst track: "Ezekiel's Wheel (feat. The-Dream)"
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