Album Review | Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony

This album was released on March 13th this year. I said that I’d go live on Instagram the night Jay Electronica’s album was supposed to be released, but at the last minute my social anxiety kicked in and I got too nervous. So yeah. This project is just out now. I genuinely think it’d be fair to say that this is personally my most anticipated album of all time. I don’t know why people are saying that they waited 10 years for this album to drop. It’d be more accurate to say it was a 13 year wait. Act I came out in 2007. I guess Jay Elec signed to Roc Nation in 2010, so that’s probably why. It doesn’t matter though. The wait is over. I’ve been accused of being a Jay Electronica stan a lot in the past, and that sentiment will either be strengthened or nullified by this review depending on your perspective. I’m not gonna format this in my typical style though. I’ve listened to it a lot already, and I’d rather just write a long ass pile of words than try to break shit down track by track. The number one question people will most likely have is, “was it worth the wait?” My answer to that question is no. Of course not. No album is worth waiting 13 years for. However, am I satisfied with this release? Yes & no. It’s not really as simple as the album being good or bad. Obviously it’s good. There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be a quality album. Certain factors are disappointing though. First of all, I really wish this was a solo Jay Electronica album, but it kind of isn’t. Jay-Z is featured on 8 out of 10 tracks. I’ve never really been a big fan of Jay-Z, although I do enjoy a good portion of his catalogue, and I wouldn’t say that any of his albums are flat out wack, although it should be noted that I never bothered to check out those R. Kelly collabs. I know a lot of Hip Hop fans start tearing up when people use the O word with Hov, so I won’t go that far. Even though I kinda just did implicitly. He’s just never really been that interesting to me at all. The one exception is 4:44. I think that album is amazing. It probably says a lot that when I tell people that it’s my favorite Jay-Z album, they immediately figure out that I’m not a big fan of him without me having to specifically tell them. With all that said, I think Jay-Z’s rapping here is phenomenal, and he did a great job. His presence here is bittersweet for me honestly. I feel like if he wasn’t involved, far fewer people would be interested in this album at all, so it was a wise move on Jay Electronica’s part. However, I’ve been waiting more than half of my lifespan for a solo Jay Electronica album. I wanted 100% Jay Electronica. A verse or two or three from Jay-Z would’ve been fine, but I didn’t want Watch the Throne 2. Also, this is a more direct complaint, but… Why is the Shiny Suit Theory here? I mean, I think the song’s fire, and it’s cool to finally have a CDQ version that doesn’t sound like straight ass, but goddamn. This song has been out for 10 years already. Also, one more thing… The mixing on this album is kinda trash. It’s not bad enough to ruin the album for me, but I’d be remiss for not pointing it out. There’s zero doubt in my mind that I’d enjoy it much more if the mixing wasn’t as muddy as it is. Now… Let’s get into it… This album is amazing. It’s the best album I’ve heard so far this year. It’s not perfect, but it’s amazing. It begins with The Overwhelming Event, which was a nice, somewhat predictable set up for the remainder of the project. The production from Rance, Khirye Tyler, Chris Payton & Éric Demarson is fittingly cinematic and eventful. The whole track is this grandiose instrumental placed underneath an audio clip of a speech from Minister Farrakhan, who of course is the hotep equivalent to Superman. The hotep bullshit comes with the territory whenever you’re dealing with Jay Electronica, but I’m relieved to say that there are zero anti-vaccination bars on this album, unless I just somehow missed them. Anyway, this opening track eventually transitions into The Ghost of Soulja Slim, which has more stellar, albeit muddy production from all of the aforementioned producers. The melody in the instrumental reminds me a lot of Nas’ One Love. I don’t know if I’m the only person who made that comparison, but I actually thought they flipped the same sample at first. The very first rap verse on the entire album is performed by Jay-Z. Again, it’s kinda bittersweet. His verse is really goddamn good. I was ready for Jay Elec, so it was weird hearing Hov first, but it’s the tiniest of nitpicks. Jay Elec came in right behind him, and he slaughtered it. The opening few lines of his verse alone elicited a strong physical reaction from me.

If it come from me and Hov, consider it Qur’an
If it come from any of those, consider it Harām
The minaret that Jigga built me on the dome of the Roc
Was crafted so beautifully, consider this Adhan
From a hard place and a rock to the Roc Nation of Islam
I emerged on the wave that Tidal made to drop bombs

There are certain tracks on this album in which I actually think Jay-Z had the better performance, but this certainly isn’t one of those occasions. That line about Kate Rothschild was fire. The lines about crushing oyibo, which followed the evocation of King T’Challa’s name had me scrambling to find my nonexistent kufi. If it wasn’t clear enough already, this is a black album. It’s the blackest album I’ve heard all year, and I doubt that statement will be any less true by the end of December. I fucking love it. Overall, the song is dope as hell. I like the beat a lot, but I probably would’ve loved it if the mixing wasn’t so shitty. The rapping here is top notch though. It’s followed by one of many major highlights on the album, The Blinding. This track actually features Travis Scott of all people, whose contribution actually goes over surprisingly well. He thankfully has a very modest performance here. They went the “less is more” route with him, and it worked about as well as anyone could’ve hoped for. If they let Travis Scott have a verse he honestly would’ve ruined the song. Thank god that didn’t happen. Anyway, the song features some glorious production from Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, AraabMUZIK & G. Ry. The way both of them were going back and forth on this track was really goddamn dope. I feel like if they have to choose a single from this album, it’d probably be this one. It has the kinda beat that the older generation might refer to as “Southern Boom Shit.” It’s so fucking good. If you don’t nod your head to this even a little bit as soon as the beat drops, you might need to see a doctor. They killed this shit too.

It’s the return of the Mahdi, it’s the return of the akhis
It’s the return of the lost and found tribe of Shabazz, the Annunakis
It’s the return of Mr. Shakur spittin’ out phlegm at paparazzi

Hov sounds so fucking cool on this joint. I liked Jay Elec’s rapping more lyrically, but Hov sounded dope as hell. The way the beat kinda switches up after the very first verse is awesome. It’s a very fitting switch up; it doesn’t found like two random ass beats spliced together. Both of them sound like two sides of the same coin. Jay Elec fucking bodied that second verse too. I fucking love it.

Extra, extra, it’s Mr. Headlines
Who signed every contract and missed the deadlines
40 days, 40 nights, tryna live up to the hype
It’s the road less traveled, it’s the one who missed the flights
Hov hit me up like, “What, you scared of heights?
Know your sister tired of workin’, gotta do her something nice”
I’m like, “Don’t he know I stay up for Fallon late nights?”
She need bread, she need rice, she need threads, she need ice
Either tell it to my bank account or say it to the dice
When I lay down in my bed it’s like my head in the vice

The song is amazing. I fucking love it. I have no gripes with it at all. Track 4 is another highlight for me called The Neverending Story. It’s produced by one of my favorite producers of all time, The Alchemist, and it features The-Dream. Jay Electronica fucking annihilated the first verse too, man. The beat from The Alchemist is fantastic, but that verse is really the selling point for me. It’s one of those situations where I don’t know which lines to quote because they’re all so amazing. I just wish I could transcribe the whole thing here. I think the closing couplet is what’s been catching most people’s attention.

What a time we livin’ in, just like the scripture says
Earthquakes, fires, and plagues, the resurrection of the dead

It’s eerie how timely these bars are given current events. There was a 5.1 earthquake in my mom’s home country of Trinidad & Tobago roughly one week before the release of the album. Obviously the fires would be related to the situation in Australia, and I think the plague thing goes without saying at this point. If you’ll allow me to put on my Rap Genius cap real quick, I’d like to perform a Reed Richards stretch to say that the “resurrection of the dead” thing relates to The Ghost of Soulja Slim. I know that’s a leap, but it’s an idea that popped in my head. Anyway, Jay-Z pops in real quick to lay a relatively short verse, which was pretty cool. I mean, it was good. It was really good. I like how he kinda went in on the internalized self hate of the older people in his family. It’s nowhere near as captivating as Jay Electronica’s verse, but it was good, and it definitely didn’t mar the song in my opinion. I’m not gonna act like it really pushed the song to the next level. I wouldn’t love the song any less than I currently do if he wasn’t here. He did his thing though. I fuck with his verse. The sung outro from The-Dream is very low-key, so much so that I thought it was part of the sample on my first listen. He sounded good though. I think the song’s amazing, and I have no gripes with it at all. The following track is The Shiny Suit Theory, which I briefly mentioned before. I don’t want y’all to get my feelings misconstrued; I love the song. I’m sure y’all can understand why it’s odd to me that we waited so long for this album, and then once we’ve gotten it there are only 8 new songs in which Jay Electronica is actually rapping. It’s not really that big of a deal for me though. The version we’ve had for the past decade was mixed like absolute dogshit, and this one thankfully sounds way better. The beat sounds like something I’d hear in a gameshow. It just makes me think of old rich white men and casinos. I feel like if I just heard it without anyone rapping over it I wouldn’t like it that much. The rapping is the main event here though. This is one of the few tracks in which Jay-Z kinda outshined Jay Electronica. That’s not to say Jay Elec didn’t murder it though. His verse was superb.

I’m in touch with every shrine from Japan to Oaxaca
The melanated carbon-dated phantom of the chakras
Me and Puff, we was chilling in Miami
He said, “Nigga, fuck the underground, you need to win a Grammy
For your mama and your family, they need to see you shined up
You built a mighty high ladder, let me see you climb up
Nigga, what you scared of?
Terrorize these artificial rap niggas and spread love
Pollinate they earbuds like you supposed to, spit it for the culture”

That’s just a testament to how amazing Jay-Z’s verse is though. I say this as someone who has never been a huge Jay-Z guy, but I don’t think I’m out of line for saying that I think this is one of his best verses of all time.

The doc interrupted
He scribbled a prescription for some Prozac
He said, “Take that for your mustard
Boy, you must be off your rocker
If you think you’ll make it off the strip before they Pac ya
Nigga, you gotta be psychotic or mixing something potent with your vodka
It takes a lot to shock us, but you being so prosperous is preposterous
How could this nappy-headed boy from out the projects
Be the apple of America’s obsession?
You totally disconnected with reality, don’t believe in dreams
Since when did black men become kings?”

Every time I hear this verse I give a delighted smile and a nod of approval. I don’t know why that’s how I’ve been reacting to a lot of dope shit lately. I used to freak out, but now I just nod like a proud father. Anyway, the song is dope as hell. Again, I’m very slightly annoyed that it’s a decade old and we’re just now getting a CDQ version, but it’s still very good. I think it has one of the more underwhelming beats on the album, and it isn’t that flashy sonically, but the rapping here is God level. The next song is called Universal Soldier. It has some additional vocals from James Blake and Travis Scott, who both did a nice job. The production is incredible by the way. The beat sounds exactly how you’d expect a song called Universal Solider to sound. It’s super dramatic and grandiose. Jay Electronica’s verse was fantastic, of course.

I glow like embers of coal, born with a touch of gold
My mathematical theology of rhymin’ll touch the soul
I spent many nights bent off Woodford
Clutchin’ the bowl, stuffin’ my nose
Some of the cons I suffered for prose

Jay-Z’s verse was pretty nice too. I preferred Jay Elec’s performance, but Hov did a really good job here.

I’m the general of the geechie army
What don’t kill us make us stronger, that’s Nietzsche on me
Hot boy like I’m B.G., that Fiji on me
We done ducked them fed charges, now we eatin’ confit

I kinda wish they rapped a little more; an additional verse from Jay Elec would’ve really pushed this one to the next level. The vocals from Travis sounded phenomenal though. Apparently James Blake is the one singing “Save my soul” at the very end. I legitimately thought that was Jay-Z. It’s fine though. The song is still dope as hell. It’s followed by Flux Capacitor, which is easily the worst song on the album. As luck would have it, this is also the one track where Jay-Z completely outshines Jay Electronica. There are a lot of things I dislike about the song, but Hov’s rapping is so good that I can look past most of it. First of all, that hook sucks ass. Well, maybe that’s a bit harsh. I don’t like it though. It’s an interpolation of Big Elt’s “Get the Gat,” which of course is a callback to Jay Electronica’s legendary “Exhibit C.” That’s cool. It’s just not good to me. My second big issue here is the production. This beat is not good. It sounds like a rough draft. Emphasis on the word rough. I feel like they could’ve done something with that Rihanna sample to make the beat really nice because it honestly does sound pretty cool at first. It gets really annoying very quickly though. Also, this is probably the one song where the shitty mixing is most evident. The percussion here sounds really bad. It’s not enough to completely ruin the song, but it is a legitimate gripe that I have. My other main issue is just that this sounds more like Jay-Z featuring Jay Electronica than vice versa. Hov handles the hook and delivers one of his best verses on the album, and then Jay Electronica just comes through with a relatively underwhelming performance. His verse wasn’t complete trash, but I will say that it’s easily his weakest verse on the album. It has approximately zero lines that I can find worth quoting. Hov’s verse is another story though.

When I die, please don’t tweet about my death
Tryna get mentions, bringin’ attention to yourself
Please don’t post some pic from in the club
With some quote you stole like we was tighter than what we was
Tryna get likes from my love
If you can’t go by the crib and give my mama a hug

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about different lines from this verse on Twitter. The “old Jay” triple entendre in particular got a lot of attention, even though I find it to be a little corny personally… But yeah, Hov definitely stole the show here. I just wish the mixing was better, the production was better, and that the hook was better. It’s still a dope track, but it’s easily my least favorite on the album. It’s followed by the one solo Jay Electronica song on the album, Fruits of the Spirit. Ironically, this is also the shortest track on the project. It’s fire though. He killed this shit. You know what I think? I think they should’ve taken Hov’s verse from the preceding track and just put it here, and then scrapped Flux Capacitor. That would’ve made this shit a lot better. Anyway, I’ve seen a lot of people seem to be really excited that Jay Electronica shouted out Vince Staples on this song.

Like Vince Staples said, “we just wadin’ in the water”
My people out in Flint still bathin’ in the slaughter
ICE out here rippin’ families apart at the border
Satan struck Palestine with yet another mortar

That’s cool I guess. Out of all the lines in that quatrain, the Vince Staples shoutout is the least interesting to me, but whatever. The production from No I.D. is spectacular by the way. He also produced Flux Capacitor if I’m not mistaken. As a song, the track is a bit skeletal. It’s literally just one verse.

Swing low sweet chariot, my train is on schedule
But I had to take the Underground Railroad like Harriet
Weave the whole industry, every jab I’ve parried it
My cross, I carried it

The verse is fire enough for me to still love the track, but I do wish that it was a bit more fleshed out. It’s dope as hell overall though. The penultimate track is called Ezekiel’s Wheel. This is my favorite song on the album. It’s also the longest track here, so that’s nice. The-Dream’s singing on the hook here is fucking incredible. This is the one track where Jay Elec directly acknowledges how baffling the wait for his album and his career has been.

They say it was gon’ never happen
But I survived Neverland like the Jacksons
You never swallow slanderous lies for the devil’s satisfaction

There are so many fucking good lines in this track, man. I love it. The entire song is incredible to me.

Jay Cirque du Soleilica
I started on Tatooine, but now I’m way out in Dagobah
Mastered the force, made my saber, I’m in the light now
It’s the hour of chaos, the black steel is on me right now

The closest he comes to giving an explanation for the wait comes toward the end of the first verse.

Some ask me “Jay, man, why come for so many years you been exempt?”
‘Cause familiarity don’t breed gratitude, just contempt
And the price of sanity is too damn high, just like the rent

It’s not really a situation where he could say anything that would have his audience saying “oh shit, I get it now. I understand why we waited for over a decade.” It’s pretty much the exact same reasoning I would’ve predicted from him. I’m fine with it though. It’s better than him just not mentioning it at all.

Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my pen
Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my sin
Sometimes, like Santiago, at crucial points of my novel
My only logical option was to transform into the wind

That’s just the first verse though. Thankfully, instead of letting Jay-Z handle the second one, Jay Electronica actually comes in and brings it all home. Hov just handles the hook here.

My debut album featurin’ Hov, man, this is highway robbery
It’s like I hit the lottery, I busted the piñat-y
Now I’m hot like a tamale, it’s just like I caught a body
It will be pandemonium if I show up to the party
May all my haters hit they knees and throw up in the toilet
In the twinklin’ of an eye I went from legend to historic
Catchin’ bodies after bodies
You say my name like Candyman
I’ll pop out of your closet and withdraw me a deposit

The additional vocals from James Fauntleroy that come in at the very end are amazing too. Everything about the song is perfect to me. I love it. It’s dope af. The final track is probably my second favorite song. It’s called All Praise Is Due to Allah, and it was written and recorded the day that Kobe Bryant died.

ETCm8EPUcAAMh-r

It’s easily the most emotional track on the album, and I think it was a good outro. The instrumental was performed by Khruangbin, funnily enough. The hook from Jay-Z is so fucking good man. It cuts deep.

I got numbers in my phone that’ll never ring again
‘Cause Allah done called ’em home, so until we sing again
I got texts on my phone that’ll never ping again
I screenshot ’em so I got ’em, I don’t want this thing to end

That's sad…

There’s just one verse here from Jay Electronica, and it’s incredible. It’s really powerful stuff, man. If you’ve lost a parent, this song is very likely to make you cry.

Eyes fiery, cry tears to my diary
Sometimes a Xanny bar can’t help you fight back the anxiety
I go to my Lord quietly, teardrops on our faces, teardrops on my face
It’s like teardrops become waterfalls by the time they reach my laces
My eyelids is like levees but my tear ducts is like glaciers
As I contemplate creation
The salt that heals my wounds pour out my eyes just like libations
I can’t stop my mind from racing, I got numbers on my phone
Pictures on my phone
The day my mama died, I scrolled her texts all day long
The physical returns but the connection still stay strong

Sad

Honestly, depending on my mood, this might be my favorite track. It’s really between this and the preceding song. Both of them are incredible. I have no gripes with either of them at all. So yeah. That’s the album.


This album is amazing. Again, a project like this comes with many questions. Was it worth the wait? No. No album is worth waiting 13 years for. Is it better than Act I? No, not in my opinion. Am I satisfied? No. I mean, I am, but, at the same time, I still want more. I still want Act II, and Act III. I doubt those albums will ever happen though. This project has me questioning whether or not we’ll ever get a full solo album from Jay Electronica. Are we gonna have to wait another decade for more music from him? I’m sure he’ll pop up like Andre 3000 and deliver on features here and there like he’s been doing for the past 13 years. I want more though, and I’ll take whatever I can get. I’ve seen some people saying that Jay-Z stole the show and outshined Jay Electronica, and I really don’t get how. The only song where he completely smoked him was Flux Capacitor. I also think Hov had the better verse on Shiny Suit Theory, but it’s not like it wasn’t close. Jay Electronica was far more interesting lyrically on every other song. One thing that I didn’t think about until immediately after listening for the first time was that Jay Electronica claimed to have written this album in just 40 days. If something like this was made in forty days, how amazing is the other shit he’s been recording for the past decade? Also, we all know Shiny Suit Theory wasn’t recorded in the last 40 days, so what’s the deal with that? As much as I love this album, I still want more. Jay Electronica has been in my top 10 favorite rappers list for a while now, and people always questioned it, so hopefully I won’t have to put an asterisk by his name anymore. Anyway… This album is amazing. I’m happy it’s out. I seriously hope we don’t have to wait super long for more music in the future, and I think certain aspects of this project could’ve been a lot better, but this is still currently my album of the year. It’s close though. It shouldn’t have been close. This should’ve been album of the decade, and it’s dangerously close to being tied with Clear Soul Forces’ latest record. I’m too happy about this project actually existing to complain though. This shit is dope af.

Favorite Song: Ezekiel’s Wheel
Least Favorite Song: Flux Capacitor

93

Watch the video below for more thoughts on this album.

A flat
Grade: A

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