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“Diddy send a text every hour on the dot sayin’ / When you gon’ drop that verse nigga, you taking long,” - Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” from 2009.
Aside from a few memorable features, we haven’t had a full Jay Electronica project since Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge). However, A Written Testimony appeared on Friday, March 13, and introduced the decade-in-the-waiting debut album with extremely high expectations.
The project was announced back in February and to the public’s surprise, it turned out the album we got wasn’t the disputed Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) project Jay Electronica recorded for Roc Nation in 2012. Instead, it was a new album recorded over the course of forty days starting December 26, 2019, and featured JAY-Z on nearly every cut.
“...my debut album featuring Hov man this is highway robbery”— J A Y E L E C T R O N I C A (@JayElectronica) February 7, 2020
Akin to JAY-Z’s past collaborations, this one veers more into Distant Relatives by Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley territory than Watch The Throne. It is a collection of Louis Farrakhan quotes, documentary excerpts, Dillaesque beats produced by Jay Electronica himself, and a shuttle relay of verses between two elite emcees.
The tracklist reads like the table of contents to a good book. ”The Overwhelming Event” is a symphonic introduction that opens the album in a style unseen since D’Angelo’s “1000 Deaths” off of Black Messiah.
”Ghost of Soulja Slim” is a hard bounce that opens with the sound of applause that sounds like the clap of rain. JAY-Z gets the lead verse and he touches on everything from Jim Crow to racist cops and Rumi to social theory. A standout track for sure, Jay Elect’s verse includes this gem.
”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”
”The Blinding” featuring Travis Scott is one of only two features beyond the two Jays over a beat provided by Hit-Boy, Swizz Beatz, and AarabMuzik. This one is hard, incorporating the sci-fi pro-black swag we’ve come to expect. The beat switches up, but the song feels cohesive as Travis croons about blinding lights and the sun.
”The Neverending Story” is a psychedelic rock-inspired joint provided by The Alchemist that is all bars, no hooks. The music to book metaphor is a recurring theme on this beatbox-inspired vibe. “Shiny Suit Theory” featuring The-Dream was first released as a loosie back in 2010. The loop is a flip of The Ambassadors “Aint Got the Love,” which is also the sample used in Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “I Got a Love.” Jay Electronica reflects on a convo he had with “The Ghost of Christopher Wallace” collaborator Diddy while JAY-Z literally goes crazy, as he exposes the insanity of racist thinking on his verse.
”Universal Soldier” is a slow burner that is beautifully accented with Koranic Arabic, DJ ad-lips, and subdued melodic harmony. The topic of the song relates to overcoming obstacles using creativity, faith, and devotion to both spirituality and Hip Hop culture. JAY-Z calls out the hypocrisy he endures while robber barons of the past have remained unjudged by white America’s version of history.
”Flux Capacitor” is an uptempo bop based around a flip of Rihanna’s “Higher” off of ANTI. The breakdown at the end is well worth the wait. This one is a celebration where JAY-Z addresses the NFL situation while both rappers refrain the classic Nola “Where dey at/ Get da gat” chant Jay Electronica referenced in the infamous bar off of Exhibit A. The song shifts from an island-vibe to Nola bounce and all points in between.
”Fruits of the Spirit” is a smoothed out No I.D. soul beat built on the song “Because I Love You” by The Imaginations. Jay Electronica holds it down all solo on this cut, which is the shortest song on the album, but he manages to snap like Thanos regardless. Just Blaze, the producer of Exhibit C (but who is absent from this project) used the same sample on Talib Kweli’s “Never Been In Love Before” from A Beautiful Struggle. Talib even tweeted a message after listening to A Written Testimony. Black Star fans rejoice!
I’m here listening to this Jay Elec Jay Z album. It sounds... real familiar. In the best way possible. I say that with all due respect. It’s letting me know that the world is finally ready for Black Star part 2. ✊— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) March 14, 2020
”Ezekiel’s Wheel” featuring The-Dream is a space odyssey of quotable lyrics and introspection. Chance the Rapper, who Jay Electronica collaborated with on “How Great” from Coloring Book, was especially impressed with the display of lyricism. The song clocks in at almost seven minutes and is the closest thing to “Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)” on the album. It frees up JAY-Z to rap without the constraints of corporate pressures like he’s always wanted to.
“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, in crucial parts of my novel, the only logical option was to tranform into the wind” - Jay Electronica We missed you but we glad you back— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) March 13, 2020
”A.P.I.D.T.A.” is an emotional ode to all of the people we’ve lost and will never speak to again. It was recorded on the night of Jan 26, 2020, the day Kobe and Gianna Bryant passed away along with seven other souls. The song taps into the healing power of tears and scriptures, and reminds us to appreciate the blessing of the flesh while we’re lucky enough to walk the earth. The closing soundscape was provided by soul trio Khruangbin.
A Written Testimony arrives at a time when folks are soul searching because it feels like the end of the world in near. Jay’s mystical persona positions him as a prestigious rhymer with a thought-provoking message of faith and liberation for black people. The unexpected part of this album is that JAY-Z steals the show with an unprecedented display of conscious songwriting. The project feels like Jay Electronica is a duo, Like Jay-Lib, Kids See Ghosts, or Madviilain, where JAY-Z is the former and Jay Elect is the latter.
This album is another example of how Jay Electronica’s artistry is able to transform his identity, as the literary Alchemist transforms into the wind. He switches from patois to Arabic to Spanish to blerd-speak at the drop of a dime and takes us along for the journey through the cosmos, so we can escape the troubles of the world if only for forty minutes. Jay Elect was able to meet and exceed all of the expectations of his debut album, as he gave us a project that will get us through another ten years.