Eleven years ago, Jay Electronica was poised to be the biggest rapper in the world. He had released singles “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C” to mass acclaim; the latter garnered so much buzz that some deemed him the next Nas. The hype seemed warranted: Jay Elec recalled hip-hop’s golden era of the 1990s, when would-be legends like Nas, Jay-Z, and The Notorious B.I.G. were still scrappy upstarts, and their albums — namely Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, and Ready to Die — became cornerstones of the period. Jay Electronica was very much of that ilk. A tough-minded MC with an intricate flow, he could dissect Islamic teachings with great pacing and clarity. When paired with the mountain-sized production of Just Blaze, “Exhibit C” felt like a watershed moment. This dude was the one and supporters worshipped at the altar.
After a summer 2010 bidding war between P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, Jay Elec signed with the latter. A year later, he took to Twitter and said that his album, Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), was done. But the record never materialized. In a 2017 interview with Billboard, he called the idea of an album a “false concept … created by corporations as a product to make money.” Outside the occasional guest verse — most recently, an appearance alongside producer Poo Bear and singer Justin Bieber on the song “Hard 2 Face Reality” — there was no full-length project with Jay Electronica’s name on the cover. A lot of fans gave up and moved on. That was until Feb. 7th when he announced on Twitter that his debut LP, A Written Testimony, would be out in 40 days. Listeners had heard that before; fans were excited but skeptical. Following a decade of pump fakes and false starts, who knew if the album was actually going to drop.
But Jay Electronica came through, releasing a 39-minute, 10-track project that explores anxiety and his allegiance to Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. Featuring The-Dream, Travis Scott, and James Blake, and with production from AraabMuzik, Swizz Beatz, HIT-BOY, G. Ry, No I.D., Khruangbin, The Alchemist, and Jay Electronica himself (who compiled six of the album’s 10 tracks), A Written Testimony moves swiftly, grouping ambient loops, pop samples, and atmospheric soul into a tightly-coiled set. Continue Reading Review