A Written Testimony by Jay Electronica
A review by Craig MacDonald a.k.a Debating Hip-Hop
The long-awaited Jay Electronica debut album is finally here in A Written Testimony. When I said long-awaited, I meant long-awaited, this album has been overdue and anticipated for the past 10 years. Until Jay took to twitter 40 days ago announcing that his first album was on the way. The album has 10 songs and it features Jay-Z on 8 songs (also known as “Hov”), Travis Scott & The-Dream on 3 songs. This is essentially a Jay Electronica and Jay-Z collab album. Electronica is a lyricist, he strives over old school hip-hop instrumentals and that’s what you should expect when you go to listen to this album.
Jay Electronica is 43 years old, born and raised in New Orleans until he started travelling around the United States stopping in many different cities. During this time, Jay studied the Nation of Islam and teachings from Elijah Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X and other leaders. This album is very well influenced by Islam through the cover, lyrics and content all through the songs. In 2007, Electronica released his debut mixtape Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) via MySpace where he grew popularity which led him to join the Rock The Bells tour in 2008. In 2009, Jay released a series of singles with the help of producer Just Blaze titled “Exhibit A”, “Exhibit B” & “Exhibit C” which are critically acclaimed and responsible for his national popularity. In 2010, many labels were after Jay to sign but he ended up signing with Jay-Z at Roc Nation. Over the duration of the decade, Electronica dropped singles including “Road to Perdition” (2016), “Better in Tune With the Infinite” (2016), & “Letter To Falcon” (2017) along with notable guest features on Big Sean’s “Control”, Chance The Rapper’s “How Great”, & Mac Miller’s “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes”. All during this time, his album was the main topic for fans but nothing ever came together until now.
(Song and album ratings are compared to other releases in the year)
Track 1: “The Overwhelming Event” NA/10
The album starts off with an interlude titled “The Overwhelming Event” that features a speech done by Louis Farrakhan a leader of the Nation of Islam, as he speaks about the end of the present modern world and the root of white supremacy. This album is very deeply connected to religion, oppression and many more introspective topics.
Track 2: “Ghost of Soulja Slim (feat. Jay-Z)” 10/10
The skit from the first song carries into the second as Louis Farrakhan says, “So, all you scared to death of n*****. Just sit down. Don’t you come out to defend our enemy? You sit down and you shut up. And tell your master to come on out and deal with this”. The first voice and verse you hear on the album is Jay-Z, he wasn’t stated as a feature on any of the songs so this came as a surprise for many first listeners. Hov comes out of the gate hot, spitting ignorant bars and threats as he says, “Next time they bring up the Gods, you gon’ respect us. That lil’ vest ain’t gonna do you, I shoot from neck up”. Then in comes Jay Electronica in the second verse, in his first bar he says, “If it comes from me and Hov, consider it Qur’an. If it comes from any of those, consider it Harām”. Qur’an is the holy book of Islam, and Harām means sinful and forbidden. Electronica creates this analogy to illustrate that, whatever him and Hov have to say is the truth and whatever anybody else says isn’t. Electronica is credited with the majority of the production on the album including this song, the beat features old school style drums with a piano loop and an accordion to capture this soulful masterpiece. Soulja Slim was an American rapper and songwriter who was responsible for writing Juvenile’s #1 hit “Slow Motion”. Soulja was sadly murdered outside of his mother’s home in late 2003. The song is the definition of perfection, down to the beat, lyrics, performances, and content. Definitely one of my favourites on the album, it can’t get much better than that.
Track 3: “The Blinding (feat. Jay-Z & Travis Scott)” 9/10
“The Blinding” kicks in with a hard-hitting trap style beat produced by Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, G. Ry & AraabMUZIK. Electronica and Hov go back and forth trading bars, competing with each other bringing us top-tier content. They lead us into this quick hook, 3 lines sang by Travis Scott in auto-tune as the beat switches. This second beat is softer on the drums, with a cooler vibe, and an ongoing synth. In the second verse, Electronica addresses this album rollout, high expectations and his past, as he says, “Extra, extra, it’s Mr. Headlines. Who signed every contract and missed the deadlines. 40 days, 40 nights, tryna live up to the hype.” This song is the most “mainstream” song on the album because of the production and also the Travis feature. It meshes well with the album, it definetly doesn’t seem out of place.
Track 4: “The Neverending Story (feat. Jay-Z & The-Dream)” 9/10
“The Neverending Story” is produced by legendary producer The Alchemist as Jay Electronica says in the first verse, “Alchemist put the icing on the soliloquy”. The beat is a soulful mashup of female vocals, guitar strings, smooth bass lines and a very faint ride symbol. Electronica has a very long first verse speaking about religion, faith, and life as he slowly maneuvers through the song. Hov comes in on the second verse and continues to do his thing on this album. Not a lot of people are rapping like Hov at 50 years old, he’s been, and still is, in his bag.
Track 5: “Shiny Suit Theory (feat. Jay-Z & The-Dream) 10/10
On this concept song, Jay Electronica raps from the perspective of an up and coming rapper where he receives advice from hip-hop icon Diddy. He essentially tells him to chase his dream and climb the industry ladder to the top. On the contrary, Jay-Z spits the second verse and is confronted by a shrink who represents white America. He tells him he’ll be killed and his dream of being successful isn’t a reality, as he says, “You totally disconnected with reality, don’t believe in dreams. Since when did black men become kings”. The song samples The Ambassador’s “Ain’t Got The Love of One Girl (On My Mind)” and is produced by Electronica himself. The beat features a mixture of trumpets, drums, bells and more giving it a classical music type vibe. Something you’d hear walking into a fancy party in the 1900s. The mixture of the performances, concept, lyrics and beat this song is definitely a stand-out track on the album. Hov and Jay seamlessly rapping without a falter.
Track 6: “Universal Soldier (feat. Jay-Z)” 10/10
This song begins with an interlude of an old-sounding recording of a newscaster reporting the historic event when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Electronica enters into an intro where he speaks Arabic as the beat kicks in over him. The song is produced by Electronica himself, it features a female background voice, slow tempo drums, and other sounds creating the perfect vibe for this song. Electronica and Hov speak on oppression and struggle as Jay makes his religious analogies as he says, “The son of slaves, true, I started out as a peasant. That’s why I build my temple like Solomon in the desert.” The song features background vocals from James Blake and Travis Scott. Lyrical excellence at it’s finest, Jay and Hov continue to impress. And it doesn’t seem like they are going to slow down as we enter the second half of the album.
Track 7: “Flux Capacitor (feat. Jay-Z)” 8/10
You may recognize a lot of familiar things on this track, it samples Rihanna’s “Higher” in the background that’s edited and looped which is produced by Electronica. The hook sang by Jay-Z interpolates Lil Elt’s “Get The Gat” and one of Electronica’s bars interpolates Biggie’s “Juicy” when he raps, “Remember Rappin Duke? Duh-ha, duh-ha. You never thought we’d make it to Lā ‘ilāha ‘illā Allah”. Jay-Z addresses his NFL deal controversy when he says, “Why would I sell out? I’m already rich, don’t make no sense. Got more money than Goodell, a whole NFL bench. Did it one-handed like Odell handcuffed to a jail. I would’ve stayed on the sidelines if they could’ve tackled the shit themselves.” Then he continues to say he doesn’t want anyone clout chasing when he passes as he says, “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.” Jay Electronica continues his religious content and also boasts a bit as he says, “Now who wan’ come test the champion sound? Limb by limb, we all gon’ cut ’em down.” This song is one of my lowest-rated song on the album only because the hook doesn’t sound good at all, I can’t get passed it.
Track 8: “Fruits Of The Spirit” 8/10
“Fruits Of The Spirit” is the only solo song on A Written Testimony, and it’s produced by legendary producer No I.D. It’s a short, one verse track that runs for 1:35s. Jay tackles some recent issues all in a row when he says, “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. Lies from the reporters. Ass shots and stripper poles for the eyes of my daughter”. The production is nice, but the song could’ve been longer especially being the only solo song on the album. It seems like more of an interlude than anything, still a great song nonetheless.
Track 9: “Ezekiel’s Wheel (feat. Jay-Z & The-Dream)” 10/10
“Ezekiel’s Wheel” starts with an interlude with another old-sounding broadcast of a newscaster reporting a flying saucer hovering over the city. The-Dream opens up the song on the pre-chorus as he sings “We gon’ see, when that sun goes down. We gon’ see, talk that f*ck sh*t now.” The beat, produced by Electronica, is a constant noise that sounds like pieces of wood clicking together, almost like someone walking with wooden chains constraining their feet. Jay dives into some deep bars, one part at the end of verse 1 stood out when he said, “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.” Electronica shouts out Hov for his features comparing this album to “highway robbery” and “hitting the lottery”. This is a great song with tons of content from Jay and a beautiful vibe that gives listeners quite the experience.
Track 10: “A.P.I.D.T.A (feat. Jay-Z)” 11/10
The deepest of cuts that’ll make you swallow lumps and maybe even cry. Hov starts the song off with the hook and you can tell he’s at the brink of tears as his voice cracks while rapping, “I got numbers on my phone that’ll never ring again. ‘Cause Allah done called them home, so until we sing again. I got texts in my phone that’ll never ping again. I screenshot ’em so I got ’em, I don’t want this thing to—.” Jay Electronica reminisces on his late mother as you can hear the pain in his voice. He raps, “Eyes fiery, cry tears to my diary. Sometimes a Xanny bar can’t help you fight back the anxiety.” Jay talks about the day his mom passed, he “scrolled her texts all day long”, connecting the bar with the chorus meaning. Electronica and Hov close out the song with the bridge as they rap, “The last time that I kissed you, you felt cold but you looked peaceful I read our message thread when I get low and need a refill. Sleep well. Sleep well, sleep well. Lately, I haven’t been sleeping well, sleeping well.”
The song is produced by Khruangbin, it’s a slow, painful instrumental that captures the theme of the song to perfection. This is the best song I’ve heard in a long time, on my first listen it brought me to tears and still does. It’s a beautiful piece of music and poetry that captures Jay’s and Hov’s vulnerability. The performances from the two are unbelievable, the raw emotion in their voices really cuts deep. Song of the year for me so far, I can go on forever about this song. Electronica mentioned that this song was recorded the night that legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant had passed away in the fatal helicopter crash.
All throughout A Written Testimony, Jay and Hov showcase their elite lyricism through entendre’s, metaphors and analogies that take a deep level of knowledge to understand. At the ages they are both at (Electronica is 43, Hov is 50), it’s incredible to see the longevity of their craft not only last but get even better. Most rappers get to a point where they get old, lose touch, and lose that hungriness they once had. And that’s why I think Jay-Z is the Greatest Rapper of All-Time. The production on this album is immaculate, each song is an experience whether being slow or fast. The beat selection was amazing, Hov is an executive producer on the album as well. The content was deep, introspective and well thought out. Electronica is obviously very religious but that doesn’t get in the way of my experience of this album. Was this worth the 10 year wait? It’s an amazing album but I don’t think anything can make up that much time. For Jay Elelctronica fans, I would’ve wanted more of a solo album than what this is. After that long I think a collab album isn’t the way to go, but I’m greatfull that we got anything.
A Written Testimony is now my 2020 Album of The Year, I give it a rating of 9.5/10.
Craig MacDonald a.k.a Debating Hip-Hop
March 14th, 2020