First Listen #8: Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

Unfortunately, I’m very much a #fakehiphophead, and I don’t know that much about Jay Electronica. However, I’m giving myself a little bit of a pass because he seems to be at a MF DOOM level of elusiveness, finding peace in the moments of anonymity that he’s able to make for himself by existing predominately out of the direct spotlight, while still being very much an influence. I remember being extremely impressed by “Exhibit C” the first time I heard it – about a couple years ago. The “They call me Jay Electronica—fuck that / Call me Jay Elec-Hanukkah, Jay Elec-Yarmulke / Jay Elect-Ramadan, Muhammad as-salaam-alaikum / RasoulAllah Subhanahu wa ta’ala through your monitor” is still one of my favorite lines in a song to this day. But because I have very little connection musically or emotionally to Jay Elec and Jay Z who made a very surpris appearance on A Written Testimony, I wasn’t expecting anything; though because folks were expecting it to be close to god-level and because I loved “Exhibit C” so much, I expected it to at least be pretty good.

And it was.

Every other weekend, I take the bus to the store to grab groceries, and it’s the perfect time to really dig deep into an album. Especially as I attempted to touch as little stuff on the bus as possible. So today, I decided to use the 40ish minutes it takes to get to my local Stop and Shop to listen to Jay’s project. Immediately I was greeted by one of the most beautiful intros I’ve ever heard in my life. Forwarded by a sample of a speech by Louis Farrakhan, the intro is a sonic take on the positionality of Black folks in American and globally. It’s so haunting, dark, and reflective, and opens us up to the conversations around white supremacy and the plight of Black folks that take up a significant amount of the sonic space of the project. I played clarinet for seven years in my middle and high school bands (I was very much too afraid to try to be in my college’s orchestra), so I have a very strong love for instrumentals that utilize the strength of the emotions instruments can bring up. It was so great to hear Jay Electronica push those feelings to the forefront to bring us so fully into the project. It might have been because it was raining while I was on the bus (and so I felt like I was 10 years ago again looking longingly out of the window waiting for something better), but it was such a moving intro.

lol this was me!

But the sentimentality was immediately replaced by me trying to hold back how H Y P E I was over the absolutely B A R S that we were getting served on “Ghost of Soulja Slim.” I just…wow! I’m not a Jay Z fan by any means (I’ll get into that more at the end lol) but he really served food for thought. I loved his “From the era of police stretcher, no cameras catch it / Drop you off in a rival hood, you rather be arrested” and “You mouth off for the cameras, I make a silent movie” lines. I also LOVED the little back and forth between the two of them on this track. It was absolutely mesmerizing. And the production??????????? *chef’s kiss* I loved how smooth the song was at the end; I’m really into songs that sound like fancy elevator music, and this was that at the end. And I loved it. “The Blinding” – the next track on the project – was another really great track. I love the switch up in the middle of the song.

“The Neverending Story” was another one of my favorites. Jay Elec really just continued to hit us with fire verses. The instrumental was G O R G E O U S. It’s actually kind of difficult for me to describe how this song exists in my head. It’s like Jay and Jay are rapping above the beat? Like the instrumental feels like it’s background music to your real life, and the rapping is the real song? It’s really difficult to explain lol but it feels like teleportation, and I think that’s just indicative to how amazing the production is on this project. And that continues on “Shiny Suit Theory.” It’s like we’re being transported through all of these different scenes in the tracks, and I love how immerse the project feels. I do think I could have gone without having Jay Z on “SST.” Jay Elec is just so s m o o t h on the track and Jay Z comes in a little aggressive, and the Brooklynness is just over-abundant lol. There’s a song called “Blackk Krown” by Pro Era that I love. About halfway through the song, Rokamouth is finishing up his turn with the “brief intermission” hook that leads into everyone’s verse and Dessy Hinds just comes in SOOOO LOUD. Like it takes me a minute, every time I listen to that song, to get back into the groove after being hit with such an aggressive beginning to the verse. And I feel the same way about Jay Z in this song. The groove of the song comes back, but Jay Z just has such an aggressively Brooklyn voice that it really kind of throws things off a bit. I love the Brooklyn folks, but I just needed the vocals to be turned down a fewww notches. (LOL listen to “Blackk Krown” below, and you’ll understand what I’m saying. It’s at 5:51!)

Such a great song! #RIPSteez

The next two songs, “Flux Capacitor” and “Universal Soldier” are my least favorite tracks on the project. I wasn’t really into the production that much on “Universal Soldier” and the lyrics didn’t really save it either. Jay Elec’s continued praise of Elijah Muhammed feels a bit….weird? especially after watching Who Killed Malcolm X (a must see, if you haven’t already!) and seeing that (allegedly) EM sold Malcolm X out and also was kind of leading poor Black folks on for the sake of his on financial gain. Of course, EM also did some good community and capacity building in the Black community that shouldn’t be ignored, but praising him so heavily without acknowledging the ways he harmed Black folks in the past makes me feel the same way I felt about Chance’s The Big Day and his unmitigated faith and gratefulness towards God. Nuances are important, and Jay E didn’t need to spend an entirely separate track talking about EM’s harms, but I think it’s important to be as outward with the criticism for such a seemingly all-powerful and very influential being as you are about praising them. Both things CAN exist at the same time. 🙂

I was brought back onto the team with the last three tracks, though. The production was great per usual. There’s a line that Jay Elec has about gratitude that I LOVE on “Ezekiel’s Wheel.” I also love the “talk to me nice” line that Jay Z has. I’m waiting for the slowed + reverb folks to get their hands on this lol. And “A.P.I.D.T.A.” really almost had me crying. It was just as beautifully haunting as the first track on the project, bringing everything back around sonically, and I loved that they ended on such a sentimental note. It was so wonderful to hear Jay Elec talk about his mom. I saw on Twitter, after finally finishing the project, getting groceries (and listening to the second part of Eternal Atake (review coming soon lol)), and coming back to my place of residence, that they wrote that song after Kobe’s death and you can feel that heaviness on the project. I also think that knowledge and the song itself is a good reminder of the humanity that we all have, regardless of if we’re considered legends or not. We are all made out of the same stuff, and we all feel the burden of the deaths of our heroes. And to recognize that in each other brings us closer together.

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

Jay Electronica, “Ezekiel’s Wheel

All in all, A Written Testimony, is a really good project, and I had a great time getting to know Jay Electronica’s music more. I see why people were willing to wait so long for it; I hope it didn’t disappoint those folks. One thing that I did think a lot about with this project is Jay Z and his utilization of Blackness. Spree Wilson mentioned in a tweet that I saw before listening to the project that people were praising Jay Z for his verses on this project (which…he didn’t bar out on this project, but he was fine?), after canceling him a few months ago because he was making deals and whatnot with the NFL (he also said some unsavory things about Black single mothers, but I guess we’re gonna forget about that). Spree mentioned how fickle people are and how interesting it was to see where people stood with him after he gifted us with new music. And I don’t want to talk about that as much as I want to bring in how weird I feel hearing Jay Z talk about his connection to Blackness like he hasn’t existed in an almost exclusively (richhhhhhh) white world for a LONG TIME.

He seems to lean very heavily on his drug dealing past, even though that was over 20 years ago, and since then, he’s been a strong participant in capitalism (and again, let’s not forgot that comment about the Black single mothers). One of my professors in college – the professor of my first college class ever actually – asked our class around the beginning of the semester: if a Black artist or author ascends out of the community that they’re from, can they still speak of and speak to that community as if they know it intimately? And I think it’s a really interesting thing to bring up when it comes to Jay Z because he has been the quintessential self-made black man for so long, and his past allows Black people to feel like he gets them. And I get that. But at the same time, Jay Z makes more money in a year than any regular degular Black person is able to in a lifetime. He is NOT crack dealing Jay Z anymore (and hasn’t been for a long time), and a lot of the things he’s done and said in the past contradict the intentionality towards Blackness and the Black community that he seems to portray in his raps. And I think it’s important to bring this into the conversation. I don’t think this means that we have to completely cast Jay Z off, but I do think, just like Elijah Muhammed and God, we have to be careful about seeing our heroes through one lens only. Because we’re missing some opportunities to have some really deep and culture-changing conversations about representation, etc. when we don’t dedicate ourselves to that. It’s not easy, and I don’t believe there’s one answer to my professor’s question, but I do think it’s worth bringing into our listening experiences.

Overall Album Rating

Featured Image Credit: https://genius.com/album_cover_arts/451803


(listen to A Written Testimony by clicking the image below)

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2 thoughts on “First Listen #8: Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

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