Jay Electronica baffles on his debut, ‘A Written Testimony’
Meticulous beats and Electronica’s confident presence don’t completely save album’s many confusing decisions
Album: “A Written Testimony”
Artist: Jay Electronica
Label: Roc Nation
Release Date: March 13
Jay Electronica has been in the public eye for so long that people began to doubt he would ever release an album.
But the New Orleans rapper proved doubters wrong as he finally released his debut “A Written Testimony” on March 13.
Despite Electronica breaking out in 2007, “A Written Testimony” was recorded over the span of merely “40 days and 40 nights.” That means Electronica has spent less than 0.8% of his time since arriving on the scene on this debut.
That may seem unconventional, but Electronica has always been an unconventional rapper. His first official EP, “Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)” was a 16-minute experimental-hip-hop sound collage, after all. This unconventionality is part of what makes him the curious figure in rap that he is.
But on “A Written Testimony,” Electronica’s strange style, relationship with the mainstream and reputation for low productivity results in baffling hip-hop that will please some and confound many.
The most blatant and strangest decision on the album is the fact that it’s basically a collaborative album with “King of New York” Jay-Z. Arguably, Jay-Z has more of a presence on the majority of tracks here than Electronica. In fact, the first verse on the album (on “Ghost of Soulja Slim”) is a Jay-Z verse.
Another strange facet is how empty some of the tracks feel. The last two minutes of “The Neverending Story” just lets the instrumental ride out with no verses being laid down for seemingly no reason.
Some of the best tracks are also cut off too short. The most blatant offender of this is the minute-and-a-half-long “Fruits of the Spirit,” but an honorable mention is “The Blinding,” though that track features a useless Travis Scott feature.
On the more positive end, it is obvious that great care went into all facets of this album, and it shines through. The beats, while sometimes too short (“Fruits of the Spirit”) and sometimes too long (“Ezekiel’s Wheel”), are top-notch. They are easily the highlight of the record.
Electronica’s rapping and lyricism on the album are also great, despite their relative scarcity on an album under his name. On the album’s highlight track, closer “A.P.I.D.T.A.,” Electronica delivers a heart-wrenching verse about the loss of family members and those close to him with lines like “Now I understand why you used to cry sometimes we ride down Claybourne, You just missed your — You just missed your mama, Now I just miss my mamas, The clothes we wear to bed at night to sleep is just pajamas.”
The track itself is dominated by Jay-Z, but their chemistry on the song and throughout the album is admittedly infectious.
“A Written Testimony” is also a very religious album, and despite Electronica’s particular religious affiliation, the Nation of Islam’s (not to be confused with the much broader religion of Islam) controversial ties to scientology and classification as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it never becomes completely in-your-face in the way that something like Kanye West’s “Jesus is King” was.
Electronica has clever bars throughout that reference his religious reverence and love for Allah, like “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” on “Ghost of Soulja Slim.” Through bars like these and his careful, patient flow, Electronica asserts himself as a religious soothsayer in modern hip-hop.
Despite these positives though, “A Written Testimony” is a flawed debut 13 years (or 40 days) in the making. Electronica being outshined by another rapper on an album named after him is a baffling decision, and the relative emptiness and lack of verses from Electronica himself make this a hard album to recommend.
Many debut records have been worse than “A Written Testimony,” but few have been as confusing to make heads or tails of. And perhaps that is exactly what Jay Electronica intended. He’s never been one to submit to the conventions of the hip-hop game, but he has also managed to stay relevant in a way that even rappers who release albums every year can.
Alex Whetham is the Senior Arts Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @alexo774