Album Review- A Written Testimony

After nearly a decade’s wait, New Orleans rapper Jay Electronica’s unexpected debut results in a diverse collection of eclectic sampling and stellar penmanship.

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Joe Eckstein, Senior Writer

The mythos surrounding Jay Electronica created what seems like a page of folklore in the story that is hip-hop. As the rap game version of Paul Bunyan, Jay Elec is viewed by many to be “the best to never do it.” How does one garner this hype? See the Just Blaze produced track, “Exhibit C,” released back in 2009, which showcased the potential of an artist that had no ceilings. Over five minutes of pure lyricism that put the genre on notice.

Where did this lead Jay Elec? Apparently nowhere. Over the next few years, we would see an occasional feature or single drop, including a guest spot on the Big Sean track “Control,” where he was just a footnote to other featured artist Kendrick Lamar, who delivered one of the best verses of the decade. Despite being signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, an album was still non-existent. Jay Electronica’s career seemed to already have ended before it even began.

Fast forward to the new decade. Among all of the hell surrounding COVID-19 and celebrity deaths, a glimpse of light appears. “Album Done .,” is all the tweet reads from Jay Electronica. How truthful can this be? This is the same man that tweeted back 2012 his debut would be dropping, and we know how that resulted. The next four tweets provided insight for the basis of the album including that it was “recorded over 40 days and 40 nights.” As another 40 days passed, the decade’s wait was finished. Jay Electronica released his debut album.

A Written Testimony does not fit the mold of modern-day hip-hop. But neither does Jay Electronica. As a man littered with controversy since day one, it is only fitting to start the album with a spark. “The Overwhelming Event” takes a speech from noted anti-semitic leader Louis Farrakhan to set the tone for this project. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Jay Elec has never shied away from expressing his religious beliefs, dating back to the “Exhibit C” days. And it is apparent throughout the album’s 40 minute run time. “If it come from me and Hov, consider it Qua’ran/ If it come from any of those, consider it Harān,” Electronica raps on the following track, “The Ghost of Soulja Slim.” However, before hearing from Jay-E, we are treated to an unexpected verse from Hov himself, a surprise appearance that has Jay-Z rapping like his Reasonable Doubt days back in the 90s. This won’t be the last time hearing from Hov, as he delivers a total of seven verses across the 10 tracks. This left some disappointed with the album, calling it a collab rather than a solo Jay Electronica album. Only Jay Elec could receive flak for getting one of the greatest MCs to ever do it on his album.

Following Jay-Z’s 4:44, we saw a more vulnerable, conscious artist compared to his early days. As the self-proclaimed, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” Hov has always found ways to get in the headlines for his entrepreneurial work, most notably his deal with the NFL, where he was criticized for selling out. His response? See the track, “Flux Capacitor,” where Hov raps, “Why would I sell out? I’m already rich, don’t make no sense/ Got more money than Goodell, a whole NFL bench.”

Lyrical, A Written Testimony features very few flaws. Despite hearing Jay-Z perform at the top of his game, I would have enjoyed a little bit more coming from Jay Elec. The only track that only contains the latter is “Fruits of the Spirit,” a minute and a half-track over a soulful instrumental that samples The Imaginations funk-fueled “Because I Love You.”

Sampling is key throughout this project’s length. Outside of a vocal sample from Rihanna’s 2016 album Anti, the majority of the tracks used for production will not be found on someone’s playlist. With the track “The Blinding,” producers Swizz Beatz, AraabMuzik and Hit-Boy take the Tanzanian “Mudala Mukamba, Nakangishe” vocals and places them with a heavy and distorted bassline.

One gripe that many people have is that Jay Electronica put a track on the album that was made nearly 10 years ago in “Shiny Suit Theory,” as they wanted new material. However, now that the track is finally mixed to sound sonically better, no complaints should be made. The sampling of The Ambassadors’ “Ain’t Got the Love of One Girl (On My Mind),” makes for an amazing combination of soulful instrumentals as the pedestal for both Jays delivering impeccable lyrics.

On the concluding track, “A.P.I.D.T.A,” or “All Praise Is Due To Allah,” the lo-fi instrumental pairs perfectly with the melancholy lyrics pertaining to losing loved ones. Having been made the night Kobe Bryant passed away adds even more layers of emotion. “The day my mama died, I scrolled her texts all day long/ The physical returns but the connection still stay strong,” is one of the many standpoint lyrics Jay Elec raps. Combine that with Hov’s “I got numbers in my phone that’ll never ring again/ ‘Cause Allah done sent them home” chorus, you’re left with an homage to those who are no longer with us that returns full circle to the beliefs surrounding both rappers.

A Written Testimony right off the bat symbolizes who Jay Electronica is. From the messages of Farrakhan to having Jay-Z on nearly every track proves he does as he pleases. Despite pressure from masses of fans to release an album back in early 2010, he did it on his own terms. What I find most impressive is the fact that he managed to speak about the Nation of Islam in a non-preaching manner. Despite not sharing the same beliefs, I didn’t feel as if he was trying to push the narrative on listeners but instead was just trying to tell the story of his life. Some people are calling this album the sequel to the Jay-Z and Kanye West collab album, Watch The Throne. In reality, it resembles the work of Mos Def and Talib Kweli as the duo Black Star. Spiritual lyrics over jazz/funk instrumentals give a nostalgic feeling back to 90s hip-hop. A convoluted series of events over the last decade leads us here, the end of this chapter. The folklore behind Jay Electronica continues to grow, as the book of hip-hop can finally close on this tale.