Jay Electronica’s debut both amazes and underwhelms

The enigmatic MC manages to reach the extremely high bar he set for himself over a decade ago, but it would mean a lot more if he reached that bar himself.

Jay Electronica has been the hip hop world’s biggest enigma for over a decade. At one point, he seemed destined to go down as one of the genre’s greats, but after years of limited-to-no output, he became its greatest “what if.” While he’s technically been active since 2007, the 43-year-old Louisiana-born MC has released less music in 13 years than some rappers do in 13 months. But somehow, between the one official mixtape, a handful of guest verses and three singles, he’s managed to maintain the interest of fans for this long.

Maybe it’s the Jay-Z co-sign, maybe it’s the air of mystery he built around himself, or maybe in the small sample size fans got, we knew he was just that good. Whatever the case may be, his status as an MC had essentially become mythical, and expectations for his debut reached seemingly insurmountable levels.

That’s to be expected when you’re following up the extravagance of songs like “Exhibit C,” or spending a decade teasing a sequel to a cherished project like 2007’s Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge). Jay Elec had set the bar so high for himself, through both what he’d done and hadn’t done, that his debut was never going to live up to the hype… but surprisingly, it mostly does.

The thing is, A Written Testimony doesn’t meet these expectations by being exactly what fans have been waiting for—it does it by doing the opposite. This isn’t Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn). There are no tracks with the grandeur of “Exhibit C.” This shouldn’t even really count as Jay Electronica’s debut solo album.

Every track on A Written Testimony, minus the intro and “Fruits of the Spirit,” has an unlisted Jay-Z feature. In addition to being on nearly every track, he’s the first person to rap on the record and he is at the top of his game throughout. This is essentially a collaborative project between the two, being marketed as Jay Elec’s long-awaited solo debut.

This is not to say that Jay Elec doesn’t perform at the elite level that was expected of him, he just raps so little that it’s slightly underwhelming. Still, his pen is impeccable, and his verses are dense and wonderfully written reflections on his life, his faith, and often, his fears.

Throughout the project’s 10-track, nearly 40-minute runtime, Jay Elec and Jay-Z come together to deliver exquisitely put-together verses over a soundscape that is completely unique to this project. Boasting instrumentals from The Alchemist, Swizz Beatz, No I.D. and Jay Elec himself, the album’s production strikes a nice balance between eclecticism and cohesion. No two beats sound the same, but they all fit together extremely well.

The majority of this project is absolutely fantastic, with tracks like “The Ghost of Soulja Slim,” “The Neverending Story,” “Universal Soldier” and “The Blinding” being highlights. While “Shiny Suit Theory” is a fantastic song in its own right, including a single from 2014 on an album so highly anticipated feels unnecessary. The only real low point on the album is “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” which features an extremely airy and empty-sounding beat and an awful hook from The-Dream.

This is an overall great album with a soundscape that completely sets it apart from other modern hip hop releases, and a pair of MCs exchanging immaculate verses throughout. Though the synergy between Jay-Z and Jay Elec is what makes this such a fantastic album, it’s also what makes this a slightly underwhelming debut for Jay Elec. As phenomenal as the vast majority of this project is, we’ve yet to see the extent of his abilities as an artist.

While Jay Electronica may have reached the astronomically high bar that he set for himself years ago, he stood on the shoulders of a giant to do so. Having Jay-Z on nearly every song makes for great music, but it takes away from what could’ve been a monumental moment in hip hop.

Though A Written Testimony is a fantastic record, the mythical debut album from Jay Electronica shouldn’t have so few Jay Electronica verses.



How album sequels have changed over the years in rap

Can album sequels contribute to a greater legacy or tarnish a masterpiece?

Album sequels are often a dice-roll. Sometimes, an artist will bounce off the momentum of their previous album and deliver a worthy follow-up. Other times, though, they’ll be a lazy cash grab to capitalize on the success of the first entry just to boost first-week album sales.

The purpose of a direct sequel is to revitalize the themes explored in the first entry and create a unique body of work that both echoes its predecessor and pushes it forward in an innovative way.

JAY-Z’s classic The Blueprint became its namesake for a lengthy series in which its sequels became watered-down versions of what made the original so good. The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse was a far lengthier album than the first, while The Blueprint 3 might be one of the worst of his career. The albums came out within a few years of each other so neither of the sequels was considered to be overdue or absolutely necessary; they just came to be.

Conversely, an artist like Raekwon can drop one of the best albums of the ‘90s in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and then drop its sequel a decade later. In this case, it can certainly be argued that the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 was better than the first.

But what separates JAY-Z’s sequels from Raekwon’s?

Well, it depends on what the series is based on.

Cuban Linx is a mafia-inspired album, where the themes and lyrics are heavily lifted from the lifestyles of those involved in organized crime. The sequel was no different. When comparing the creative processes of both albums, they couldn’t be more different.

In the first entry, Raekwon only used RZA-produced beats while the second featured production from 15 different producers. However, when listening to them back-to-back, it’s clear that the albums are similar in concept.

These days, sequels are different. They come faster and they don’t necessarily represent the same idea they once did. Roddy Ricch’s Feed Tha Streets series came out within a year of each other. They sound similar only because Roddy’s hunger never left. His newest release, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, is a clear step away from that series in favour of sounding more like Future and Young Thug.

Kanye West is also teasing the release of Jesus is King II, the potential follow-up to his Christian-rap album from 2019, and if his statement is true, we’ll be getting it sooner rather than later.

Then there’s also Wiz Khalifa who dropped Rolling Papers 2 far too late, when no one cared about Wiz Khalifa in the same way anymore.

Rappers aren’t trying to make movies with their albums anymore. Now more than ever, the sequels feel less like a narrative follow-up and more like a successor used to bank on the momentum and popularity the first entry created. 


Graphic by @sundaeghost.


The top 10 songs of 2017

The Concordian music staff reflects on the year’s best offerings

Last year was marked by triumph, defeat and outpours of optimism, and artists across the globe relayed this the best way they know how—through song. Here are the best tracks of 2017.

  1. “Love Galore” – SZA (ft. Travis Scott)

After spending half a year in our collective psyche, SZA’s sultry collaboration with Travis Scott secured a tight spot in the canon of timeless breakup songs. In the span of three minutes, the duo swap bitter kiss-offs and dissect past relationships while maintaining remarkably complex emotional maturity.



  1. “Magnolia” – Playboi Carti

Named after the infamous housing project in New Orleans, “Magnolia” is a stunning crystallization of Playboi Carti’s best assets—his natural ebb and flow on the mic and his critical sense of next-generation sounds.



  1. “The Bus Song” – Jay Som

“The Bus Song” not only introduces Jay Som’s excellent Everybody Works, it’s also a staggering reflection on love, friendship and the gratifying solace of trudging from desolate street to crowded bus stop, only to repeat the cycle on a daily basis.



  1. “DNA.” – Kendrick Lamar

“DNA” is a hip-hop masterpiece. Kendrick Lamar takes aim at a culture of misrepresentation and the long-standing effects that have perpetuated such divides. With mesmerizing production coming from Mike WiLL Made-It, “DNA.” is a disarming reminder that Lamar has plenty left to contribute to the zeitgeist, and then some.


  1. “The Story of O.J.” – Jay-Z

With a Nina Simone sample as its main hook, “The Story of O.J.” tackles traditions of racial discrimination and the diaspora of African culture in America, past and present, all delivered with some of Jay-Z’s sharpest writing in years.



  1. “123” – Girlpool

Girlpool’s sound hovers in its own innocuous space, where high school fantasies and dreamlike imagery act as a guiding beacon. On “123,” the duo peer through the looking glass with a sense of hyper-curiosity that reminds you of how powerless you really feel in this world we call home.



  1. “LMK” – Kelela

Kelela’s “LMK” is a nocturnal blow-burner that asserts the singer’s dominance as one of R&B’s most interesting forces. The singer pairs lavish R&B with pop accessibility and complements it with a backdrop of earth-rumbling bass, ornate synths and unwavering confidence.



  1. “tonite” – LCD Soundsystem

After laying dormant for six years, LCD Soundsystem’s core sound remains very much untouched. But that’s exactly where “tonite” draws its energy. Perhaps the year’s most proper return to form, the track pumps with the flashy tongue-in-cheek irony and existential musings LCD is known for. And after nearly two decades, they still sound as fresh as ever.



  1. “Bank Account” – 21 Savage

One of 21 Savage’s best standout tracks, “Bank Account,” continues the sinister trap persona the Atlanta rapper cultivated on his first few mixtapes. The nonchalant cadence of 21’s flow lurks with a cold and natural prowess, imitating the feeling of being watched without even knowing it.



  1.  “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe) – Power Trip

Power Trip’s “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” embraces a platonic passion for heavy metal reverie. The track is a sneering plea for the arrival of judgement day, where the only means of escape rests at the feet of the reaper’s axe.


Music in the News

We will always love you

Whitney Houston was found dead in her hotel room at the Beverly Hilton on Feb. 11. The 48-year-old multi-award winning singer, songwriter and actress, whose vocals left an unforgettable impression on the music world, had a history of personal struggles, including addiction. Her influence on the music world was echoed throughout social media within moments of her publicist releasing the news to the Associated Press. The 54th Grammy Awards, which took place on Feb. 12, featured Jennifer Hudson singing “I Will Always Love You,” a Dolly Parton song made famous by Houston in the movie The Bodyguard. The cause of death is still unknown, but police do not suspect criminal intent.

That’s Ms. Blue Ivy Carter to you

In a time-honoured tradition beloved by new parents everywhere, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are now going through the motions to have their newborn’s name trademarked. According to Rolling Stone magazine, the couple plan on using Blue Ivy Carter’s name as a brand for a line of baby accoutrements, including everything from diaper bags to baby cosmetics. Before you go thinking this move by the power couple is ridiculous, two people had already tried to trademark some variation on the child’s name within days of the birth. The claims were both denied when the Trademark Office recognized the name as belonging to the newborn. The trademark is currently pending, but will most likely be authorized, as U.S. parents are allowed to trademark the names of their children.

Not-so-delicious Cake

Ex-Cake drummer Peter McNeal, who played with the band from 2001 to 2004, is currently facing child molestation charges. In a preliminary hearing last Friday, a Los Angeles court charged McNeal with a single felony count for oral copulation/sexual penetration of a child under the age of 10. Mike Doughty, a singer-songwriter and former bandmate, was shocked at the allegation, and asked that people refrain form judgment before hearing all the facts. “Someone accused of child molestation usually gets labelled as a monster permanently, regardless of what a jury decides,” Doughty said. “I beg everybody to remember that, even if he’s innocent, and acquitted, this could ruin so much of his life.” This is not the first time McNeal has run into trouble with the law; he was charged with the attempted molestation of a young girl back in 2009, though the status of that case seems to be “unclear” according to a Fox News report.

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