Jay Electronica Comes to Full Fruiton on “A Written Testimony”


Jay Electronica released his debut studio album. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Sam Hadelman, Staff Writer

Jay Electronica was supposed to be hip-hop’s savior, but instead, he became its greatest mystery. Born with unfiltered talent, Electronica’s career had everything a fruitful rap existence needed, except one thing: music. 

Electronica’s career started as many others did in the earlier part of the 21st century: through a mixtape. In 2007, he released “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” a 15-minute project over instrumentals from Jon Brion’s score of the cult classic film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Before the age of instant interconnectivity and DJ Akademiks’ Instagram page, the best way to gain instant exposure was through a well-crafted Datpiff mixtape. Though Electronica’s style is much closer to that of KRS-One than Gucci Mane, he found instant success off the project and began gaining interest from fans. 

This cult following for Electronica only grew over the years, which he maintained through guest verses, hit singles such as “Exhibit C” and constant curiosity from fans about where his full-length debut project was. Electronica would promise annually that his project, then titled “Act II,” would arrive, but at the end of every year his fans were unsurprisingly disappointed. 

It seemed like Jay Electronica’s debut album had been locked away with hip-hop’s other unheard gems, such as Dr. Dre’s “Detox” or Isaiah Rashad’s follow-up to “The Sun’s Tirade.” It almost felt like the rapture would have to come before Jay Electronica released an album, and ironically enough, that is almost exactly what happened. In the middle of recent history’s biggest test of adversity, the coronavirus pandemic, Jay Electronica somehow stunned the world by finally dropping his album, “A Written Testimony.” 

The expectations set forth for this album were unprecedented, mainly because of the talent that Electronica had been harnessing since his career’s inception and because of the 13-year wait his fans had experienced for this album. Electronica had long been hip-hop’s best-kept secret, lending his talents for a few key features for Chance the Rapper and Mac Miller, as well as releasing a handful of tracks in between his projects, but nothing of the magnitude that his skills warrant. This was finally the opportunity his legacy had been beckoning for. This was a rare case where a rapper’s ability was as notable as the album’s expectations; it was just up to Jay Electronica to deliver. But somehow, even after years of missed opportunities and false starts, Jay Electronica rose to the occasion as effortlessly as his skills on the mic. He even had one last surprise to end the drought his fans experienced at the hands of his radio silence; the album was a collaboration record with hip-hop messiah Jay-Z. 

The album is a multi-faceted look into the complicated life of Jay Electronica. It covers topics as wide-ranging as his influences, from his relationship with the Nation of Islam to filling in the blanks of his absence from the rap game. His ability to skate through these extremely layered topics in a matter of punchlines is what separates Jay Electronica from the average MC. 

Furthermore, his capacity to keep up with Jay-Z, whose skills have aged like wine, adds to his extensive resumé. In some cases, when performing alongside such a polarizing and legendary figure as Jay-Z, one can risk being overshadowed, yet on “A Written Testimony,” Jay-Z and Jay Electronica complement each other and raise the bar for each other extensively. It’s reminiscent of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, where rather than a total eclipse happening, the two found a balance in between their orbits. 

The album is condensed and extremely topical for Jay Electronica, his laser focus bleeding through this record on first listen. Electronica paints a vivid picture to complement his career’s resurrection. In fact, there isn’t a moment where he misses a beat or gets out-rapped by Jay-Z. Jay-Z serves as the seasoning to the meal, adding flavor and accentuating what was already there rather than overpowering it. Their chemistry reaches its peak on the Alchemist-produced track “The Neverending Story,” where Jay Electronica skates on the beat so effortlessly you almost forget you’re listening to someone’s debut album. 

The highlight of the tape comes in its conclusion, “A.P.I.D.T.A” (All Praise Is Due To Allah). This homage to deceased loved ones shows Jay-Z and Jay Electronica at their most vulnerable, speaking on the greatest losses in their lives. In fact, the track was made the day Kobe Bryant passed, and you can clearly hear the anguish and pain in the song’s hook. The verse from Jay Electronica is more of a sonnet than a conventional rap, and admittedly the first time I heard it my eyes began to water. It has entered the realm of one of the best hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard and shows a side of Jay-Z and Jay Electronica that brings this fantastic experiment to a formidable close. 

When hip-hop scholars used to speak of Jay Electronica, the conversation was littered with “what ifs?” but after this record, I assume the conversation will be saturated with the gems that Jay Electronica supplied on this record. He did the unthinkable, not only by finally dropping an album, but having a debut record with Jay-Z, something that is completely unheard of in hip-hop. 

Though it was a long time coming, Jay Electronica’s agility and aforementioned skills have come into full fruition on “A Written Testimony,” not only for the most exciting record of the year but possibly in recent hip-hop history.