"I backslid for a while. Got into druggin' and drinkin' and smokin', but now I'm back, reformed. All praises due to Allah." - Jay Electronica
Lost, found, and rediscovered again (with a string of mythical disappearing acts along the way), Jay Electronica is back in action, and at last poised for his arduously-delayed breakout.
It's hard to imagine - or frustrating to consider - that it's been seven years since the New Orleans-bred Electronica released his internet-engulfing Act I: The Eternal Sunshine mixtape, in turn sparking a flurry of cosigns and a bidding war that was eventually won by Jay Z and Roc Nation, who swooped in to claim this generation's most mysterious poet as one of their own.
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In the time since Act I, Jay Elec, perhaps the most rawly talented and least prolific man ever to have picked up a mic, has: ascended the echelon of the most-buzzed-about MCs in hip-hop; collaborated with the likes of Kidz In The Hall, Curren$y, Jean Grae, and Paul Wall; produced an album opener for Nas; filmed and scrapped a documentary about his travels to Nepal; gotten into a serious relationship and birthed a child with Erykah Badu; and reportedly caused the demise of British power couple Ben Goldsmith and Kate Rothschild's marriage, before going on to date Rothschild.
Along the way, Electronica has also supposedly been hard at work on his official debut album, Act II: Patents Of Nobility, a literal Holy Grail of an LP that's been "finished" so many times that there is likely a room filled in the U.K. - Electronica's adopted home - with master recordings of the project the music world has largely written off as an urban legend.
While many thought there would never be a proper explanation for what exactly's been going on in Jay Electronica's mind since '07, some people close to him along his rise have provided some insight. In a Billboard profile of Decon Records - the independent imprint the rapper first signed to before his contract was bought out by Roc Nation - label co-founder Peter Bittenbender spoke of the rapper like a hermit afraid of the praise he so quickly received.
“Jay kind of retreated back into his shell,” Bittenbender said of the period after Act I's arrival, before adding, “I think everything kind of happened so fast that he was a little overwhelmed by it.”
In regards to Elec's infamous perfectionism, Bittenbender revealed: “He’d make a great record and myself and whoever else was in the studio would be like ‘Oooh shit! This record’s incredible!' But he’d just go ‘Eh, I don’t know. Let’s move on to something else.’ I’d say to him ‘Dude, let’s finish this record, it’s so f****** good.’ And he’d be like ‘Don’t worry, we’ll come back to it.’ Six months later, it’d still be sitting there.”
And so went the saga of Jay Electronica. In recent years, everybody from Just Blaze to Young Guru to Questlove to Lupe Fiasco to Jay Z publicly called for new music from the rap game J.D. Salinger, but alas, aside from a promising single (March's "Better In Tune With The Infinite") and a pair of admittedly surprising but largely overshadowed guest verses on tracks from Big Sean and Mac Miller, this past calendar year has proven to be more of the same from Jay Electronica. An empty promise of an LP here, a failure to announce an actual date there.
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But then came this weekend. At the 10th annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, the MC was scheduled to headline alongside Raekwon, and emerged like Oz - donning a navy blue suit and flanked by what looked like two dozen men in matching uniforms - to perform for his many feverish fans.
Amidst playing some of his most well-known work (deep cuts all, naturally), Electronica looked thin, agile, and reenergized in a way the world hadn't seen him in many moons. And to capitalize on his moment in the spotlight - and reaffirm his allegiances - he invited Roc Nation cohort J. Cole to the stage for a guest set. This was of course followed by an epic appearance from Electronica's cohort and boss, Jay Z, who took a detour from his pair of On The Run shows in New Jersey to cosign his signee live and in-person, publicly assuring all in attendance (and tuned in to social media) that the elder Jay hadn't yet lost hope in his mentee.
It was a gracious moment from Jay, who proceeded to perform his hit song "Public Service Announcement," before bestowing his ever-controversial 5-Percenter chain on Electronica, granting the mysterious MC with his very own Chaining Day. The exchange was also a quick and confusing reminder that never has a man without a debut album demanded so much praise. Still, when he rocked through Act I's opening section a cappella, it was suddenly clear why Jay Electronica has become more cult leader than mere MC.
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After the show, Electronica meandered his way through the crowd - still flanked by his blue besuited entourage - and hordes of supporters who thanked their reluctant leader, and begged him for the album they all deserve.
Briefly speaking with REVOLT before heading back on his bus and away to whatever mystery-land he inhabits and tirelessly fills with more never-to-be-heard material, Electronica gave us some insight into what exactly caused his setbacks, and what he sees in his near future.
After graciously admitting that drugs and drinking deterred him from focusing on music, Electronica affirmed: "I just wanted to come out today, clean, sober, and with my family, and taking control of my life, taking control of the game."
At last, likely because it's refreshing to hear Electronica take responsibility for his confusing career and ongoing disappearing act, when he tells us he's ready to re-take control of his journey and the genre that's so patiently awaited his arrival, we believe him.
All praises due to Allah.