Thoughts on Jay Electronica’s ‘Act 1: The Eternal Sunshine.’
UPDATE: Thanks to those who reached out and showed me the substantial amount of songs Jay Electronica has floating about the Internet. I’m embarrassed as to how oblivious I’ve been to this guy’s body of work… My opinion still stands, but it may sway depending on how good the rest of his music is. I will write a postmortem on the whole thing.
If twitter truly stands as a veritable news source, then Jay Electronica’s tweet finally heralds its usefulness among hip hop fans. His overly anticipated album, Act 2: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) has been on the cusp of the collective mind for at least two years plus, and chances are it may break the face of the genre as we know it.
Well, at least to people who love Jay’s music. I have largely been absent to the New Orleans native’s extremely small body of work, mostly because I don’t respond well to hype (see: 1999) and well… he doesn’t put anything out! How can I really become a fan of an artist, in this post-Internet world, when his entire discography can literally be counted on one hand?
The main reason for my breakaway from this stubborn embargo, besides the fact that I want to get acclimated to his sound and style, deals with his personality. Given the fact that he hasn’t gone 2 Chainz over everyone’s tracks or released a trillion freestyles per year really puts extreme focus on his music, and hey, I’d rather understand a quiet artist who somehow had a baby with Erykah Badu before making the smallest splash than a loud and obnoxious one riding on the popularity of one song (yes, I’m talking about Azealia Banks.)
And as such, it seemed fitting to give Act 1: The Eternal Sunshine a listen since its the numerical precursor to his album at least. Rounding up to 15 minutes, it actually possesses six minutes of verbal recommendation letters from producer Just Blaze and Erykah Badu followed by Jay rapping over decadent and slightly despondent pieces of score from the film “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.” It sounds grandiose and haunting, as most of his fans would suffice, but for a newcomer, it felt a bit passe.
The concept makes perfect sense. He’s always portrayed as this dark, quiet, enigmatic figure full of acerbic statements and philosophic wisdom driven by past struggles in the projects. And the Just Blaze/Erykah Badu foreword puts that assumption directly in the mind of the listener, as if they have just prepared people for a huge lyrical and deeply thoughtful treat.
Yet he only rhymes for about a minute or so on each consecutive track, musing about interfaith communication on “Eternal Sunshine”, dealing with aggression on “… Because He Broke The Rules,” and increasingly metaphysical, disturbing topics on “Voodoo Man” and “Fyi.” He knows how to tiptoe over these non-traditional snippets with ease, certainly a treat in and of itself, and his atonal delivery adds an aloof flair to the whole thing, but I don’t get the appeal with his content considering how little lyricism he offers on the project.
Supposing he simply freestyled or constructed free verse over these snippets then the criteria has been met: it was a really cool experiment, and he’s clearly a solid rapper. But his lyrics glimpse at a greater and more important agenda than simply rapping for the funk of it: “She said she never fell in love with a Superman/Christian, Muslim, Protestant, Lutheran/I told her being immortal is the portal to the nature of both the Christ-like Buddha man.” I especially dig his conversation on his Muslim faith and religion in general which pervades the project; I get it, the modern tide is to “think freely” and “believe in yourself,” but even the smartest Greek philosophers pondered of something greater than themselves.
I also enjoyed “Voodoo Man” for his stark, expressionistic pictures of himself placed in front of a mic, head split open on the curb, tap dancing in the French Quarter, etc. and the snippet from “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” mostly because Gene Wilder’s awesome, but nothing pulls me in and says “YO, DIS DAT SHIT! HE SPITTIN’ DA TROOF!” If the point was for him to slip through the shadows and drop odd phrases like “Ethiopian gold” and “Queztalcoatl Supreme” then be my guest, because it sounds cool and alluring. I don’t mean any slight to his own intelligence and understanding of the world as I’ve never met him, but if he wants to drop dimes and educate the youth a la Casual, then why continue to conceal the real deal?
Strictly my opinion alone. If I am wrong and need a solid opinion, please tell me in the comments below. I will buy his debut album, only to see if he finally “reveals” the “Jay Elect Ramadaan Muhammad Asalaamica Rasoul Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala” that others seem to truly understand.