Well, it only took 13 long years for Jay Electronica to emerge with his debut album A Written Testimony. Electronica first came to musical prominence during the summer of 2007 with his stunningly excellent mixtape Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) which featured Jay rapping over select cuts from Jon Brion’s film soundtrack for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. From there he would release “Exhibit A (Transformations)” and “Exhibit C” in 2009 to much fanfare creating a bidding war for his services by major hip-hop labels. Jay-Z’s Roc Nation would eventually be the lucky winner for Jay Electronica’s musical prowess. What came next were whispers of a proper album, endless production work and over a dozen collaborations sprinkled throughout the last decade. That all ended Thursday night when Electronica finally dropped his very first album, A Written Testimony, backed strongly with uncredited vocal support from Jay-Z himself. Was it worth the wait? It sure the fuck was.
The Overwhelming Event – The album opens with a stirring string section sampled from French composer Éric Demarsan and then is followed by a speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who Jay is a disciple of. “I ask the question, ‘Who are the real Children of Isreal?’ And I’d like to answer it right away…….That the black people of America are the real Children of Israel And they, we, are the choice of God And that unto us, he will deliver his promise.”
Ghost of Soulja Slim – After a second brief Louis Farrakhan intro speech, Jay Electronica benefactor, Jay-Z, fires the opening volley on A Written Testimony. This seems fitting given the personal bond between the two men over the last decade and the steadfast loyalty Hova has showed towards Jay Elec since the day he signed with Roc Nation. The dynamic duo trade verses over a pretty obscure sample of composer John Williams’ song “Jennifer’s French Movie” from the 1967 film Valley of The Dolls. The track is an ode to the memory of James Adarryl Tapp Jr (Soulja Slim). Best known for his Billboard Hot 100 #1 single “Slow Motion”. Sadly, Tapp was gunned down and murdered on November 26, 2003.
The Blinding – Electronica joins forces with Travis Scott for another star-studded cameo on A Written Testimony. Scott isn’t the only high profile rapper on “The Blinding”. Swizz Beatz and Jay-Z both lend their helping hands to shape the track into its final form. “Extra, extra, it’s Mr. Headlines, who signed every contract and missed the deadlines, 40 days, 40 nights, tryna live up to the hype.”
The Neverending Story – This song might as well be the theme for Electronica’s decade long struggle to complete his much ballyhooed debut album. Set over a vintage Argentine rock sample by Litto Nebbia, Jay Elec trades verses once again with Hova (Notice a trend yet?) about artistic perseverance. “What a time we livin’ in, just like the scripture says Earthquakes, fires, and plagues, the resurrection of the dead.” Electronica’s timing with current events is impeccable. The Alchemist handles production work for this one.
Shiny Suit Theory – Well hello there! A blast from the past pops up mid way through the record. “Shiny Suit Theory” is literally the first project Electronica released once he signed to Roc Nation a decade ago. This version sounds pretty much unchanged from when it dropped in November 2010. The killer verses by Jay-Z still remain as does a sample of The Ambassadors’ song “Ain’t Got The Love (Of One Girl On My Mind)” but this time around award winning producer, songwriter and singer The-Dream plays a role in its final form.
Universal Soldier – Opening with the sounds of a WWII Pacific Theater newsreel from 1945, the song then morphs into Electronica reciting Arabic phrases before launching into Electronica’s pledge to remain a faithful servant to the Nation of Islam over a fantastic hypnotic beat. “My poetry’s livin’ like the God that I fall back on And all praises due to Allah for such a illustrious platform The teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s my backbone, When I spit, the children on the mothership bow on a platform.” British singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer James Blake joins the party to sing on the outro.
Flux Capacitor – Pretty sweet “Back To The Future” reference in the title. A whirlwind of influences and references are found all over this track ranging from “Get The Gat” by Lil Elt, Rihanna’s “Higher“, “Wheel ‘N’ Deal” by DJ Gunshot and even “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls. Overall it sounds like a wild parking lot party and the most overt Jay-Z appearance.
Fruits Of The Spirit – No I.D. handles production duties on this baby. This is the lone song on A Written Testimony (excluding “The Overwhelming Event”) where Jay-Z does not appear. It’s simply Electronica doing his thing over a running loop of The Imaginations’ song “Because I Love You“. It is also the shortest track on the album at 1 minute and 35 seconds.
Ezekiel’s Wheel – The three headed monster that is Electronica, Hova and The-Dream are in peak form in this almost 7 minute tour de force performance that integrates portions of “Evensong” by Robert Fripp & Brian Eno. Again the idea that Electronica is a prophet like figure sent by Allah is explored. Some of the best verses on A Written Testimony are found all over this track. “I started on Tatooine but now I’m way out in Dagobah, Mastered the force, made my saber, I’m in the light now….”. Later Electronica references Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, “Sometimes, like Santiago, at crucial points of my novel, My only logical option was to transform into the wind.”. A verse that perhaps is a meta statement on his own struggles to finally complete this much hyped debut album.
A.P.I.D.T.A. – The real treasure of the album but also an extremely somber song to close out Electronica’s debut. Written following the sudden news that NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna died tragically in a helicopter accident earlier that day. Using the Khruangbin’s song “A Hymn” as a backing guide, Jay-Z and Jay Elec trade mournful verses of loved ones they can no longer reach in the grave. “I got numbers on my phone that’ll never ring again, ‘Cause Allah done called them home……….I got texts in my phone that’ll never ping again, I screenshot ’em so I got ’em, I don’t want this thing to…..”. Easily an album highlight and one of the best tracks to emerge thus far 2020.