Album Review — Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica finally arrived. Years of delays and mystery around one of rap’s most promising young artists at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s is over and now A Written Testimony is here. If you’re not familiar with Electronica, read this summary of the wild and unpredictable path of his life. Electronica signed to the legendary Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation nearly a decade ago. Now on his debut album Hov himself makes an appearance on nearly every single track. Imagine having one of the all-time bests in hip-hop as your side man on your debut album. That’s crazy! But it fits with Electronica.

The album opens with “The Overwhelming Effect,” which serves more as a vignette than song as it’s a monologue from Minister Louis Farrakhan set to a beautiful sounding instrumental. That’s one important thing to note up front with this album: for better and for worse, Electronica’s faith, The Nation of Islam, has a noticeable influence throughout. I don’t really want to give my opinion on the faith itself or any other religions for that matter, as I respect all people’s beliefs. So any commentary I have regarding the religious influences on this album are strictly from a musical standpoint (just like my criticisms of gospel music and Kanye’s latest album in the past on this blog). So as far as an opener, it’s fine and I guess gives a dramatic buildup. But I would always rather hear bars to open a rap album.

“Ghost of Soulja Slim” opens not with Electronica rapping, but Jay-Z. And I have to say Jay-Z sounds as hungry and fiery as ever on not just this song, but the whole album. His bars are catchy, have something to say and get right to the point. When Electronica makes his appearance about halfway through the song, he matches Jay-Z’s bars himself. But the song drags on too long with it’s instrumental at the end and the use of the clip of the kids cheering is really annoying. I feel like this song would have been better as the introduction track, as it doesn’t really have a point and has more of an introduction/demonstration feel to it.

“The Blinding” sees the Jays joined by Travis Scott. And it’s obviously a mainstream/streaming play with Scott’s inclusion. But it’s one of my favorites on the album, as Electronica opens up about the making of this album, the pressure of the buildup of the release and how he never wants to let his daughter down. Despite it’s shortness and Scott being kind of shoehorned in, the song does well at telling a great story and giving the listener an appropriate insight into rap’s biggest enigma. “The Neverending Story” has a fun and spacey sound that envelopes the listener from the beginning and I’m not surprised that it was The Alchemist behind this smooth beat. It’s perfect for Electronica to lay down some of his most clever wordplay on the album. I particularly enjoy these lines: “Spread love like Kermit the Frog that permeate the fog/I’m at war like the Dukes of Hazzard against the Bosses of the Hogs.”

Next is “Shiny Suit Theory,” a song that came out years earlier. I’m glad it’s included though because I love the bouncy horns and glimmering chimes that drive the beat of this song. Electronica himself produced this song and it sounds great. Once again this is a song that gives an insight into Electronica’s thinking and a conversation he had with P. Diddy before dropping his album. The bars from both him and Jay-Z are tight and don’t waste any time in getting to the points they’re making. I enjoy the dramatic production on “Universal Solider,” but the bars feel too same-y to me throughout and the over-reliance of religious references doesn’t work for me. And once again I think the song carries on a bit long like “Ghost of Soulja Slim.”

Jay-Z spits absolute fire over great production from Electronica on “Flux Capacitor.” He goes on the defensive over his deal with the NFL and again I love how in the latter half of his career he’s maybe dropping some of the best bars of his career. It’s unfortunate for Electronica though he’s getting out-rapped on his own song and album, but that’s what happens I guess when you have an icon as a sideman on your album. “Fruits of the Spirit” feels more like an interlude than song but it’s still one of my favorite moments on the album. The soulful production of No I.D., one of my favorite producers in hip-hop, and Electronica rapping his ass off (with a sweet Thanos reference to start the song) makes me wish this was a full-fledged song.

I enjoy the different, clinky sound of “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and the inclusion of The-Dream as a feature is a great choice on a chiller, smooth song like this one. The bars from the Jays aren’t bad for the most part either. It’s just too long at six and a half minutes. The bars that are bad though is where Electronica raps: “It could be in Lagos, or Seattle, or Chicag-y/Hotel lobby Grammy after-party, it’s whatev-y.” It’s cringe-y and dumb-y. I do not understand why he felt the need to just randomly add y’s to these words other than trying to make his bars flow together better. Despite this baffling choice, Electronica redeems himself in a big way on the closing song of the album, “A.P.I.D.T.A.” Over gorgeous production from Khruangbin (who you know I’ve absolutely praised), Electronica absolutely pours his heart out over heartfelt bars about the loss of his mother. It’s heartbreakingly touching and beautiful personal song from Electronica that shows why his debut album has been so hyped. It’s without doubt the best song of his career.

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica does not live up to it’s lofty expectations and hype, but A Written Testimony is nevertheless a pretty good album. The production is definitely the strongest point of this album, as a cavalcade of all-star producers and Electronica himself create some exciting and interesting sounds throughout the whole album. The bars on this album are mostly good despite some bumps along the way and the overuse of religious imagery. More than anything I’m glad that Jay Electronica is finally releasing music and I think on his next album we’ll see something even better from him. But for now this is a solid debut.

Grade: 7/10

The Hodgepodge: Beck Deserved to Win & Kanye West Doesn’t Understand Artistry

The 57th Grammy Awards took place this past Sunday and as always there’s a lot to talk about afterwards. As the show came to an end, myself along with many others thought the biggest story coming out of it would be Sam Smith’s dominant night, racking up several Grammy wins. The biggest story though would be just after the show. Kanye West, who appeared to be drunk, gave an interview with E! News. West was asked about his thoughts on Beck’s Morning Phase winning the Grammy for Album of the Year and him almost interrupting the rock artist. For those who didn’t see the show, right when Beck was beginning to give his speech after being handed the award, West acted like he going to interrupt him, the same thing he did to Taylor Swift at VMA show a few years ago. Instead West smiled and ran off the stage, in what many people took as a joke.

Except Kanye wasn’t joking. He nearly did it again. Here’s what he told E! News in his interview after the show:

“Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé,” West said in an interview with E! after the ceremony. “At this point we tired of it because what happens is when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats in music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.

We aren’t playing with them anymore. And by the way, I got my wife, my daughter, and I got my clothing line, so I’m not going to do nothing that would put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight, but you all knew what it meant when ’Ye stepped on that stage.”

This is absolute and complete bullshit of course. Kanye if you remember interrupted Swift because the award Swift won wasn’t given to Beyoncé either. There’s a video going around of Beyoncé and her husband Jay-Z in the crowd watching in horror as Kanye nearly did it again. So before I level a rant against Kanye keep in mind they didn’t condone his actions and deserve no blame.

So let’s break down the diarrhea that spewed from Kanye’s mouth. First he says “Beck needs to respect artistry.” Hahahaha! Beck is one of the last people who needs to respect artistry, as anyone who listened to Morning Phase will tell you it was one of the deepest, most complex albums of 2014. As someone who has listened to Morning Phase, I assure you it will take several listens to full grasp it. There’s a reason many music critics, as well as fans put it on their best of albums list for 2014. I didn’t see Beyoncé’s album on too many lists and the ones I did were mainstream outlets that clearly don’t base their list on objectivity. What do they base it on? I’m $ure you can figure it out. This is also coming from an artist that uses so much auto-tune on his songs that it makes T-Pain blush.

Then Kanye says, “…he should have given his award to Beyoncé.” Oh really. Beyoncé, the international superstar, who everyone knows and hears about on major publications everyday should have gotten the award. Like she doesn’t get enough accolades and spotlights. She’s also married to Jay-Z, another international superstar. They have millions of dollars. She is one of the last people in the world who deserves more attention and another award. I’m sure, as much as she wanted to win a Grammy, would agree. I don’t think she’s crying any tears or losing any sleep over it in her mansion.

Meanwhile Beck is by no means a mainstream artist. There’s a reason “Who is Beck” was trending on Twitter, as most mainstream music fans can’t be bothered to expand their horizons beyond bubblegum pop and artificial bullshit. They of course parrot Kanye on social media because they’re ignorant. Beck had been nominated twice before for Album of the Year, so he was pretty ecstatic to win the biggest award of his career. In other words, this award will help him gain more exposure and fans.

The most ridiculous part of Kanye’s statement is next when he goes on this big rant about art being diminished. Well Mr. West if you want to know why the art of music has been diminished, go take a look in the mirror. You’re part of the problem. Your two latest, auto-tuned singles do nothing to enhance the art of music. By the way, how disappointing is it to see the great Sir Paul McCartney lower himself to collaborate with such a buffoon like Kanye? Kanye and his fans though believe that his auto-tune bullshit is true art, hence why he’s called a genius. I don’t think they know what genius means.

Speaking of art in music, let’s just take a look at the making of Beck’s Morning Phase and Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 album (the two albums nominated for Album of the Year). Beck’s album had one producer, which was himself. Beck also wrote and composed each of the songs on the album. Beyoncé’s album had a total of 16 producers, including Beyoncé herself. Beyoncé has a total of 15 writers for the entire album, with Knowles having a co-writing credit on each song. So let me get this straight. Beck did his entire album himself. Beyoncé’s album took a total of 25 different writers and producers.

For those who operate within logic, it’s pretty clear who does and does not respect artistry. Beck clearly respects artistry. Kanye West simply does not respect artistry.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases 

  • Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires caught everyone off guard on Tuesday when Isbell announced via social media that they’re releasing a duo of songs titled Sea Songs:

  • Jana Kramer just released a new single titled “I Got The Boy.” It’s exclusively available through Spotify, which is a curious decision. I’ve listened to it and I’ll say this: I was surprised. Derek is going to have a review on it soon.
  • The Mavericks’ new album Mono comes out next Tuesday. Right now you can stream it on NPR. I’ve already streamed it several times and I’m just going to say it now. It’s great and you need to check it out, just as I expected. How great? You’ll find out in my review next week.
  • Aaron Watson’s The Underdog comes out next Tuesday too. This is highly anticipated release in the Texas country scene, as Watson is a well-known name in Texas. I’ve also noticed that in the last few weeks a new song has been released on iTunes each week off the album and each time it goes to the top of the iTunes country chart. I’m curious to listen to it and see if it lives up to the hype.
  • Steve Earle and the Dukes are also releasing a new album next week titled Terraplane. I can’t keep up with all of these releases! Slow down so I can consume everything, country music.
  • Gary Allan will be releasing a new single called “Hangover Tonight.” Deb Bose of Windmills Country says Country Aircheck confirms this. It will be available for radio add on March 2. Windmills also says the writers for the song are Allan, Cary Barlowe, Jess Frasure and Chris Stapleton.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Merle Haggard – “Mama Tried.” You can never go wrong with the Hag. To me this is a song every country music fan should know. If you don’t, you need to change this.

My Non-Country Song of the Week

 

HAIM – “If I Could Change Your Mind.” While covering the Grammys isn’t the most fun thing in the world, it did give me a change to broaden my music listening horizon. One new band I discovered for the first time was the pop trio of HAIM. And I’m damn glad I did. They’re unlike any other band I’ve ever came across. I cannot think of another group like this one. They’re truly unique. This is the best song, in my opinion, off their debut album Days Are Gone. Really I recommend the whole album. I’m anxious to hear their next album now.

Tweet of the Week

Remember a few weeks ago when I said Isbell would be showing up here a lot? Well he’s back again, as it was impossible for me to not make it the tweet of the week. Maybe I should just dedicate a section to Isbell’s tweets in The Hodgepodge.

I’m trying to picture Sturgill acting like Kanye and it just makes me laugh. If you’re not following Isbell on Twitter, you need to go do this now.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Sam Hunt Rant Review

Another Sam Hunt fan has taken to iTunes to convince us he’s country. WRITING IN CAPS ALWAYS WORKS! Thank you Hunt fans for providing a weekly dose of laughs.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!