Some artists have all the luck. You spend 10 years building a fanbase from the odd feature talking about ancient prophecies, fighting demons and serving God – then your debut lands in the midst of a (kind of, not really) apocalypse.
If that isn’t divine providence, I don’t know what is. All jokes aside, even by hip-hop standards Jay Electronica has enjoyed benefits that many of his contemporaries haven’t. The New Orleans MC had more than a decade to craft ‘A Written Testimony’ – although the bulk was done in 40 days – with the project essentially being a collaboration with Jay-Z, probably the most accomplished rapper alive.
‘A Written Testimony’ begins with a speech from Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam. It immediately gives the album a cinematic feel, with the soaring strings adding a real sense of grandeur to the occasion.
If you’ve listened to any Jay Elec tracks, then the following cut ‘The Ghost of Soulja Slim’ fits the mould – unusual production, demo-like mixing and the MCs vocals front-and-centre. On the early part of ‘A Written Testimony’ – Jay Elec feels restrained, while uncredited collaborator Jay-Z steals the show. That changes with ‘A Neverending Story’, which features incredible verses from both, but sees Electronica really hitting his hypnotic stride.
The album flags slightly in the middle, with ‘Flux Capacitor’ in particular being an absolute mess – it has more incredible Jay-Z’s verses, but the sub par mixing and production make it almost too difficult to get through.
Towards the end is where the album really soars. ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ is incredible, with NO I.D delivering some typically beautiful production, while the final track ‘A.P.I.D.T.A’ is sensational. It illustrates the humanity of two rappers that are revered as God-like, brought down to earth by the desperation of grief. It’s the most insight we get into Jay Electronica as a person throughout the record, away from the doctrinal (but still poetic) side we see most.
‘A Written Testimony’ is a biblical album for biblical times, with enough human flaws to make it imperfect.
Words: Will Rosebury
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