“They say it was gon’ never happen
But I survived Neverland like the Jacksons
You never swallow slanderous lies for the devil’s satisfaction”
I will definitely own up to the fact that I didn’t think that this album was going to come into fruition any time soon, but it was very surprising to get it, especially in this day in age, during a worldwide pandemic, which sees damn near everyone in their homes on quarantine or self-isolation, or outside practicing social distancing. It was a critical moment in Hip Hop, because if you’ve been following along with the genre over the past 10 years, you’ve heard of Jay Electronica to be equal to a mythological being, with a handful of songs to really sift through and figure out who he is. Maybe you knew of his association with Jay-Z and being signed to Roc Nation, and maybe you’ve seen him at a local show or a festival, but the glimpses were equal to seeing the Aurora Borealis or Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness Monster. But he’s real, his music is real, and we have a complete project to digest and appreciate for years to come, because who knows when he’ll drop again. When it comes down to very lyrically in-depth rappers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of appreciation for them because the masses would rather be entertained than educated, and that’s been Jay Electronica’s brand that has been able to carry over the past 10 years since Exhibit C debuted, and that really catapulted the Blog era.
The Nation of Islam also has a heavy influence on Jay Electronica’s life, which has trickled though his music, and that is further exemplified on the introduction with Minister Louis Farrakhan addressing a crowd that sets the tone for what will preach the teachings of ancient mathematics and Pan-Africanism, by way of a higher conscious knowledge that you really have to sit with and let marinate, if it even is your speed. The belief that Black People are the real children of Israel is a concept that I had heard before on Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN, when he mentioned it being said by his cousin Carl, on YAH
“I’m a Israelite, don’t call me black no mo’
That word is only a color, it ain’t facts no mo’
My cousin called, my cousin Carl Duckworth
Said know my worth
And Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed”
That voicemail from his cousin was unearthed at the end of FEAR, which confirmed the belief that was initially presented, and allowed the listener to really sit and ask themselves if it was actually true or not. Religious teachings are controversial and highly debated, but at the end of the day, it’s what you choose to believe, and what avenue of knowledge you choose to pursue. Islam is one of the original religions, along with Judaism & Christianity, that sees itself with many sub-sections that inspire further beliefs, teachings, and ideals that inhabit the minds of many, and that leads us to this album.
“So, all you scared to death negros
Just sit down
Don’t you come out to defend our enemy
You sit down and you shut up
And tell your master to come on out and deal with this”
Black pride comes in various forms, and for many White people, they see Pro-Blackness as Anti-Whiteness because of the heightened protection of culture and lifestyle that Black have chosen to pursuit, based on the many decades of appropriation, exploitation, discrimination, and systemic racism as a whole. Now, some people go to extremes when preaching their ideals to fellow Black people, and I’m not saying that they’re wrong by any means, because there are justifiable reasons for defending their want to segregate themselves from White people’s ideologies that came by way of colonialism, which then led to the historic sequence of events in which we still feel the effects of. Rap was created as a tool to teach their fellow people about valuing themselves in a world that saw them & treated them with less respect from the lowest rung, and although it is deemed ‘conscious Rap,’ the title does a disservice to what the art form stood for in its initial stages before it blew up and became a worldwide sensation that change the face of music forever.
“No civilization is conquered from the outside until it destroys itself from within
Pen, put a pin in that, will come back when I fin
You can’t talk like I talk ’cause you ain’t been where I been”
It’s crazy how relevant music is in relation to time, because Jay-Z’s line here can certainly speak to the events transpiring due to COVID-19 drastically changing the shape of the world in real-time, which we’ll definitely feel for not only this decade, but the ones to follow thereafter. The thunderous production on the first track, which pays homage to New Orleans legend, Soulja Slim, is very military inspired and it hits you in the chest, along with the raps that give you a greater sense of pride. It should be noted that, as I write this review, I’m wearing a hoodie that reads, “I Love my Blackness and Yours,” just so you understand where my head’s at.
I came to bang with the scholars
And I bet you a Rothschild I get a bang for my dollar
The synagogue of Satan want me to hang by my collar
But all praise due to Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala
Some of the teachings of the NOI speak to tearing down the pillar of Judaism & the control that White Jewish people have had in the world. Although everything is heresy (but Google is free), Jewish families control a lot of the world’s wealth, and they have a very heavy influence on the structure of capitalism. When you take that, on top of the Israel-Palestine conflict that has spanned decades, there is a lot of animosity towards Jewish people from a particular section of Muslims in the world, and that has definitely leaked into the minds of many Black people who have been victim to those capitalist structures put in place to help keep them at the bottom, economically & socially. Jay Elect was also known to have dated a member of the Rothschild family, and if you want to know about why that is significant in itself, again Google is free, but that family has been linked back centuries of having one of the greatest influences on the landscape of what we know as Western society, in ways not seen before. This is absolutely a demonstration of Black pride with aggressive tone that is educating and empowering, all in the same breath.
Swizz Beatz having a beat on this album with The Blinding was absolutely a surprise, because I didn’t think that it was Jay Elect’s lane, but you can really throw him any beat and he’ll do it justice. The back and forth between Hov & Elect on this was refreshing to hear, and it was a level of lyricism & flow that everyone knows Jay-Z has, but it wasn’t much present on his last album, 4:44, so to hear him in this element, which was a throwback to a lot of his older content before the mainstream success, that was certainly “a gift that kept giving (like Babushka).” Also, shoutout to Araab Muzik with producer credits as well, that’s a major look for him, considering all he’s been through with his career, and personally, over the past few years. I enjoyed the fact that Travis Scott was tasked to do anything but harmonize when the beat switched to a more melodic and haunting groove, because that’s absolutely his avenue that many few can enter, so overall it was dope from top to bottom.
Now, admittedly so, I’m not the biggest Jay-Z head, so when I heard that The Neverending Story was the first time Hov rapped on an Alchemist beat, I was very surprised by that, because Hov has damn near worked with everyone under the sun, but I can understand it, because The Alchemist has an underground sound that doesn’t translate to having a lot of mainstream success in the way that other producers (Just Blaze, Timbaland, Swizz Beats, B!nk, etc.) have. Not a slight to his production style, but that’s really what it adds up to when you look at it in a macro level.
“In the cage of every unclean bird, ungrateful and hateful
The legend of the clandestine reverend from the Bricks
With the master’s grip to pull the sleeping giant out the ditch
And I ain’t even have to wiggle my nose like Bewitched
I just up-shift to six, convert the V4 to a broomstick
Though I tarry through the valley of death, my Lord give me pasture
If you want to be a master in life, you must submit to a master”
I love storytelling, and it’s one of my favourite things about Rap when executed to perfection. I enjoy listening to a portrait that’s being painted by an artist as they set scenes, create atmospheres and environments, and allow me to take a walk in their world, no matter how glorious or ugly it may be. The relaxed and calm nature of Alchemist’s production is the lob, and the Jays provide the dunk on the track that whimsically takes you on a journey.
“Listen to everything from a lecture
From the honorable minister Louis Farrakhan
To Serge Gainsbourg or Madonna or a podcast on piranhas
What a time we livin’ in, just like the scripture says
Earthquakes, fires, and plagues, the resurrection of the dead”
I loved Hov’s verse the most on this because of how he started it off by addressing the fact that he was born with imperial features. Blackness is beautiful, but for years, it’s often been ridiculed to the point where even our hair can still get us fired and discriminated against at any level of employment and formal education. His continuance of dissecting Black people’s appearances and everything that we do to restructure how we present ourselves was powerful, because Black people have been conditioned to take on cultures and styles that were foreign to them, in order to acclimate them to a lifestyle that they had not known. But in that same breath, and from the wise words of Paul Mooney, “everybody wanna be a nigga, but nobody wanna be a nigga.”
“P.S. we born perfect, fuck all the B.S
Everybody wanna be us for real, we just gotta see us
I didn’t realize how old Shiny Suit Theory was, and the fact that it still made the album and still fit the sound & theme of the album speaks volumes to the timeless quality of Jay Electronica’s music, which also bridges the connection with Jay-Z all these years later, as sort of a foreshadowing of events to come. Universal Soldier is another standout track on the 10-track album, because the beat is simplistic, yet booming, and it’s more on the same page of the concepts and theories that have been put on display just past the halfway point of the album.
“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”
The only track I would skip if absolutely necessary would be Flux Capacitor because of the first beat. The use of Rihanna’s Higher could have been done better, because I found it (and still find it) distracting from the song itself, and I love that the beat switches up, but they didn’t rap on that part. Collective Black Confusion on my part, but the fact that it was the only track that felt like a misstep, I didn’t lose hope for the rest of the album afterwards.
I hate that Fruit of the Spirit was so short, because Jay Elect, on the rare occasion that he had a track to himself, he was flowing from start to finish and it really should have been at least 2 verses, but it was a lot in 1 to unpack that didn’t even sound like it was completely finished. What a tease.
“Swing low sweet chariot, my train is on schedule
But I had to take the Underground Railroad like Harriet
Weave the whole industry, every jab I’ve parried it
My cross I carried it”
It’s quite the mystery as to why Jay took so long to come out with his debut album, and although he would have the odd appearance here and there (many people forgot about his verse on Control), there are often outside factors that determine how fast or slow we make our movements, which is understandable, but 10 years is really a long time. What was dope was that he continued this topic on Ezekiel’s Wheel, which is my favourite song on the album.
“Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my pen
Sometimes I was held down by the gravity of my sin
Sometimes, like Santiago, at crucial points of my novel
My only logical option was to transform into the wind”
For myself, this line hits because for a long time, I wasn’t writing reviews, or anything for that matter. Because of the life events that occurred in my life, the passion wasn’t exactly there, but everything happens for a reason, and everything runs on its own time. A documentary I’ve worked on for 3 years is finally in the finishing stages, but I know it could have been done sooner. Having the mental fortitude & willingness to see a project through, takes a lot of effort, but the good shit takes time to make, and although Jay Elect made this album in 40 days & 40 days (thanks Noah), it was still a process of over a decade, or even the span of his life, in order to bring this to the proper audience that he deserved, and he didn’t waste any of my time at all. The last frontier of this album feels like we’re coming out of a crazy dream state and things start to calm down before we wake up. I enjoy the fact that Jay-Z didn’t have as much airtime this time around, and really let Jay Elect stand on his own to, because much to the criticisms of the general public saying that Hov washed him all over the album (which is not true), it’s great that we had the opportunity just to hear Elect go on his own and solidify his presence furthermore. His pen is elite, and people should respect that more.
“My debut album featurin’ Hov, man, this is highway robbery
It’s like I hit the lottery”
A.P.I.D.T.A (abbreviation for All Praise Is Due To Allah) is a sad song that reminded me of Ab-Soul’s The Book of Soul, which is a memorial to our loved ones that we’ve lost along the way, and the legend goes that the Jays recorded this song the night Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and 7 other passengers & Helicopter pilot died in an accident (which still doesn’t feel real to say, given the state of the world right now). Jay-Z may have provided a line that will carry on for a long time because of its relevance to technology and the dominant way in which we communicate with everyone:
“I got numbers in my phone that’ll never ring again
‘Cause Allah done called ’em home, so until we sing again
I got texts on my phone that’ll never ping again
I screenshot ’em so I got ’em, I don’t want this thing to end”
The first person who came to mind, for me, was my Uncle Ray Rankis, who passed away in 2018, and it’s always a reminder of how precious life is, but we can’t experience the full circle of life without death, and it’s eventual. Jay Elect going into his feelings towards his mother passing is heart breaking to listen to, but it’s very relevant and the music used as a base (sample of Khruangbin’s A Hymn) just elevates the sadness, especially with Hov’s melancholy repetition of the chorus. Felt like his was about to cry or had just finished crying. It’s a lot of emotions, and given that COVID-19 has the world on edge in the worst way, it may not be the soundtrack we need, but it serves as a reminder to cherish the ones you have while you have them.
For a debut album, regardless of how long it took, I’m glad it came to be. The time in which we live in now, a lot has come into question as to what’s important in society, and how we can be better people going forward, whenever we establish a new normal. When it comes to the Black experience, I love it for the highs and lows that we go through, because our resiliency, our style, charisma, culture, and wide-ranging talent that has influenced the world, is something to truly be proud of. The ambassadors of the culture in which we’ve established for generations, have shown not only us, but also the world, that we’re all different in ways that can relate to so many avenues, and we should be proud to walk the earth with our heads held high, believing that we can do all things, because we have proved time and time again that it’s a reality, and not mythology. When Black people like to do anything that’s for them specifically, people like to say “well, what about other people of colour,” and that part is annoying, because we should be able to stand on our own two and just be proud of the shit we’ve built and continue to build in the face of a world that tries daily to hold us down. We need the messages from time to time, between when we’re turning up having a good time, and when we choose to recluse and isolate ourselves from the world. Black & Proud without explanation is how it should be, and I’m glad that the Jays, Electronica & Z, brought that into the forefront in a time where there’s much uncertainty. What’s for certain is that however the world turns, we’re still gonna be Black, but for now, this is my opinion, this is my review,
That’s My Word & It STiXX