You know it is the apocalypse if Jay Electronica is releasing his debut album A Written Testimony. The New York-based, New Orleans-born rapper broke out over a decade ago with 2007’s “Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge),” followed by a few singles and features on big name albums. We were told to expect an album, but year-after-year it would get pushed back until nobody expected it anymore and Electronica started to fade from view, especially as Atlanta and mumble rap took over. But this week we were told A Written Testimony was coming out and this time it was for real.
Jay-Z features prominently on this album – almost as much as Jay Electronica. Given his role in Jay Electronica’s rise and subsequent signing to Roc Nation, it feels important that he is a big part of this. Travis Scott & The-Dream also feature on this, but their presence is less felt as a dynamic song-defining force and more as another piece in this fascinating music machine.
This album feels like it has been marinating, evolving and developing for some time, even if it was made in 40 days and 40 nights. It has a timeless feel that doesn’t stick it in one era from the late 2000’s or the early 2020s. It lives on its own. The production adds a dreamy quality, like you have opened a door with gleaming white light and Jay-Z in white robes is standing there welcoming you to this album.
It does feel experimental, using children’s choirs, children shouting like the Halo 4 sound effect Birthday Party, long instrumental sections and speeches to throw out the traditional bar, verse, bar, verse, guest pacing of rap albums. Crowds cheer on tracks like “Shiny Suit Theory,” or old TV programs on “Universal Soldier” make this album feel even more timeless. “Ezekiel’s Wheel” is slow and measured, paced by the clicking of a turning wheel as Jay-Z, The-Dream and Jay Electronica (plus Brian Eno!!!) walk you through making this album.
It might have been fate for this to come out now. On 2009’s “Exhibit C,” he raps, “Trying to find the meaning of life in a Corona,” likely meaning a Corona beer, but it takes on a different meaning during the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
His alignment and reverence of Minister and noted anti-semite Louis Farrakhan (which isn't new) is quite worrisome. It adds another political and sociological layer to this album that doesn't need to be there. On an otherwise outstanding album, this puts a small bit of doubt in your head.
While there is no way for this album to live up to the hype – that was impossible, it comes pretty damn close. There is a lesson here that great art can’t be rushed. The album has as much repeat value as we have heard this year and feels as timeless as rap albums come.
Listen to the full album below and get your copy here. Support great art, especially in times like these.