In the video for “Dear Moleskine,” a short but stunning track produced by Just Blaze from 2009, Jay Electronica wanders the streets of Nepal like a celestial monk. With paint on his forehead and a scarf round his neck, Jay gets in tune with the infinite while rapping about depression, Dr. Phil, and the devil. It was like Black Jesus had quietly returned, only instead of water into wine, he turned a Bayeté sample into a hip-hop masterpiece.
Looking back, the video makes a lot of sense when you consider the legacy—or lack thereof—that Jay Electronica has carved out for himself over the last seven years. When he dropped “Exhibit C” in 2009 and signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation a year later, it seemed like everything was coming together for hip-hop’s newest savior. His album, Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), was being heralded as a beacon of hope in a genre that had been declared “dead” by God’s Son.
But what followed surely couldn’t have been part of God’s plan.
While Hov pressed his star signee for a “single,” Act II remained locked away, and potentially incredible collaborations with Kanye West, Diddy, and Erykah Badu were left to waste. Instead, Jay trickled out lo-fi loosies (like “Act II Rough Demo” and “Call of Duty”) and spoke of how every magic trick has three parts as if the reason his album hadn’t been released was because of some grand act of wizardry still to come.
The divine being that we saw in Nepal may have been omnipotent, but Jay Electronica was ultimately powerless to bless his followers.
Fast forward to 2016 and Act II is still nowhere to be seen. However, Jay Electronica has been more present in recent years, particularly on other people’s music. Since appearing on Big Sean’s “Control” alongside Kendrick Lamar, aka the King of New York, in 2013, Jay has maintained a relatively steady output of guest verses, coming up with show-stealing stuff on songs from Rapsody, Common, PRhyme and Chance The Rapper.
Jay Electronica stepped out from the shadows once again this week to assist Scottish singer Emeli Sandé on her new single, “Garden.”
It’s certainly a more left field collaboration for Jay Electronica who, despite spending a lot of time in London over the last few years, hasn’t forged too many working relationships in the UK (The Bullitts being the only exception). But in contrast to many of Emeli’s bigger hits, the sparse, soothing production sets it up nicely for Jay, who delivers another poetic verse on the beauty and brutality of this thing we called love.
I'm a serial lover / I set up all the dates / That rang up fate and got my friends killed / I barely knew my dad, sometimes I feel like my mother / I love that Purple Rain love / That have a fight, that scratch my face / That fuck outside and ride my motorcycle in the rain love / Love is like a garden, love is like a death sentence / Love is like a pardon, I'm free again and ready / Once outside these prison walls, to believe again is scary / Your garden is my sanctuary
“Garden” will appear on Emeli Sandé’s Long Live the Angels LP, out November 11. As for Jay Electronica’s album, who the hell knows?
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Lenny S