I spend more time with albums than I do people. To me, a "1 Listen Review" is more exciting than a first date. I can go a month without talking to one of my friends, but if I don't listen to "Devil in a New Dress" at least once a week, my world begins to crumble. I'll hesitate buying a friend a shot, but have no problem dropping 10 bucks on an album. Now, music ain't people, but when you spend so much time with it, relationships with albums, songs and artists can start to mimic real life. We grow deep relationships with the artists who soundtrack our lives. They may not know we exist, but that doesn't stop us from making them our existence.
For me, one of the most powerful yet most tumultuous relationships I've had in music is with Jay Electronica; the highs are as high as the lows are low. When he is on, there really isn't anything like it. When he raps, all I can do is listen, hoping that if I focus all my energy and all my brain power on the music, somehow his greatness will rub off on me. Still, try as I might to simply listen and appreciate, for years now (YEARS!!!) there's been a part of me that's angrily wondered where the album is.
But this latest offering, "Road To Perdition," was different.
That Zeitgeist line sent a chill down my spine. Like so many times before, I felt his words slide down each vertebrae, but this time it wasn't followed by a dulled, blunted apathy. After I heard it, I wanted to listen to my custom made Jay Elec mixtape again for the first time in months, it was perfect for a Sunday drive on the GW Parkway. No "where's the album?" bullshit, no feelings, just me enjoying rap music. It felt good, like a darkened sky had finally parted.
Considering that back in September I officially quit Jay Electronica, this new acceptance was kind of a big deal. I mean, it's totally not a big deal at all and this kind of "relationship" sounds a little unhealthy/creepy to those who don't know what it's like to truly love music, but for me, it's a big deal. In order to move forward I had to finally, totally give up on Act II. I had to leave it for dead. I had to go through the Five Stages of Jay Electronica Grief.
1. Denial and Isolation
"There's just no way this album isn't happening," I would utter to myself as Just Blaze's triumphant of "Cross My Heart" cascaded out the speakers and into my blood stream. He's just too good. If the dude can bring ancient mathematics back to modern man, surely he can drop Act II. With every sporadic release, every misleading tweet, every interview, I thought we we were getting closer and closer. A long time ago, Act II felt imminent. It was a thundercloud way off in the distance. You could hear the rumble, and though it may be sunny and dry, you know at any moment, there will be torrential downpours. His music is too special to be locked up in a vault in JAY Z' basement next to a Basquiat and Memphis Bleek's dignity. Fuck the haters, Jay Elec is the truth and one way or another the truth always gets out. This album is going to happen. I believe.
For a long time I felt like a trapped coal miner. I would survive on droplets of water that tickled through the rubble ("Better In Tune," "Jedi Code," "We Made It," etc.) waiting for the light of my savior's headlamp to illuminate my pit of despair. I envisioned him peeling back a giant boulder and as my eyes adjusted to seeing the light for the first time in ages, he would reach out, grab my hand, pull me out and give me a signed copy of Act II and I was now, free again to live my life the way I was supposed to. I was able to move through the rap world freely without the weight of what could be above me.
But the search party never came.
Has he forgotten about me? Doesn't he know how badly I need this? How badly all his fans need this? If he could see the marks I've etched into the stones to keep track of how long I've been waiting he would rush over.
Where the fuck is he?
Doesn't he care at all?
WHERE THE FUCK IS HE?
My hope quickly turned to anger. How could he treat us like this? He donned the persona of a prophet, hip-hop's savior, and we believed him, or at least I did. Where are those truth-filled, prophetic lines that used to excite me about the future of rap? My exaltations of the great Electronica quickly turned to bitter, passive-aggressive scoffs. I would let out a laugh, amazed that I could be so dumb as to have ever believed him. Fuck this self-righteous prick. He thinks I'm dumb enough to keep waiting? Well. I'm not. I'm over this shit. I'm all for giving artist their time, but this is fucking ridiculous. He talks such a big game, but never delivers.
If only I hadn't gotten so wrapped up. This album screams Detox. I should have seen this coming. I wish I could go back and just erase Act II from my memory. I want to be able to enjoy "Jazzmatazz" without having the context of the album pollute the purity and potency of his bars. I can't enjoy myself when I listen anymore, so maybe I'll listen when you finally drop that album. Somewhere between anger, bargaining, and the next step, depression, is when I wrote that "quitting" piece, but I hadn't quit, I was just bargaining. Notice my closing line, " I am officially boycotting any and all Jay Electronica until the release of Act II."
It was my way of taking the power back. Here I am literally going thought emotional stages and yet Jay Electronica doesn't know I exist. My only way of really getting over him is to end it. Maybe if he drops an album I'll listen but that's it. He has to change if he wants me to listen. Do we have a deal, Jay?
Man fuck this. This album is never going to drop. I feel like I asked a girl out on a romantic date, only to get stood up at the fanciest restaurant in town. There I am downing Makers on the rocks as the candle melts on to the table, listening to "Act I" and thinking of what could have been. How could I be so stupid? The anger that I once had is now replaced with an emptiness. I thought quitting him would make me feel better, I really gave it a shot, but it didn't make me want the album any less. Now I'm just empty because I can't listen to one of my favorite rappers. It sucks I don't have Act II. It sucks even more when I'm stoned out of my gourd and really want to listen to "Departure" but can't due to some ridiculous, irrational inner-turmoil.
There I was, huddled up next to some girl wearing a dress that was way too short for a December night, a dude who had way too many rum and Cokes, and a few more girls who were acting like teenage girls at a O-Town concert. I guess Common has that effect on the ladies. I'm an expert concert go-er, those shenanigans come with the territory, so I was fine. But then, midway through my duet of "The Food" with Common - and by duet I mean me Stanning out in the crowd and him on stage - there was a bigger disturbance. That girl next to me screamed. Hell, so did that guy. I saw people with perfect views of the stage turn and rush past me.
By this time, Common had moved on to "Poker Face" and I figured now was a good time to see what all the fuss is about. As I turned around to see what the disturbance was, all I saw were people, droves and droves of indiscernible faces, flocking towards the end of the bar. I got my Barry Sanders on, hit a few holes in the crowd, and got close enough to see a man drenched in sweat rocking a gold chain with a shining silver medallion. That man was Jay Electronica, and people were surrounding him in a frenzy, screaming his name, begging for selfies. It felt like Jesus had returned to Bethlehem, only this time, people had Instagram.
That was the first venture into the crowd from Mr. Chanukah but it wasn't the last. Throughout Common's whole set, Jay Elec could be found in all parts of the crowd. At one point, he even made his way up to the very front to Stan the fuck out when Common performed "I Used To Love H.E.R." He knew every word. As mad as I was, just months after quitting him, I was captivated. The man had an aura, a presence about him that you could feel. I have been to a lot of shows, but I've never seen an artist just walk into the crowd. Everyone is obsessed with getting backstage, but Jay wanted to be among the people. At one point I even approached him. All I wanted to do was ask about the album, give him link to my article, or cry, anything to show him how he had hurt me; all I'll I could muster was, "Jay, can I grab a photo?" With a smile on his face he draped his arm around me, smiled, and took a picture like there weren't seven hundred people asking the same thing.
I walked out of the show and into the final stage, acceptance. I realized, me "quitting" Jay Elec didn't do a damn thing but stop me from enjoying the incredible music he has released. I've simply accepted the fact that I may never get the album from Jay Elec. I'm ok with it. Where I once believed every new song was a commentary on Act II's release, I can see now that a new release doesn't effect the album one way or another. I can now laugh at the people who get so worked up, but I laugh with empathy. I was once like you, buried in expectations, heaping my hopes for hip-hop onto one man, one album.
Looking at every song like a fossil, examining it, trying to piece it together into a distant, mythical creature is bullshit, but so's denying Jay Elec's special qualities. There's a healthy balance in there somewhere and I think I've reached it. Act V, Patents of Acceptance. Press play.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]