Album review Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony

Ten-year wait

It`s been almost ten years since Jay Electronica signed with Jay-Z`s coveted record label, Roc Nation. Early praise from peers and fans alike built anticipation for Jay Electronica`s debut album, but no one knew it would be a whole decade until a full-length project would be released. His debut album was finally released March 13, 2020. Sadly, it did not live up to the expectations

Jay Electronica was praised for his pen game; his lyrical ability filled with pro black lyrics linked with the Nation of Islam, creating a lane for what hip hop fans saw as an interesting take on conscious rap. However, what followed was a decade with far and few between features from Jay. That would change early 2020, when hip hop fans would get to know that the debut album would finally be released. Recording sessions would take 40 days, and Jay-Z would be heavily involved. However, what followed was a forgettable project that sadly did not live up to expectations and left more to be desired.

A Written Testimony is an album with slick lines and references to the Nation of Islam, with experimental production that ranges from uniquely pleasing to simply bad. Most of the songs are produced by Jay Electronica himself, but the album has noticeable work from producers such as The Alchemist and NO I.D. The production on the album draws from a Lo-fi experimental sound, with production sounding unpolished, which doesn’t always work as it doesn’t enhance the artistry or the listening experience. This unpolished effect is most prevalent on the track Ezekiel’s Wheel, which includes an obnoxious voice over. In addition, the album includes some odd sound effect choices.  In Universal Soldier, the sound effect of cheering children suddenly appears. It serves no purpose and is distracting when listening to the lyrics. The sound effect throws the listener off guard and is an annoyance throughout the song. The production on the song was solid excluding the laughable sound effect. The production is also good on tracks like The Blinding, Fruits of the Spirit and A.P.I.D.T.A. Especially The Blinding, where the production goes well with the lyrics and the aesthetic of the album. It also includes a short but solid feature from Travis Scott. I would say that The Blinding is overall the best song on the album.

The album includes samples from several Nation of Islam figures, for example, the song Ghost of Soulja Slim that samples a speech from Louis Farrakhan. The key focus on the album is Jay Electronica`s association with The Nation of Islam. The album is filled with slick and clever references to organization. However, the album doesn’t go deeper into exploring themes and the deep-rooted history associated with The Nation of Islam. I believe this to be the biggest disappointment of the album, especially coming from a conscious rapper of Jay Electronica`s calibre. It doesn’t help when the album is getting backlash for allegedly including  anti-Semitic references. For example, on the song Ghost of Soulja Slim he writes:

“And I bet you a Rothschild I get a bang for my dollar. The synagogue of Satan want me to hang by my collar.”

Lyrics like this makes certain songs on this album an uncomfortable listen, especially when there is no attempt to explain or explore anything. I believe this to be the biggest drawback on this project. Jay Electronica has defended himself to not be anti-Semitic. Sadly, with a lack of exploration these lyrics leave a lot up for the listener to interpret, rightfully leading to backlash.

It is important to note how much Jay-Z is involved in this album. It`s to the point where you can call this a collaboration album between the two rappers. Jay-Z`s verses are solid, proving again that he never lost his touch. However, this proves to be problematic when Jay-Z outshines Jay Electronica on several songs.  This is clear right off the bat, as Jay-Z even has the first verse on the entire album. Making it hard to call this album the Jay Electronica album that fans waited ten years for.

A Written Testimony could be best described as a missed opportunity on every front. The lack of exploration on Jay Electronica`s association with The Nation of Islam shows why this album feels rushed. The lyrical content feels thin, only resulting in occasional slick references. The album feels rushed considering fans waited ten years for this album. The production and lyricism are inconsistent in quality. However, the album shines on certain tracks, with slick lines and references linked with head bopping production. Sadly, slick lines don’t help this album from being a disappointment. The only highlight in this album is some occasional good verses. But these are not enough for me to recommend giving it a listen. Overall, this album left a lot to be desired from Jay Electronica.

I rate this album a 5.5 / 10.

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