Last Friday, Jay Electronica finally released his debut album — it came after a decade of rap bloggers hailing “Exhibit C” as the second coming (of what, no one is quite sure). Yet, the first Jay listeners hear on Electronica’s debut is not Electronica. Instead, the scripture delivered from the Roc Nation perch on high comes from Hotep Hov. Across A Written Testimony, Jay-Z turns in enough bars, verses, and outros to make a convincing argument that Electronica’s new project is something like Jay’s 14th studio album or, at least, his sixth collaborative one. This was besides the point to most fans. If you starve a fandom long enough, even a loaf of bread (as good as that bread may sound) can seem like manna.
Predictably, Electronica spent the better part of his weekend basking in praise and defending himself against criticism. Joe Budden — part-time podcast provocateur, full-time retired rapper — entered the fray to take a few shots at how Jay Z-heavy A Written Testimony was. “As a rapper, I’m telling you he got smacked around,” Budden said on the latest episode of The Joe Budden Podcast. “The caliber of rapping that’s on ‘Exhibit C’ is not exhibited here.” Then Jay and Joe’s beef transitioned to social media.
“I never got absolutely mopped around on my own project either,” Budden tweeted after the rapper tagged one of the podcast’s co-hosts, Rory. In response, Electronica replied with words that slightly crushed the soul of every journalist forced to work from home for the foreseeable future: “I never heard your albums bro. May Allah bless your career as a journalist.”
i never heard your albums bro. may Allah bless your career as a journalist. 🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿
— J A Y E L E C T R O N I C A (@JayElectronica) March 17, 2020
In fairness to all involved, if you’re going to call A Written Testimony a Jay Z album, it’s important to note that it’s a very good Jay Z album, in part because he came to this album ready to defend himself. This is a version of Jay with some points to make, and he sounds more defiant than he has in ages.
Ever since Jay-Z’s Roc Nation became the NFL’s “live music entertainment strategist” in August 2019, the rapper/mogul has been on the defensive. At the time, Jay’s latest business venture was rightfully seen as hypocritical after the rapper spent the majority of the rollout for 2017’s 4:44, supporting Colin Kaepernick, only to partner with the same organization that still refuses to hire him.
On A Written Testimony, Jay can’t help but turn his recent cultural folly into a moment to dig his heels into the sand. For so long, Jay’s narrative conflict was internal, as a man at war with himself — his hubris, daddy issues, and fear of commitment — that it’s entertaining to see him use half a Jay Electronica album to essentially battle rap his far less wealthy detractors. Across two verses on “The Ghost of Soulja Slim” and “Flux Capacitor,” Jay revolts against the idea that he’s become a “sellout.”
“I could never sell my soul, they sold they soul to me,” he begins the album before breaking down his thought process behind Roc Nation’s NFL deal five songs later.
“Why would I sell out? I’m already rich, don’t make no sense
Got more money than Goodell, a whole NFL bench
Did it one-handed like Odell handcuffed to a jail
I would’ve stayed on the sidelines if they could’ve tackled the shit themselves” — “Flux Capacitor”
Despite his billionaire status, across the album, Jay seems intent to simultaneously rebuke his detractors within the black community, while explaining his way of thinking. “That guilt trip ain’t gon’ work, don’t put your luggage on we / You ain’t keep the same energy for the du Ponts and Carnegies” he offers on “Universal Soldier,” setting aside the fact that his listeners were not alive during the Gilded Age.
In the days ahead, we can all learn from Jay, Jay, and Joe. What is a society without music criticism? Shall it shrivel into oblivion or persist through the dry cracks of rubble? To all my sisters and brothers in the struggle, “May Allah bless your career as a music critic” and remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds.