The Peculiar Obsession With Jay Electronica (Editorial)

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There is a rampant obsession with rapper/philosopher Jay Electronic that has extended beyond the realm of normal fandom. While it could be the case of like attracting like – the overly analytically rapper being the magnet for overly analytically rap fans – it has expanded to an almost ridiculous degree. The primary example is on Jay Electronica’s twitter page.

@JayElectronica releases cryptic tweets on an approximate bi-monthly basis or seemingly whenever he is feeling bored. The reaction is always the same, causing people to fall into one or more of several camps. The most prevalent is the camp of people who try to divine meaning from his every syllable, as if within those 140 characters there is a clue about the release date for his first studio album. The second set of fans are those who grew tired of waiting for an album release date. Because of the lack of information their anticipation has soured into frustration or in some cases anger. Their jaded nature allows for immediate, and often times humorous, tweets of disbelief. The third group is one of puzzlement. They are the people who have watched Jay Electronica transform from an underground phenomenon to a mysterious figure  that cavorts around London with the posh elite. They wonder how he became such a major focal point when he continues to be so evasive.

The answer for Jay Electronica fans is in his rhymes.  His writing ability is the main reason people have been proclaimed him to be not only the savior of rap music but a bridge between underground and mainstream segments of the medium. Lyrics are important to Jay Electronica. This is affirmed during an interlude track on his mixtape ‘Victory’ where Jay Electronica takes special note to emphasize that subject matter is not his main concern.  Rather he is much more interested in how the person rhymes. He briefly speaks about Raekwon and Ghost Face on the album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx stating “… the whole album was drugs, chains, chicks. But they also had substance in there too.”  Jay goes on to place emphasis on the poetry of their rhymes, implying that word usage and syntax construction are what makes an individual a rapper of quality. Jay Electronica fans seem to agree.

Aside from twitter, one of the most fascinating areas of the internet is the Kanye to The forums, a message board  where people discuss not only the rap music of the titular rapper, but all things pertaining to hip-hop culture. In their Album discussion section, there is a thread for Jay Electronica’s still unreleased album Act II: Patents of Nobility (the turn). Out of all of the album discussion threads it has the most pages, numbering well over 3,500. Despite the fact that a release date for the album has not even been announced, people post on the form daily to not only muse about the inner workings of their favorite rapper turned ghost, but as a type of fan-release where similarly frustrated people can gather to vent about the lack of information. Some of the fans are doggedly loyal, insisting that Jay Electronica’s absence is all part of his plan. One of the popular theories (a theory perpetuated by the rapper himself) is that the waiting fans are all participating in an elaborate magician’s trick. Jay Electronica has even tweeted a famous quote from Christopher Nolan’s film The Prestige on several occasions.

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.” – Michael Cain in The Prestige, 2006

In looking at this quote it is easy to see where Jay Electronica is getting at the naming structure for what was purported to be a first trilogy of work. After the extreme success of his EP ACT 1: The Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) people are anticipating the second act. Several individuals on the Kanye to The forms speculate that Jay Electronica’s obscenely long absence is keeping in line with the rapper basing his albums off of the film The Prestige. They insist that the lack of a release date, the lack of any information, and his overall disappearance all exemplify the second act of a magician’s trick: the turn. To simplify, you take something ordinary, and you make it disappear. In this case Jay Electornica is the ordinary object, and he has disappeared in what could be considered to be the most spectacular fashion possible.

Others on the message board aren’t as willing to give the rapper the benefit of the doubt. They see his absence as a type of betrayal, and like those on twitter who are clamoring for the rapper to stop posting cryptic twitter messages and to get back to making music. They aren’t interested in seeing the  of a random Buddhist  temple on Instagram. They want him to release his album or for him to shut the hell up.

But that brings me to the question of why? Why are they still interested? Why do people still care care? Why are those that are angry with him still invested enough to respond to his twitter messages at all? It can’t all be out of boredom.

If there is any argument for the power of Jay Electonica’s music, this is it. He has only released a few projects within a short amount of time, but their hooks run deep. During the height of the Jay Electronica hype it was not uncommon to hear people spout phrases such as he was the greatest rapper of all time. Even Jay Z is on record, stating that his “lyricism is incredible” often referring to him as a wizard , as if his rapping was so incredible that it seemed beyond the capabilities an ordinary human being. There is little irony in the fact that this is what Jay Electronica was going for, but once again how did he do it? How can someone with so little work, attain such a grand amount of respect? I think it all boils down to one simple phrase: word choice.

Not to simplify, but Jay Electronica knows the brilliance of the other word. This is a difficult thing to explain as word choice can be the bane of any new writer’s existence. When people are attempting to talk about a scholarly subject they want to sound smart, and to many, sounding smart means getting out their Synonym Finder and using any word that has more than three most syllables. When a writer does that, it gives off a feeling that they are just using “big words”. In this instance the phrase is a negative. This is because improperly applied “big words” stand out like zits an otherwise clear face. They end up not fitting within the rhythm of the sentences and they end of smacking of effort. Yet the writer is often baffled about the negative reaction they get. They will see scholarly journals or they read the New York Times and they see paragraph after paragraph of “big words”, but they still don’t see the difference between the professional works and their own. That of course is what keeps them in confined to an amateur status. It is the inability to realize that the ten dollar word is just a tool, yet it is one that Jay Electronica uses very well.

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In the song  FYI, Jay Electronica says “Quetzalcoatl supreme lettin’ off steam/ dimethyltryptamine make a man dream.” In this phrase syllabic weight is very heavy, but there is a rhythm to it; almost an polka-esque up and down pop that rides pleasantly around the brain. Were a less proficient rapper to make an attempt to rhyme the same words, there is a good chance that the overall phrase would come off as sluggish or even exhausting, but in the hands of a master craftsman the overall product is elevates. That being said, those are just the big words. In trying to emphasize word choice, it is even more apparent in the simpler phrases.

In one of his tracks on Victory Jay Electronica says “Down South they call me white man ‘cause I hang MC’s.” This phrase stands out because of the method he took to achieve his objective. The objective of this line is to brag. Jay Electronica is using one of the most traditional boasts in the hip-hop world. The boast, simply put, is I am a better rapper than you. The fun part comes in how creatively the MC is able to get that boast across. This gives the boast some additional weight because the MC will then prove their point within the statement itself. It’s all a series of Russian Dolls and it’s fascinating. What makes this phrase of a particular interest is the manner in which he chooses to do it. Right off the bat, the start of the phrase generates extreme puzzlement. Saying “Down South they call me white man” does not elicit anything positive from a hip-hop community stand point. There is the well documented history of racism and general racial tensions that have occurred for decades. This comes off like an instinctual detriment, and in just that half a moment the listener is confused, shocked, and curious all at the same time. The next part of the phrase answers the question immediately. ‘because I hang MC’s’ uses the thoughts of racial tension that the listener is already feeling to his advantage. Jay Electronica brings us back to the central point of the line. He brags that he is better than rappers, and the amazing part about it is that he brings us so far to one end of the spectrum and back again in such a brief amount of time that we cannot help but be swept away, because in a metaphorical sense, we kind of were.

Another example is in the song Anakin’s Prayer. Jay Electronica uses the phrase “My eyes are red like ketchup”. He could have said anything red, but he said ketchup. Despite the simplicity of it, this is an odd choice of word. It’s simple enough that it will pass under the radar but odd enough that will peak a person’s curiosity at least for a moment. These are not random moments. This is how he raps.

Word Choices is what gives power to Jay Electronica’s lyricism. He uses words and phrases that other people do not use in ways they would never think to. Once that power has been created, it sinks into the minds of rap fans who were thirsty or such a unique style of rhyming. That more than anything is why they cannot let him go. They are looking for the next fix, and they know that it could come from any of the songs on the tracklist Jay Electronica posted on twitter so very long ago.

 

– Cryston