“I’ve been afraid to release Act II because I feel like it’s not gonna be good enough. I know the people expect so much from me. — Jay Electronica on Aug. 9th, via Twitter for the iPad
Jay Electronica has no one to blame but himself. During his sold-out Key Club appearance last week, the post-backpack brigade weren’t there to see 34-year old Timothy Tedford, they were there for the myth. The voodoo man throwing chicken bones and feathers up. The mercurial and mysterious would-be savior of hip-hop — a throne he craved and claimed from the get-go, while surrounded by Erykah Badu, Just Blaze, Jon Brion, and the splintered remnants of Charlie Kauffman’s skull.
During a period in which the notion of media and blog saturation is a cliche in its own right, Jay Electronica took the opposite tack. While rappers drowned the market in mediocre mixtapes, he hewed to what he was raised on: quality control and intricate rhymes that demanded rewind (or at least ←). By now, most have forgotten how spotty his early releases were. It’s hard to reconcile the sub-Lodi Dodi “super MC rhyme slayer” of “I Feel Good,” with the virtuosity of “Exhibit C.” At his best, Electronica is a storyteller that sticks you in the middle of pouring rainstorms. You feel his hunger and desire to get a slice of pizza. His conversion to Islam is re-imagined as the awakening of a prophet. He shines like he “grew up in a shrine in Peru,” but grew up in the Magnolia slums. He’s a binary for those who still believe in such delusions.
He won over his core audience (those who grew up in the 90s and those that wish they did) by preaching to the choir. Embedded in nearly every song are a few bars about the staleness of contemporary hip-hop and how he will bring The Change. Abracadabra. But what separated him from the rest of the lyrical/spiritual types was his sharp eye and canny ability to conceive himself as an enigma, but a humanistic one. He’s the train-riding scofflaw grown up to discover that fame wasn’t a foregone conclusion. He suffered like a Buddha. He name-drops “yarmulke” to signify his inclusiveness. When you try to be everything to everyone, you usually fail. Electronica was the rare rapper that everyone could agree on. He flies the banner of the South, works with Puff Daddy and Dame Dash, and impregnated Erykah Badu. That’s a winning resume.
The ? Remainz
But sometime during the last six months, Electronica’s promise began to feel unfulfilled. He guaranteed Act II last Christmas. We’re currently a month away from hearing Christmas carols on the radio. The momentum he’d built throughout 2008 and the first half of 2009 ground to a halt. The creative slowdown wouldn’t have mattered had he carried himself differently. When you claim to be the messiah, people expect miracles not Twitter accounts dedicated to Middle East trips and Marilyn Flowers quotes. He couldn’t even finish the “Dear Moleskin” video. While his 2010 output has amounted to one great verse on the Curren$y record, one good one on Reflection Eternal, a mediocre 16 on a mediocre Game mixtape, and a collaboration with Puff Daddy so self-indulgent that it sounded like it was recorded after a night of drinking Cirroc and hiring $1,000 an-hour porn stars to use a unicorn for a stripper’s pole. Which probably happened.
When he stepped into the Key Club, Elecronica was greeted by an audience that would’ve accepted anything. To both their credit and detriment, the Okayplayer orgy will generally support an artist in spite of his occasional failings. Provided you don’t make a “Lollipop” or work with Waka Flocka, you’re guaranteed a lifetime pass. This is how I rationalize the enduring semi-popularity of Kidz in the Hall and Torae. So no matter what Electronica did, he received uncritical adoration. From stepping on the stage swilling Henny and pair of Abercrombie-looking cargo shorts, to performing only six or seven songs, most of them acapella, Electronica seemed hell-bent on shattering the myth. In front of us was not one of the brightest talents to emerge in recent memory, but an uninspired and insecure guy who never made it until he was 32, because he lacked the minerals.
For all the swag-bashing that marks the elephant graveyard underground, there’s merit to a confident performer. One of the reason why indie rock shows are so tepid is because all too often, the gaunt frontmen look like they stepped out of a lightless coma induced by an overdose of vegan weed twinkies. Sporting the Silverlake uni of a red lumberjack flannel, Electronica seemed overwhelmed. He played a minute-long snippet of a new song, but refused to perform it, begging the crowd: “please don’t boo me. I’m really sensitive about new shit that hasn’t been heard.” The song was good, but redundant. Damningly, it seemed to signify what happens when modest fame strikes and you aren’t prepared. It apparently reduces you to writing lyrics about chilling in Miami with Puff Daddy, who tells you to fuck the underground and win a Grammy for “you and your family.”
I’m Not Here
Sustaining a cult requires sleight of hand, but Electronica’s only intent was to patronize. Instead of smoke and mirrors, he squinted in the sickly light and started “I Wanna Fuck Right Now” chants. Separately, he asked how many J Dilla and Nas fans were in the house, which is like going to a Tea Party Rally and asking how many people like Ronald Reagan and anti-sodomy interdictions. He held fingers in the air for Biggie, 2Pac, and Guru. He considered the age-old question of whether ladies or fellas ran this motherfucker. He defended “real hip-hop,” then in the next breath asked how many people were on Facebook. It was like meeting one of your childhood heroes and discovering that they spend all their time indoors eating rock candy, reading Twilight, and surfing Internet message boards.
Jay Electronica was the worst thing a rapper can be: corny. And to add a tin foil corona, he started spouting 9/11 conspiracy theories and accusing George Bush of conspiring to blow up the levees. I’m not one to defend our ex-pretzel choking potentate, but the notion of him engaging in a byzantine and undetected plot to blow up an array of national landmarks is the sort of lazy conspiracy mongering that belongs alongside the reptilian fantasies of David Icke and L. Ron Hubbard fetishists.
Oh, and by the way, he claimed that Act II is coming on on Sunday, so set your sun dial. I’m still anxious to hear it, even though his delays and false promises have created a level of expectations that will it make it an inevitable disappointment. I’m just hoping that the next time he rolls through Los Angeles, he can at least invest in a smoke machine and stock up on self-help tapes from Senator Stuart Smalley. Jay Electronica is good enough. I think.–Weiss