Dome of the Roc Nation
A Written Testimony is Jay Electronica's debut album. I'll say it again, A Written Testimony is *somehow* Jay Electronica's debut album. For an artist that blasted themselves into the public eye in the late 2000s, it's surreal to realise that this latest project from the Louisiana rapper is the first time the artist has ever released an album, but I am glad to say that it was entirely worth the wait.
JE's newest LP is a hard-hitting fusion of relentless lyrical barrages and fat backbeats, all produced by Electronica himself. Heavily featuring long-time collaborator Jay-Z on a great deal of the tracks, this album goes beyond J Dilla-esque beats and face-crumpling bars and into a Roc Nation tour de force. This album is exceptional rap, start to finish, and featuring contributions from Travis Scott and The-Dream, this full length feature is a must listen for rap fans in 2020.
Focusing particularly on JE's religious affiliations with the Nation of Islam, A Written Testimony lights its fuse with an excerpt of a sermon from the religious group's leader Louis Farrakhan. Though the album has received some (perhaps deserved) criticism from its prominent inclusion of the controversial Farrakhan, the religious aspect of the album's lyricism proves a bountiful gold mine, particularly evident as 'Ghost Of Soulja Slim' crashes in with J-E delivering
"If it came from me and Hove, consider it Qu'ran
If it come from any of those, consider it Haram.
The minaret that Jigga built me on the Dome of the Roc
Was crafted so beautifully consider this Adhan"
Jesus. Islamic x Roc Nation wordplay was not what I expected to be blasting out of my speakers during this ever-increasing curveball of a year, but in truth there are very few verses I have heard that begin as electrifyingly (ed: haha) as that. Though Hove's contributions to this record are routinely outstanding, the main artist never falls short, delivering hyper-intelligent bars time and time again on top of his wonderful beat-smithing. A reference to the 'Synagogue of Satan' doesn't really sit well for me, personally, and I understand the criticism of potential anti-semitism both from a line like this and the feature of Farrakhan earlier in the album but with that potential controversy removed this is an outstanding opening to a true revivalist East Coast 1990's hip-hop album.
An atrociously gargantuan beat follows with 'The Blinding', featuring brief hyper-processed moments from Travis Scott, and the outstanding opening to this album continues through 'The Neverending Story' and 'Shiny Suit Theory', the second of which featuring a refrain from Roc Nation's The-Dream. This 5th track is one of many moments on the album that enjoys a sonic similarity to the classic works of Dilla and Madlib - and wouldn't have sounded entirely out of place on the 2004 masterpiece Madvillainy. JE's rhymes are relentless and packed together with frightening efficiency, but one of the main take-aways from this excellent project is just how good Jay-Z is.
Three years on from 4:44, Jay-Z is still demonstrating why his name must be at the very top of any considerations of rap's greatest of all time. Spin 'Flux Capacitor' from this record for a clear display of Hove's talent, ageing like an Italian cheese in a bank vault. This takes nothing away from Jay Electronica's unbelievable creativity from is role as producer. Each song features a masterful production from differing hip-hop styles and approaches, but the artist loses no ground as a rapper himself. This is an all-round, 1996 Paul Scholes display of total creative versatility in every possible way.
The-Dream returns on penultimate track 'Ezekiel's Wheel', but this is probably the clearest disappointment of the album. The tune is long, slow and uninteresting. A super-sparse, near 7 minute long track towards the back end of an LP can work, but this song feels as though it has suffered as a result of not committing to either side of rap/ambience - straddling between the two of them while doing little to justify itself. The album would've been improved by it's omission, I think.
Luckily closer 'A.P.I.D.T.A.' commits closer to a softer R&B approach, and stands out as a much stronger moment on the album when compared to the long tune that precedes it. Hearing Jay and Jay combining behind lyrics as open as
"I got numbers in my phone that'll never ring again
Cause Allah done sent them home"
and openly eulogising the death of his mother, JE's description of
"The day my mama died I scrolled her texts all day long
The physical returns but the connection still stays strong"
offers a welcome sensitivity from the rapper. The religious ponderings of A Written Testimony never felt as necessary as they do on this final track, but the album's lyrical devotions to the words of Allah and the late honourable Elijah Muhammad always feel utterly, fist-formingly powerful
'Ezekiel's Wheel' removed, the heavy samples and impressive lyrical craft of A Written Testimony renders it as easily the best rap record of 2020 so far. Listen to it now for a flashback of classic flows and rough head-bobbing beats.
- 8.5 -
'Ghost Of Soulja Slim', 'Shiny Suit Theory', 'Flux Capacitor'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.
Subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a post is published on the site.