Jay Electronica finally announced a timeline for his debut album, which has been years and years in the making. Below, we chart the journey to "A Written Testimony."
The New Orleans rapper, Jay Electronica, who dizzied fans with his storytelling abilities and feats of lyrical sorcery holds a unique distinction. In the same breath, Jay— real name Timothy Elpadaro Thedford— is both a storied veteran and an unproven rookie. Crash-landing into hip-hop’s wider consciousness 13 years ago with the Jon Brion inspired Act I: Eternal Sunshine: The Pledge, the former drifter turned five-percenter philosopher became the toast of the underground as his MySpace racked up hits in the millions.
Over time, Jay Elec would gradually transition from next-up to something more hypothetical. Granted the dubious title of "the best to never do it," Electronica is finally preparing his long-awaited debut album. Over a decade in the making, Elec wiped the slate clean on his Twitter earlier this month and proclaimed "album done." "Recorded over 40 days and 40 nights, starting from Dec 26," the clock may be ticking down towards Written Testimony’s purported release date, but fans remain cautiously optimistic. All told, this is a man that’s had a tendency to promise the world, only to routinely underdeliver.
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"Me and Mos [Def] have a project that we're doing," he told MTV back in 2010, at a time where the hype was at record levels. "I would like to do a project with Lupe, we're going to do a project at some point. Me and Nas have a project that we're doing." A decade later, each one of these collaborations have went unrealized. Yet when charting the agonizing road to his debut album, it’s important to remember that constructing the enigma that is Jay Electronica has been crucial in obtaining the audience’s undying interest.
"[He’s] a weird-looking cat," said the soon-to-be mother of his child Erykah Badu on a voicemail from The Pledge. "He looks like he’s an alien, but in a very beautiful way. Like some kind of mythical creature who would have a bow and arrow on his back and wings."
Humble in interviews but no stranger to on-wax profundities, Jay echoed these sentiments on "Exhibit C," detailing how a voice of an angel that’d told him he’d “be a great man.” Amid the divine intervention that accented his timeless, Just Blaze-produced hit, Jay went so far as to preface this culture of anticipation that’s become a defining characteristic of his career, spitting: "Nas hit me up on the phone, said "What you waitin' on?" Tip hit me up with a tweet, said, "What you waitin' on?" Diddy send a text every hour on the dot saying When you gon drop that verse? N****, you taking long."
Packing a mystique that few could emulate, Jay has been accustomed to playing things his way since his unsigned days. “Labels know that they have to deal with my terms,” he informed Spin in 2010. "I recognize that it’s a blessing. I’m not saying it in an arrogant way. It’s just, the rules do not apply." In November of that same history-making year, Electronica showed the first signs of conformity to the music business machine when he signed a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. During a signing party, Hov gave the sort of ringing endorsements that most MCs fantasize about.
Two days later, Jay-E and Jay-Z would team up for the first time on “Shiny Suit Theory.” Just as he’d done beforehand, Electronica’s verse alluded to a tenuous balancing act between keeping his integrity and wading into the industry’s tangled web. “Me and Puff, we was chilling in Miami. He said: N**a fuck the underground you need to win a Grammy for your mama and your family. They need to see you shined up. You built a mighty high ladder. Let me see you climb up. N***a what you scared of? Terrorize these artificial rap n****s and spread love.”
Marked out as an anomaly in the game, what we didn’t know was that his Roc Nation debut would become an elusive project of Detox proportions. Less than a year on from inking his deal, the NOLA expat made his first of many proclamations to the world about a release date. "Album soon come," he tweeted. "Ask Bun B, he heard the album in its entirety… I am grateful for your patience. I will not let any of you down. I promise." Yet as the year trickled away, we were left with only a thrilling team-up with Mobb Deep on “Call Of Duty” and a rough demo that typified his interstellar wordplay.
From there, Jay kept his head low until March of 2012. Delivered like a sermon on the mount, Elec declared, “dear Believers and Patient Supporters. Thank you for your patience and support. The Album will be turned in Tomorrow evening. The wait ends.” With no further news, one of Hov’s closest confidants in Young Guru satiated fears and reiterated that this gestating project would be "everything that you want. it will be that, and more." In July of that year, Electronica provided us with, to this day, one of the clearest indications of where his head was at in the form of a star-studded tracklist, dubbed Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), Electronica claimed that it actually formed the second part of a proposed trilogy.
“Every magic trick consists of three parts. The Pledge: where the magician shows you something ordinary; a bird, a deck of cards or a man. The Turn: Where the magician takes the ordinary something and does something #Extraordinary. The Third part is The Prestige.” In a case of history repeating itself, these bold statements of intent equated to very little. In the wake of Magna Carta Holy Grail dropping in 2013— not to mention an album from another little-known Roc protégé by the name of J. Cole—July saw Jay take to social media to play the role of unreliable narrator once again, tweeting, "Ok. now it’s my turn. Let’s Go."
A somewhat inconspicuous time-period that peaked with his Mac Miller collab on "Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes," 2013 was defined by the infamous “Control” debacle on which Kendrick Lamar upstaged both Big Sean and Jay Elec in dramatic fashion by taking hip-hop to task. As it turns out, the addition of K Dot’s incendiary verse caused a disruption as Electronica had planned to include a version with him and Sean on his album.
Three years on from its initial ‘completion’, 2014 became one of the more revelatory periods of Jay’s entire career. Harbouring a sense of otherworldliness, it was jarring to see Jay Electronica turn up on the Kanyetothe forum. In response to a fan that’d asked about the cryptic meaning of “July 12th” and whether it’d be his album release date, Jay Electronica clarified the situation. "No sir," he said in April, "but i promise you it’s coming this year and I'm about to heat the game up and charge the particles so high..."
Rewarding the faithful with news that he and Kanye had “spent about a week together in london during the WTT days,” everything seemed rosy within the house of Electronica. That was until he appeared at Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival that July and let it be known that he’d been tackling demons. “I backslid for a while,” he informed REVOLT. “Got into druggin’ and drinkin’ and smokin’, but now I’m back, reformed... I just wanted to come out today, clean, sober, and with my family, taking control of my life, taking control of the game.”
Launched via Nas’ Mass Appeal label, a trailer emerged that featured footage of Jay in far-flung locations and used the life of inventor Nikola Tesla to further depict him as a spectral being, stating: "This story is about a man whose powerful ideas live on, as much of his work is still classified and used in the most esoteric projects imaginable today. This mysterious, tall, dark mystic, who wrote and recited poetry and could speak six languages, yet he couldn’t help his idiosyncrasies…"
Despite this, and an interview with Hip-Hop Wired in which he claimed that he’d planned to "have impact with my presence alone," a body of work remained elusive. Although he’s now stated plainly that his album will emerge in 40 days, this isn’t even the first time that he’s used that timeframe to tease a release. After he’d implored fans to #gettidal in July 2016, a sardonic fan responded by saying, "I have 40 days left on my Tidal trial." In his retort Jay simply told him “well you’re safe.”
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Adamant that he doesn’t need to play by the rulebook, Roc Nation’s top brass have taken a non-interventionist approach to Jay Electronica’s delays. However, at an NBA All-Star Weekend event in Elec’s native NOLA, a video shows Hov slyly cajole his signee, pleading “Let’s go put the album out, let’s go.” Naturally, this sent the internet abuzz and in response, Electronica spoke to Complex and clarified where he was at. "It’s humbling that after all these years, anybody still has interest in what I’m doing. You can’t name another person that people have waited this long. As far as an album, I would like to put out an album myself. Nobody in the world wants a Jay Electronica album out more than I do," he declared.
But if we know anything about this bewildering MC, it’s that both deadlines and headlines are subject to change. Two days after this interview, Jay told Billboard that the very idea of being shackled to the industry’s traditional rollout process was insignificant to artistry. "An album is a false concept anyway. An album is something that was created by corporations as a product to make money. People have been making music, doing plays and telling stories around fires for trillions of years. I like albums but I’m not too really handcuffed to the concept of that."
Languishing in the musical equivalent of development hell, the past two years have seen him hint towards new music alongside Swizz Beats and The Alchemist, as well as alluding to a “possibly, likely” collab project with Hov. And if early reports are to be believed, what’s slated to arrive in March will heavily feature the Jigga Man. That said, if his previous comments about the interchangeable nature of creative focus are anything to go by, we may not be out of the woods yet.
"Things evolve," Jay asserted in 2017. "Over the trajectory of your life, say you start working on a design or working on something in January. By the time next January comes around, you be in another place. You may have to strike this. ‘Oh, I don’t like those patches on that thing…’ You can’t put a stopwatch on that."