Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jay Electronica: Game Changer?

DISCLAIMER: Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is a bananas! For proof of how much I respect the artist and song check out it’s inclusion in my episode of “Cribs”:


“Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica hit the Hip-Hop game like an unexpected uppercut that stunned even the most astute fans of the genre. The beat was simultaneously hard and soulful, the lyrics were personal and technically proficient and there was not a hook or chorus anywhere within earshot....this was real Hip-Hop! What was even more surprising was that this five and a half minute Exhibit was not posted on a website or available only via download, but was receiving fairly regular airplay on the nation’s top commercial radio stations. The song stood in such stark contrast to what is typically played on the radio that listeners from coast to coast were immediately compelled to find out more about this somewhat enigmatic artist from New Orleans, leading to massive numbers of searches on youtube, google and itunes. While “Exhibit C” is undoubtedly an amazing song, it remains to be seen if it’s initial impact will last and it is somewhat arguable if it even deserves the accolades it has already received.

Jay Electronica’s “Exhibit C” is already being celebrated as one of the rare occasions when MC and Producer, Beats and Rhymes, Flow and Concept, Tone and Timing all merge to produce the elusive “Hip-Hop Classic.” However, while this type of relentless wordplay mixed with soul-baring biography is a far cry form the last Black Eyed Peas or Gucci Mane single, it is not completely without precedent in Hip-Hop.” Canibus’ “Poet Laureate II,” Joel Ortiz’s “125 (pts. 1-4),” The Game’s 100, 200 or 300 Bars, Ras Kass’ “Nature of the Threat,” and numerous others have utilized the same concept to similar artistic effect. Jay Electronica does differ from his predecessors in that most of these lengthy displays of skill were relegated to unreleased/mixtape status or buried so deep with album cuts that only true fans would ever get to hear them, they were not the singles that introduced them to the world. It remains to be seen if this trend will continue or if the novelty of listening to hundreds of bars of raw, uncut lyricism will be as quickly forgotten by the “106 & Park” crowd as the latest youtube dance sensation.

Also, most underground/backpack Hip-Hop fans were not nearly as impressed or shocked by Electronica’s display of skill as the rest of the world because they buy and listen to music where the emotion and lyricism contained on “Exhibit C” are commonplace. Unfortunately, most of these releases are available only online and the artists languish in obscurity while mindless MC’s that brag about being hustlers instead of rappers make millions upon millions of dollars. One can only hope that the sudden crossover appeal of a song like “Exhibit C” will help some of these artists and the independent Hip-Hop scene in general continue to expand it’s fanbase.

The beat by Just Blaze is impressive, but hardly groundbreaking. “Exhibit C” represents a bit of a return to the spotlight for the former “Roc-a-fella” producer, but the beat is not “Classic Just Blaze” by any stretch of the imagination. The warm soul sample, mixed with a hard baseline sounds more like early Kanye West or vintage 9th Wonder than any previous work by Just Blaze. Upon repeated listening it is hard to tell if this new sound represents the evolution of the producer to the next phase of his career or simply copying somebody else’s style to regain relevance in the extremely competitive Hip-Hop arena.

The final piece of criticism for the “Exhibit C” Movement is not an indictment of the MC or Producer, but rather of the fans that have embraced this song and already placed Jay Electronica in the Jay-Z, Nas, BIG, Tupac and Eminem category. One of the most commonly heard praises for Electronica is some variation of “that dude can rhyme for a southerner, I can’t believe he’s from New Orleans.” Hasn’t the South produced enough talented MC’s for us to move beyond lowering our standards for rappers born below the Mason Dixon line? Sure, Soulja Boy and OJ Da Juiceman leave something to be desired, but can a region that has produced Andre 3000, Lil’ Wayne (the mixtape Weezy, not the one supposedly making a rock album), Scarface, Little Brother, Ludacris and Goodie Mob really be considered at a disadvantage lyrically compared to the rest of the country? Jay Electronica is a good MC....period.

Further, what does it say about the state of our current media outlets that an intelligent, thoughtful, personal song that was skillfully crafted elicits the kind of shock and awe usually reserved for beef between A-List celebrities or the release of a sex tape? How bad is the the normal state of the radio we accept on a daily basis that a “good” song getting airplay becomes news for Hip-Hop outlets nationwide?

For all of the support “Exhibit C” has already received, if fans do not support (aka “BUY”) Jay Electronica’s album or future releases, the state of radio and video outlets will remain unchanged and as soon as the song runs it’s course your regularly scheduled programming of the New Boys, Lil’ Mama and Rick Ross will continue.

No comments: