By Staff Writer Seth Tamarkin.
“They call me Jay Electronica—f*** that / Call me Jay Elec-Hanukkah, Jay Elec-Yarmulke / Jay Elec-Ramadan, Muhammad as-sallam-alaikum / Rasoul Allah Subhananhu wa ta’ala through your monitor.”
With these mystifying lyrics, Jay Electronica’s song Exhibit C hit the rap scene in 2009 like a rain storm hitting the desert. While most rap at the time was adopting simple rhythms and themes to compete with Soulja Boy’s various hits, Jay Electronica emerged out of nowhere with a style that blended Jewish mysticism, Christianity, and especially Islamic scriptures with the rough New Orleans slang of artists like Lil Wayne to create a soundscape unheard of since.
To say his rise came “out of nowhere” is no joke; he first emerged in 2007 with a fifteen-minute long song that featured a loop of the film Eternal Sunshine and no drums.
Doing the intro to that song was none other than mega-producer Just Blaze and the legendary Erykah Badu, who Jay has a child with.
From there, his rise in hip-hop circles was meteoric, and he quickly signed to Jay-Z’s label, where he remains to this day. With such a resume, how is it that most have not heard of him? That is because, after all this hype and praise, Jay Electronica has still never put out an album.
Yes, he shows up on collaborations with all our generation’s biggest artists, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Chance the Rapper, you name it, but he still only drops about one song a year, if that.
With that said, that’s what makes his concert at The Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge so impressive.
Announcing the tour date only four days before the concert, Jay Elec amassed a full crowd of people into the small and intimate venue. Before he stepped on, the warm-up acts performed to a tepid crowd reaction. Compared to Jay Electronica, openers like Jojo Pellegrino and Emerson College group The Space Cade7s had no shot at stealing the show, but they performed their asses off regardless.
When Jay came on the stage, the crowd erupted, and never let up. Even though almost none of his songs have heavy bass, often they don’t even have drums, the crowd was still amped and reciting word-for-word as Jay rhymed. But what’s the point of preaching all this compassion and religious lyrics if you aren’t going to practice that?
Within two songs, Jay told the crowd that he wanted to join them, and for the rest of the concert that’s exactly what he did. He jumped off his stage and weaved around the floor, hugging, dapping up, and rapping in front of as many fans as he could.
The only song in his repertoire that has a truly party-like instrumental is ironically a remix to Soulja Boy’s hit ‘We Made It’.
During that song, the crowd got rowdy enough to the point that Jay nearly got engulfed in the sheer energy, quickly becoming hardly visible amongst the crowd going wild.
While many artists shout out Boston too, Jay Electronica took it a step further by relaying his admiration for the Boston rapper Guru, who to this day barely gets recognition from Boston despite being one of the greatest to ever do it. Throughout the show he talked about Guru in asides between the music and talked about his influence.
After the show though, Jay did something extremely rare in a concert. Declaring that “my security don’t want me doing this”, Jay invited literally every single fan backstage to chop it up with him. Passing around alcohol (“make sure everyone gets some”) as he sat on a red couch in the backroom, each person got to have a conversation with Jay Elec.
One person asked Jay, “Do bars still matter?” and his reply summed up what makes him such a unique figure in music. “Bars always have a place in music, as does every instrument. Separation is the devil”, Jay continued, “The way I look at Kodak Black is the same way I look at Rakim”.
Erik Andrade, an activist and UMass Dartmouth alumni, was at the show too, proclaiming that he came all the way from New Bedford just to see Jay Electronica because a performance from him was such a rare moment.
After experiencing his live show, it’s hard to argue how rare of a moment this truly was.