The views expressed inside this editorial aren’t necessarily the views of AllHipHop.com or its employees.
Up in them
five-star tellies, saying two-mic rhymes/
Be them average
MCs of the times/
We craft gems/
De La Soul ft.
MF Doom, Rock Co. Kane Flow, The Grind
Call him Jay Electronica or Jay
Elec-Hannukah or Jay Elec- Yarmulke. By mid last month, though, most came to
know him as the man who could turn on its head the dynamics of commercial,
for-profit radio, and forever change the way fans listened to Hip-Hop. With one
song: Exhibit C.
The hard-hitting, 5-minute cut, recorded
in July 09, set ablaze the internet, surrendering bloggers and fans alike at
the mercy of one of Hip-Hops most prolific wordsmiths. Upon hearing it, many popular
bloggers were convinced no one else could do the instrumentalwhich was
released via iTunesjustice. Better left untouched. They complained the
impeccable cadence of Jay Electronicas 3 verses, rendered hookless, was
matchless and peerless, and any MC or rapper who attempted a remix or freestyle
would be playing a dangerous game with their careers. Of course Hip-Hop artists
are hard-headed by nature, so a few still felt the need to take the beat and do
something with itin spite of, and perhaps because of, the bloggers warnings.
Artists like Jasiri X, Hasan Salaam, and
Joell Ortiz were among first responders; some with considerable success, others
far from the cut-off grade. But none attained the level of perfection Jay
Electronica maintained from start to finish as he transcended rhythms and
realms in what is sure to become his signature song.
Jasiri X rightly described
it as bar after bar of consciousness, something that is sorely missing in
todays rap landscape. Indeed. More than that, it ran laps across fields of
the autobiographical (When I was
sleeping on the train/ Sleeping on Meserole Ave out in the rain/ Without even a
single slice of pizza to my name/ Too proud to beg for change, mastering the
pain/), the philosophical (Fighting,
shootin’ dice, smoking weed on the corner/ Tryna find the meaning of life in a
Corona/ Till the Five Percenters rolled up on a ni**a and informed him/ You
either build or destroy, where you come from?/), the historical (That Reverend Run rockin Addidas out on
Hollis Ave/ That F.O.I., Marcus Garvey, Nikki Tesla/), the spiritual (Question 14, Muslim lesson 2: Dip diver,
civilize a 85er/ I make the devil hit his knees and say the Our Father/),
and the phenomenological (I’m bringing
ancient mathematics back to modern man/ My momma told me, never throw a stone
and hide your hand/). It also brought much to bear on the geographical (Shout out to Baltimore, Baton Rouge, my
crew in Richmond/ While y’all debated who the truth was like Jews and
Christians/ I was on Cecil B, Broad Street, Master, North Philly, South Philly,
23rd, Tasker/ 6 Mile, 7 Mile, Hartwell, Gratiot/) and the anthropological
(Where ni**as really would pack a U-Haul
truck up/ Put the high beams on/ Drive up on the curb at a barbecue and hop up
out the back like, Whats up/ Kill a ni**a, rob a ni**a, take a ni**a, buss
Put it simply, more than a song, Exhibit
C is a monograph.
In recent times, I can think only of one
other such project it stands in the shadow ofCanibus Poet Laureate II, off
his 2003 album, Rip the Jacker. In
terms of delivery, passion, and vocal stamina, both Jay Electronica and Canibus
square of as equals. Poet, it seems, is simply a longer and more expansive
version of Exhibit. But theres another noticeable difference between the two
songs. When Rip the Jacker was
released, reviewers favored it Canibus best work to date. Poet received even
greater acclaim. To date, I consider it the best literary work in the Hip-Hop
canon. But no mainstream or commercial DJ even thought once about playing it on
radio, let alone promoting it for its ingenuity. It was assumed the listening
public could never follow a 7-minute, hookless song without being bored or
intellectually fatigued. It still remains the best kept secret amongst
underground Hip-Hop fans; but millions, who could have been exposed to what
lyrical virtuosity really sounds
like, were denied the opportunity.
6 years later, however, much has
changed. Jay Electronica raps on Exhibit C:
That’s why when
you talk that tough talk I never feel ya/
You sound real
good and you play the part well/
But the energy
you giving off is so unfamiliar/
I don’t feel ya/
And Just Blaze provides amplifying
echoWe need something realer!
The last 6 years have been brutal for
fans raised on commercial radio. Like drones, program directors at these
stations only relied on a few 5-10 (similar) songs, circulated ad nauseam,
almost to the point of nausea. And, of course, consequently, ratings took a
sharp hit. Many listeners stopped listening in and started turning more to
satellite radio and internet radio, where greater creativity and complexity was
welcomed and entertained.
For this reason, DJ Enuff, of Hot 97,
announcing his decision to crown Exhibit C the Heavy Hitter pick of the week,
didnt come off erratic or shocking or even mind-blowing to some of us. Before
making up his mind, Enuff expressed, openly, on
his blog, some of the disappointment he felt in seeing a song so good not
being appreciated on mainstream radioparticularly on the station at which he
works. I think its lyrical and the production is solid, he wrote. Reminds
me of some early Nas stuff. And then a series of crucial questions: Why is it
not spinning on the radio? At least during my time slot? Is it because theres
no dance tied to it? Is it because its not yet on BETs Top Ten Countdown?
Does it have to be a Club Banger? In a stunning condemnation of the
sensibility with which stations like his have operated for the last few years,
he writes: The radio isnt a club. Another question: So why not Good solid
Hip Hop? Then, Enuff betrays the powerlessness of many commercial radio
personalitiesa theme Ive explored countless times in months past: I have it
on my website. I battle myself all the time when it comes to the radio. The job
I love so much. I could make it the Heavy Hitter Pick of the week with no problem.
Most of us dont have the moral luxury a DJ of his caliber can
spin around seamlessly. If we feel something is right, and we happen to be
placed in a position to make right happen, only God and Lucifer should be
capable of stopping us from doing it. Not investors. Not program directors. Not
Attorneys. Not P.R. personnel. Not label executives. Not nobody. No mortal
should posses such power over our souls as to make us complicit in the
perpetuation of evil on earth. Thus, if a truly conscionable DJ hears a song
like Exhibit C, and seeks to find a flaw preventing it from mainstream
circulation, and is unable to find one, there should be no inner-battle that
puts at odd the flesh from the spirit.
To Enuffs credit, he ended up making
good on his promise. But, then, it evokes the decade-old Chris Rock routine of
Black folks (or ni**as as he put it) demanding credit for jobs already
expected of themfathering babies, providing for families, not shooting up
movie theater screens, etc. Im not sure one who depends on the patronage of
everyday Hip-Hop fans to remain successful should be commended for simply
satisfying their requests. And, in a hubris-laden post, Jay
Electronica Wins the heart of a Super Star DJ, Enuff validated my qualms en masse. But thats what happens when a
dominant demographic has been so dumbed-down, and stripped of all sense of
agency and autonomy, to the point of dependence on those who serve them.
Exhibit C, by the way, made #10 on iTunes a couple of weeks back.
Now, many mainstream DJs across the
country are following suit, giving the song the second or first chance it never
had. Even Diddy, who is hardly the back-pack aficionado (though I should add a
personal friend of Jay Electronica), provided full support for the record last
week, writing, It deserves to be play[ed] on the radio!
Im suggesting here that more than cult
worship of personality, we come to terms with what this moment representsin
short, why Exhibit C counts. In fact, its not even about Jay Electronica
anymoreits about a sea-change, a dynamic realignment, a revolution of values. It bespeaks the power of the people when
activated. When popular DJs like Enuff weighed, publicly, their internal
battles, an overwhelming outpouring of support for Exhibit C showered down. Point
made: The era of genetically-modified Hip-Hop is over. The endnear.
Fans have their minds made up.
The tasteless, unnatural, artificially-flavored
sound that dominated mainstream Hip-Hop for a full decade is being rejected by
fans and even artists worldwide. This is a crucial moment which must be seized
A week ago, I predicted
a maturity amongst artists in the coming decade, and with the response to
Jay Electronicas offering, all indicators suggest, as Talib Kweli might put
it, the era of the bullsh** MC is over. Meaning, artists are tightening their
belts and reducing distractions, in preparation for the great awakening about
to take place.
Fans also sense their responsibilityto
keep pressure on always, to never relent in challenging their artists into
maturing and excelling.
The ripple-effect on radio cant be
overlooked. Stations are shutting down, DJs are feeling anxious of the future. And
this might be their last opportunity to represent the Hip-Hop they grew up
listening, but appear uninterested in introducing the young generation, to.
This might be their last opportunity to live up to the militant mottos branding
their stationsWhere Hip-Hop Lives, #1 destination for Hip-Hop, etc.
Of all, however, the most critical
feature Exhibit C reveals might be a theme about which I never tire writingthe
end of major labels; or, least still, the reduced significance (if not entire
valuelessness) of major labels in making hardworking Hip-Hop artists successful.
Speaking December 22, 2009, on SIRIUS Satellite Radios Toca Tuesdays, hosted
by the legendary DJ Tony Touch, Jay Electronica, who to my knowledge is signed
to Erykah Badus Control Freaq Records, explained
the revelation his newfound success has brought him: I had such an
experience trying to get into the industry, in terms of a getting a major deal,
where, now, [Ive] had a chance to see the process, [and Ive found out] its
no longer necessary. [In addition], a lot of times, majorsnot to take shots
at nobodydont really seem to know whats going on. Not even Tolstoys tongue
could have uttered more poetic words to my ears.
Its about time artists start gripping
hold of reality and understand what the future presents in terms of
independence. Can anyone confidently argue that if Exhibit C was dropped on
the desks of anyand I mean any (!)marketing executive at anyand I mean any
(!)of the big 4, they would do more than fling it back at the A & R and
curse him or her for wasting precious time on a niche-driven record with no crossover appeal?
Memorandum to artists in 2010: Always
trust your instincts. The bosses dont alwaysand, in fact, most always
dontknow right from wrong. Ralph Waldo Emerson was more poetic: Those who
are esteemed umpires of taste, are often persons who have acquired some
knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for
whatever is elegant. [But their] knowledge of the fine arts is some study of
rules and particulars, or some limited judgment of color or form which is
exercised for amusement or for show.
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic whose work regularly appears on TheDailyVoice.com and
other online journals. He can be reached at: Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.