Bumbershooting: Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica ::: photo by Josh Lovseth
There can be only one.
As far I’m concerned, there was only one MC that played Bumbershoot this year. He came, he saw and he conquered. When the bloodshed had ceased and the smoke had cleared, there was a single flag stuck in the ground in the middle of the battlefield. Waving in the wind, the coat of arms read Jay Electronica.
The first noticeable difference between Jay Electronica and other performers is that he let the anticipation of his first song build more than the rest. There was an almost a 3-minute window from when he took the stage to his introduction music to when he actually launched into a song. Most of those 180 seconds were spent hyping up the crowd and explaining who he was. I got a good sense that most of the audience was there on word of mouth and not established fandom. I want to say that Jay Electronica went right into “Victory Is In My Clutches” but I’m not certain. Whatever song it was, the crowd was jumping off. He already baited us with positive rapport, a hustler knows the deal is done long before the initial handshake. This transaction took place without most of the audience knowing who he was. Were any of you taking notes while this was taking place? You know I was.
This is the point of the review where I’m supposed to say that Jay Electronica tore through his set leaving no survivors in his wake. That didn’t happen. Jay would start one of his songs with his usual menacing wordplay and continue through the composition until it was about half way finished. It was then he’d tell his DJ to kill the music so he could go accapella. Ladies and gentlemen, do you know how difficult it is to recite rhymes of this caliber without music or any kind of back-beat to speak of? It’s not easy to get on-stage and perform, let alone do what this man was doing. He practically did it for every single song. At first, I thought it killed the momentum he created during his performance of the song. Then I had an epiphany and realized that Jay Electronica is showing out right now. He’s that 5-year-old precocious kid that knows he’s smarter than all the other kindergartners and he wants to take this opportunity to prove it. Whether it was his own original songs or tributes to other artists, Jay Electronica did it time and time again.
“Dimethyltriptamine” got a warm reception from the crowd for its subject matter. When you listen to the song it’s hard to believe that he wrote all those lyrics while under the influence of the songs’ title. The lyrics are heavy on conspiracy and political imagery with random themes thrown in there (Transformers, Lasik Eye Surgery and Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone”). Like much of Jay Electronica’s subject matter, it’s hard-hitting stuff. Songs like “Something to Hold Onto” and “The Levees Broke” are much more social in their commentary and observation but just as captivating, if not more so.
Jay Electronica also payed homage to the late, great “Mr. Everything” J. Dilla. Electronica’s DJ (whose name escapes me unfortunately) is a protege of J. Dilla and Electronica used a majority of J. Dilla’s beats during the earlier stages of his career. Jay Electronica is also a fan of another indie hip-hop legend MF Doom. During the set Electronica brought up a fan who was donning the MF Doom mask. He also brought up another 30 or so fans to join him on stage at one point during his set. They’ll be more on that later. Not limiting his praise to independant hip-hop legends, Jay Electronica also covered Nas’ “The World Is Yours.” Nas is a former tourmate of Jay Electronica and he also let Electronica guest produce the opening track off of his Untitled album.
There were two unique moments during the set that elicited a somewhat polarized response from the audience. I made brief mention of one of the two instances earlier when I said Jay Electronica invited a multitude of fans on-stage. The fans were allowed to dance and have fun as long as they kept an open path from the turntables to the front of the stage. Jay even passed the microphone to a young MC (literally, a child) and let him flow over one of his beats for a matter of minutes. I couldn’t catch the young man’s name or his Facebook address, he was so pumped on adrenaline that he crammed a few sentences into one long unidentifiable quote. You can’t blame him. It’s not easy getting on-stage, let alone free-styling in the middle of a supernova like Jay Electronica.
The other unique moment was not so celebratory. I can only describe it as a “loosening of the collar” moment. Sheesh, is it getting hot in here or is it just me? Between one of the songs Jay Electronica decided to initiate a dialogue between himself and the crowd. He asked the audience if women liked getting choked during sex. It was during this line of questioning I was envisioning my “Negro Escape Route.” Just like any obvious minority knows, if one of is guilty, then all of you are guilty. I took the question as lighthearted, tongue and cheek banter but I knew there were people in the audience that took the remarks as offensive. Seattle isn’t as laid back as it pretends to be, especially not at Bumbershoot. Jay Electronica doesn’t know about the extreme political correctness of the Pacific-Northwest. I’m not defending or condemning the remarks, I just think it would’ve been more appropriate to have that conversation at Neumo’s then at Bumbershoot. Then again, everything is more appropriate at Neumo’s than at Bumbershoot.
All in all, Jay Electronica was in my top three sets of Bumbershoot 2010. My only gripe with him is that I hate his name. It’s not a bad name, it’s just that the moniker doesn’t do him justice. Whenever you see the letter “J” or the word “Jay” and it the subject is hip-hop, I don’t need to remind you who owns those rights. “Electronica” is a type of music that doesn’t have anything to do with what Jay Electronica does. I seriously think the New Orleans native should heed my advice and use a Highlander reference for his name. Because when he drops the mic on the ground and walks out of view, you’ll be thinking what I’ve been saying all along. There is only one.
Jay Electronica ::: photo by Abbey Simmons
Jay Electronica ::: photo by Josh Lovseth