Fire Starter: Jay Electronica
“All my dreams are coming true all across the board for some reason,” Jay Electronica said via phone from London. Jay — who’s on the other side of the pond headlining shows — just celebrated his daughter Mars’ first birthday (mom is Erykah Badu) and his hometown team the New Orleans Saints just won the Super Bowl. Plus his career is on the upswing; life is good.
Jay’s Just Blaze-produced “Exhibit C” is one of those special hip-hop records that you hear and instantly love. An independent release, it’s garnering heavy rotation on major radio stations like New York’s Hot 97, and in the streets and on the Internet the record has the buzz of a #1 single. Several MCs from Capone-N-Noreaga to Cassidy have freestyled over the track on mixtapes and Diddy, Mos Def, Nas, Q-Tip and Talib Kweli have been publicly co-signing Electronica. The record is definitely his breakthrough.
“We did that song in 15 minutes,” Jay boasted. The track came about when Jay and Just Blaze were scheduled to be on Angela Yee’s Sirius Satellite radio show and wanted to make a new record to play on the program.
“We never went on the show,” Jay explained. “We fell asleep in the studio. I forgot the song existed. I didn’t hear it again until I heard it on Tony Touch’s [satellite radio show]. I was mad. Even when he played it on the show, he said, ‘I’m gonna get in trouble for doing that.’ The next day [the song] was all over the Net and people were asking for the CD-quality version. It grew legs on its own. It’s amazing to see. It grew its own legs. To see it walk all the way to mainstream commercial radio is a helluva magic trick. It’s almost like it’s an entity of its own.”
Other than Electronica’s distinctive deep tone and conviction in his verse, it’s his inspiring story on the record that pulls the listener in. One of the topics he speaks on is overcoming homelessness.
“On the record I was talking about when I was homeless in New York,” he explained. “I’ve been homeless on a few occasions. That was the first time I was homeless in New York. The first time I was homeless was when I went to Atlanta. I was in a homeless shelter, then when I got a job I used to miss the curfew for the shelter. So I ended up sleeping outside in the streets.”
Jay moved from his native New Orleans to ATL in hopes of breaking into the music biz in the mid-’90s.
“Music in New Orleans was a local thing or regional at best,” he said. “No Limit had just started gaining ground, being recognized on a national level … actually, No Limit was shortly after that. I was also in a searching period in my life and one of my good friends had gotten killed. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m outta here.’ ”
Jay lived in New York briefly in 1999 before moving to Chicago, where he once again found himself literally out on the streets. But eventually the Big Apple would be the place Jay would plant his feet and establish himself musically.
“A lot of people would always say I’m delusional,” he said about his triumph. “I always felt like, ‘I’m gonna do it no matter what.’ There were times when my spirit would be broken a little bit but I still would be pushing forward. I had little jobs in between, but I was still pushing forward. Any time I got told no or ‘You’re getting too old,’ the record companies was telling me, ‘Blah, blah, blah,’ I guess stubbornness kept me going. But I always believed this my entire life — that I was destined to do something on a global scale.
“But I matured in it as I got older,” he explained. “At first it was because I wanted to be like LL. After a while, I started getting mission-orientated — once I took that mindset on I felt like, ‘I cannot not do it.’ ”
The first body of work Jay released that got him recognition in the industry was Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge). He rapped over music looped from the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“If ‘Exhibit C’ is Jesus, then Act I: Eternal Sunshine, (The Pledge) is John the Baptist,” he claimed.
Act II is coming “soon” with more production by Just Blaze. That too will be a free opus, with his official album Act III to follow. Nas makes a cameo on Act II while Jay’s gems “Exhibit A,” “Exhibit C” and “Moleskin” will be included on the latter. Just Blaze, J Dilla, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Mr. Porter and Jay himself will produce.
“I never got a moment where I feel I made it, victory, completion,” Jay says of his buzz. “I’ve had moments of excitement. I can’t believe people are responding like this. It’s an overwhelming thing — even though it’s something you planned for, it’s a surprise.”
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