Jay Electronica is an MC shrouded in as much mystery as his densely packed rhymes.
Raised in New Orleans, with stops in Detroit, Philadelphia and Brooklyn, which the rapper now calls home, the literary-leaning rapper arrived on the scene as a fully formed adult. His lyrics prove the point with references to everything from the JFK assassination (“My World (Nas Salute)”) to Kurt Vonnegut (“Exhibit A (Transformations)”). But with few details in terms of backstory beyond his hard-to-find rhymes, his narrative is being scripted in real time for the hip-hop community.
The start of that tale was officially birthed this year with Jay’s breakout hit, the Just Blaze-backed “Exhibit C.” With an elaborate rhyme pattern and illustrious production, Jay Elect announced his arrival with a boom bap harder than a DJ Premier drum snare.
“You either build or destroy, where you come from?” he spits over the sweeping number. “The Magnolia Projects in the 3rd Ward slum, hmm/ It’s quite amazing that you rhyme how you do/ And how you shine like you grew up in a shrine in Peru.”
The underground anthem resonated beyond the blogs, rattling mainstream radio to the point that DJ Enuff penned a blog on his site about wanting to play the record on New York’s Hot 97 in spite of the track’s ethereal backpack appeal. From then on, the MC — with his esoteric storytelling and heart-stinging lines — was hailed as the second coming of Nas.
Diddy co-signed his appeal by riding shotgun on Jay’s “The Ghost of Christopher Wallace.” And Electronica also joined forces with Talib Kweli, Mos Def and J.Cole for the thumping “Just Begun.”
While fellow 2010 breakouts like Wiz Khalifa may have a bigger online base, and 25-year-old J. Cole may have the benefit of even more years ahead to develop and build a career, it’s Jay Electronica who has the presence, sculpted pedigree and once-in-a-generation skill set to make an impact — right now.
That was never more evident then last month when the Erykah Badu-loving MC (he has a child with the singer) spurned offers from Diddy and several labels to ink a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation .
“It’s obvious that he really genuinely loves it and is a student of rap and the game,” Jay-Z told MTV News of his latest signee . “You can’t write those sort of songs or come to that sort of conclusion without having a deep love for what you’re doing and a deep understanding and a deep drive.”
The nomadic MC has now plugged himself into the matrix of the music industry, where expectations for him will be tracked by bottoms lines, SoundScan sheets and Grammy voters. The wild child has grown-man responsibilities to contend with when it comes to music.
The future remains uncertain, but the past 12 months have been nothing short of riveting and make Jay Electronica our 2010 Fire Starter of the Year.
For more on our Mixtape Daily year-end award winners, be sure to check out a special edition of “RapFix Live,” when this week’s guest will be Joe Budden. “RapFix Live” airs on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on MTV.com.
For other artists featured in Mixtape Daily, check out Mixtape Daily Headlines.