After over a decade of waiting, anticipating, delaying, and praying, Jay Electronica has finally shared his debut album. A Written Testimony, while not Act II: Patents of Mobility (The Turn), has been a welcomed surprise. Featuring contributions from James Blake, Travis Scott, Khruangbin, The-Dream, and an unnamed co-star billing with Jay-Z (he’s on nearly every track), this album is the realization of a promise Jay Elect made all the way back in 2007. Production credits include Swizz Beatz, Hit-Boy, The Alchemist, No I.D., Young Guru, and AraabMuzik.
Last month (Feb. 7), the New Orleans rapper announced via Twitter that his next album would be out “in 40 days.” In typical fashion, the eStreets weren’t convinced that this would happen, but when other Roc Nation folks liked and retweeted his message, and cryptic images from studio sessions started hitting timelines, rap fans were overcome with joy on the auspice of a new Jay Electronica material. The 10-track prophecy-fulfilling effort has already been dissected by the online populace, but to see how far we’ve come, VIBE wants to take you all back to where we’ve been.
With that in mind, we present a timeline detailing how we got from Act I to A Written Testimony.
2007: Jay Electronica self-publishes Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) to his MySpace page as one 15-minute track. Sampling five different tracks of Jon Brion’s 2004 film score, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the mixtape marked the arrival of an exciting and experimental MC, while featuring spoken word appearances from Erykah Badu and Just Blaze.
2008: Showcasing his ability to appear anywhere, Jay Electronica and Just Blaze collaborated on a compilation album by Guitar Center employees, called Fresh Cuts Vol. 3. The first song on the 13-track effort was “Exhibit A,” which would go on to expound the mystifying nature of Electronica Allah. He also partnered with Decon to release the Jason Goldwatch-directed video for “Dear Moleskine,” which found the magical MC in Nepal and Dubai, delivering his tablets of truth to the people.
Later that year, Jay Electronica would pull double duty as a producer on Nasir Jones’ Untitled project (“Queens Get the Money”) and develop his status as a rap phenom. His FWMJ-collaborative effort, Scratches & Demos Vol. 1, featured production from Mr. Porter (“Hagler Demo”), 14 K.T. (“Swagger Jackson’s Revenge”), and remixed Danger Mouse’s “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul.”
2009: Hip-hop’s newest abbot was riding a wave of notoriety following the leaks of “Exhibit A” and “Annakin’s Prayer” when “Exhibit C” arrived on iTunes in December. Jay-E’s undeniable breakout single came two months after premiering on Tony Touch’s Sirius radio show, and came with a caveat that Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn) would drop on Christmas Day. Three days later, producer Just Blaze shut down the release date on Twitter. He would also celebrate the birth of his first child, Mars, with soul singer-songwriter Erykah Badu.
2010: The totems erected in Jay’s name were still raised high despite the Act II delay. Thankfully, the bars were still biblical, as the Electronadaman would connect with his fellow rap contemporaries on some memorable guest features. He would connect with his NOLA-brethren Curren$y, for “The Day” (off of Pilot Talk); Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) for their Simpatico collaborative single, “Holiday”; Ski Beatz and Damon Dash for “Prowler 2” off the former’s 24 Hour Karate School project, and The Game for “Higher,” which appeared on the West Coast rapper’s debut Aftermath project.
He would also let off loosies such as “A Million In The Morning” and “The Ghost of Christopher Wallace,” the latter via The Morning After with Angela Yee which featured Diddy. Produced by London beatsmith Quincey Tones (Young Jeezy, Royce da 5’9”), it created an in-demand response from two of the biggest rap stars in the game.
A bidding war for Jay Elect’s talents began between Diddy and JAY-Z, who both wanted hip-hop’s hottest name on their roster. The back-and-forth, rumors, and speculation came to an end when, on Nov. 12, Hov announced that Jay-E was the latest signee to his Roc Nation label. Days later, Jay Elec celebrated by dropping two new records: “The Announcement” and “Shiny Suit Theory,” which saw Barclays Jay deliver one of his most memorable guest verses.
2011: From the time Act I was announced, rap fans knew of Jay Electronica’s plan to release his projects as planned installments. So with the hype building around Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), all eyes were on Jay-E when he shared in a series of tweets that the project was finished and that artists such as Bun B, Erykah Badu, and Jay-Z had heard it. He also expressed his desire to share a song called “Road to Perdition,” which featured his Roc Nation boss, with the people. All of this did not come to pass.
2012: After that, rumors about Jay Electronica’s personal life began to take over as his musical output began to dry up. Supporter and friend Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson appeared on The Champs podcast to share that JAY-Z was in possession of a completed version of Act II, but that the LP lacked a proper first single. “He [Jay-Z] has the record and says it is his favorite record of 2012,” Questo shared. With no album, attention turned to his “controversial” relationship with billionaire banking heiress, Kate Rothschild, who was allegedly “obsessed” with the mysterious MC from the Magnolia Projects.
Music journalist dream hampton also said that Jay Electronica ghostwrote for Nas’ album Untitled, an assertion seconded by illustrator Frank William Miller Junior, a friend of Jay Elec’s who did the artwork for some of his music. Jay Electronica and Nas both denied the claims.
2013: While his appearance alongside Mac Miller for “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes” was appreciated by rap fans, “Control” was the shot heard all around the world. Unfortunately, it came from Kendrick Lamar, aimed at both Big Sean and Jay Electronica. While the song was originally slated for Sean’s Hall of Fame or the latter’s debut album, it was relegated to the shelves due to sample clearance issues. By the time “Control” impacted the game, everybody, their mama, and even Jay-E himself, had a response for the then-newly-crowned King Kendrick. From that point on, Elect had continued to recede further from public view.
2014: The New Orleans rapper surprised fans by dropping “Better in Tune with the Infinite,” which featured LaTonya Givens. He was prompted to release the song at the request of a fan on Twitter. “You know man, I’ve had such a beautiful time among the ppl at #SXSW that it is the least I can do. Thanks for the suggestion,” he wrote.
Jay Electronica also had one of the biggest moments of hip-hop that year: a performance at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, with surprise appearances by Talib Kweli, J. Cole, Mac Miller, and the GOAT himself Jay-Z, along with suited members of the Fruit of Islam standing by. In an interview after the show, Jay admits that substance abuse had played a role in his lack of musical output. “I got into drugging and drinking and smoking. But now I’m back reformed, all praises due to Allah,” he said. “I just wanted to come out today — clean, sober and with my family, taking control of my life and taking control of the game.” Minister Louis Farrakhan wrote a letter, praising Jay Elec for the show.
2015: By this time, people were only quoting Jay Elect’s line from “Exhibit C,” when a parody account called @FakeElectronica had reignited the buzz in the talented artist. Then, a KanyeToThe user posted two authentic-sounding Jay Electronica songs. “Real things” and “closer encounters” sounded official, but it had already been so long that people thought it was a fan creating soundalike verses. Meanwhile, the rapper was still appearing to be crunchy about the “Control” fiasco, lashing out at Kendrick’s fellow classmates, Drake and J. Cole, during a show in London.
2016: The year started off with Jay Electronica heavy in his features bag. From big co-star appearances alongside Chance the Rapper (“How Great”) and Emile Zandé (“Garden”) to paying tribute to Phife Dawg to dissing 50 Cent (“The Curse of Mayweather”), Jay Electronica was raising his profile once again. Jason Goldwatch, who directed the “Dear Moleskine” video, posted an Instagram photo of his friend with the caption, “1.7.17.” Fans immediately began to circle their calendars, hoping the cryptic message referenced the release date for Act II. Around that same time, Electhanukah (sic) was on Periscope (R.I.P.) driving around Miami when a fan asked him to play some Kendrick Lamar. “Fuck that,” Jay responded.
2017: Another year, another false start. While hosting a #TIDALXNOLA show in Electronica’s hometown of New Orleans during NBA All-Star Weekend, Jay-Z told his Roc Nation signee that it is time to release Act II. “Let’s go put this album out,” he said in front of a crowd of fans. A week later, Jay would kill all hope that Act II would see the light of day, telling Billboard, “An album is a false concept anyway. An album is something that was created by corporations as a product to make money.” Concluding that fans and listeners alike would hear the album “when it’s finished,” the six billion people on planet Earth would have to wait three more years for that to come to fruition.
2020: Following a decade of rumors, false starts, and missed release dates, Jay Elect took to Twitter to announce that he was finally ready to release his debut album. While unsure if A Written Testimony is not affiliated with Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn), JAY-Z, Young Guru, and Just Blaze both officially co-signed the mini-tweet storm, ensuring the public would have something in “40 days.” “Album done. Recorded over 40 days and 40 nights, starting from Dec. 26,” Jay-E wrote in his series of tweets. With the rap world watching closely, loose fragments of images and sounds were leaked and then, on Friday, March 13th, with the coronavirus plaguing the world and a tan-faced devil in the White House, the North Star of NOLA made his debut project readily available for listeners across Tidal, Apple Music, and Spotify.