So what really is the deal with Jay Electronica...? I mean, you get Nas, Just Blaze and Erykah Badu raving about him in the US media yet all we know about him's from his myspace page. He's risen to fame for spitting true, appealing to the as yet untapped stereotypical internet-user hip hop demographic while still delivering gangsta enough for a lot of the hardcore heads to keep boppin' to him. What’s more is he comes from the south yet sounds like he's straight out of NYC! Sefton "Big Pappa" Blake and Ruwan DMC went to Cargo in east London's Brick Lane to find out if he really is as sick as an increasing number of unsuspecting people are saying he is or if he should only ever be known and remembered for as the dude that had a chance with Erykah...
We got the word via Ruwan DMC's man on the inside at Cargo that things would be kicking off at 10pm sharpish which was cool as it meant that we had extra long for the standard pre-show rituals. We were literally a couple of seconds walk from Cargo, that close I swear I could throw a cricket ball from the flat lounge and land it in Cargo's beer garden. We rolled in fashionably late to find DJ Semtex on the pots and pans and a few peeps jumping up on stage spitting free's and writtens. All pretty mediocre shizzle until Semtex challenged Loudmouth, present amongst us for the show, to jump up on stage to do likewise. No one really thought he would as he seemed pretty stern in his reluctance despite numerous pleas and crowd shouts. "C'mon Loudmouth, get up here, I been bumpin' your records for time", said Semtex, "Yeah, not recently though!", came the reply. Eventually he bowed to our collective pressure and stepped up with a pretty sick 64 odd bars.
Jay Electronica finally hit the stage at about 10.15pm and dropped one of only two officially released tracks "Exhibit A". This went down proper well with the crowd despite stopping half way through yelling to DJ TJ to stop the track, "I gotta make sure y'all here this, so I'ma drop it acapella". Sincere, heartfelt and deep - the crowd was pumped!
It was wicked standing at the back of the room watching that first track unfold in front of us. It's an awesome venue, a couple of different areas and rooms, serving cans of San Miguel and Red Stripe and a wicked beer garden outside selling jerk chicken amongst other delicacies. Inside, the main room was pretty full at 200-300 people, with the bar and stage at opposite ends and a big projector pull down screen 'ting behind the decks covering part of the exposed red brick work that you can see on all the other walls. The big steel air vent tunnels run the length of the room on either side giving the place a real classic east london industrial warehouse feel whilst simultaneously providing us with some much needed air conditioning (Editor's Note: Welcome to the architectural buzz big pappa).
The second track to drop was "Dimethyltryptamine" off the Star Wars EP which again we were all proper feeling and once again he halted midway through and dropped the second part without music. Next up was "Renaissance Man" which he again stopped half way through and then "Dear Moleskine" which he didnt even start with music. We were swiftly getting treated to all his tracks and given that his discography is about the length of a midget's neck I thought I was going to be disappointed at having to pay the steep £25 ticket price for 6 or 7 tracks (with no music!). To fill the time Jay E started on a Fuck Sonar rant which has become de rigeur at all hip hop shows lately and the subject of many t-shit prints - Jay Electronica himself rocking a "FUCK SONAR" top for the occasion.
The guy then spat the Nas lyrics to "The World is Yours" - wtf dude!?!?!? I swear this boy must've confused Tuesday at Cargo for hip hop karaoke at The Social on Oxford Street the first Thursday of every month! I was fast thinking what a rip off and wishing I was back at Ruwan DMC's place with that cricket ball in my hand taking aim at the dude's head!
Anyway, after another rant, this time about September 11th, he did "The Pledge" but just before doing so he called the crowd up on stage, "I want you to feel what i'm feeling right now, fuck it, get up here!", everybody darted on the stage jostling for position and this was a unique way to check what sorts of people were in attendance. We know that due to his conscious lyrics and mysteriously cunning predominantly internet based marketing techniques he is appealing to a new audience, but that also due to his group of peers past and present (J-Dilla, Nas, Just Blaze) and his NY sound, he makes even seasoned stereotypical hip hop heads bop and indeed there were all these types up there on stage in full view. Each and every one of them I must add spitting effortlessly and intently along with him. This was crowd interaction at its very highest standard. The lone bouncer at the front of the stage didn't know what the to do...
Never before have we seen entire audiences getting invited up on stage, or actually have we ever seen them even allowed to get up there - so this was sick and every one up there was loving it big time - wicked shit to see. It got even more intimately interactive however when, leaving the masses on the stage behind him, he got right amongst it in the middle of the melee and dropped yet another acapella. It was phat seeing all these different types of people up on stage rhyming along to his lyrics - and I mean proper all-sorts - true looking heads, wannabe's, sexy ass hip hop honeyz, internet geeks with glasses thicker than the bottom of milk bottles - anyone and everyone!!!! With Jay Electronica right in the middle of the crowd was indeed how it finished and he stayed there amongst them for a good further half an hour just chatting with people, posing for photographs and signing the odd autograph.
So summing it up I think we have mixed reviews, I'm still not too sure what to make of it all. He was on stage for about 20-30 minutes tops which when you're paying £25 is cheeky. But the half an hour that he was on stage, I was feeling it, I have to say. Totally not what I expected, this is the only show I've ever been to where whoever we've been to see has done pretty much every track acapella and traded places with the audience. But I suppose we should have expected the unexpected, he is a completely different rapper and artist to all that have come before him in the genre.
Nevertheless, I was still a touch confused and bemused by it all, why drop every track acapella? This is a show, hype us up, get us pumped, I know it's a Tuesday but let's party! Walking home we were thinking - Is he simply so far up his own arse that it has become unrecognizable from his elbow or is he really that intent on getting his message across that he felt he just had to drop every track acapella...? Whatever way you choose to look at it, him spending more of the night amongst the fans than on the stage in front of them and with so many different types in attendance that were feeling him hard Jay Electronica has created a unique connection with his fans – and they have a extraordinary relationship with him.