ACT II: ALBUM REVIEW
When 2020 brought us the first Jay Electronica album, A Written Testimony, the impossible suddenly became possible for a brief moment. After ten years of waiting, we finally received an album from the mysterious legend himself. Everything in hip-hop felt right, we had come full circle: the elusive Jay Electronica finally delivered. Just a few months later, Jay Electronica is back.
A few days ago, there was news on the internet of a leak of his long-awaited 2012 album, Act II: The Patents of Nobility. Once the leak got out, Electronica went ahead and released it officially through Tidal to get ahead of the leak. Act II: The Patents of Nobility is a beautiful and delicate project that feels completely out of touch with the moment. The entire album was recorded before 2012 and listening to it feels like being transported to a simpler time. Electronica has never been one for many pop culture references, so nothing feels out of place there, but what feels weird is the simplicity of the subject matter.
The simplicity of the music is both Act II’s greatest strength and weakness. Often, it comes off as an album of prayers led by our minister Jay Electronica, which works in its favor when he is making sense, but when he dips into conspiracy can feel overbearing.
Jay Electronica is not one for complex wordplay. What makes his lyrics so special is that they convey complex ideas using simple language. On the opening track, he describes the plight of our society, rapping “We won’t even speak to a stranger riding on the elevator / or step to the side when we’re standing still on the escalator.” It’s clear that Jay Electronica is constantly focused on the simple things in life. He sees the beauty in the things that other people ignore. That observational power is special and makes you feel like you are hearing directly from the mind of a different type of mind.
Act II: The Patents of Nobility is an album infused with religion, but not in the way of a Kanye West or a Chance the Rappe album. In Kanye and Chance’s music, God is mentioned and worshiped, but never explained. Jay Electronica is constantly quoting verses of scripture as he takes us on his journey to God. He constantly explains to us how he learned the power of God and what that power means to him. He describes himself on the song “Memories and Merlot” saying, “I’m not a rapper, I’m like the angel on the mountain top / The healing power of God is felt in every fountain drop.” It’s exceedingly clear that Jay Electronica sees it as his mission to educate all of us. He chooses to use his immense lyrical talent to spread the message that matters to him.
Act II is messy. It wasn’t quite ready for release 10 years ago and nothing about it has changed since. Songs like “Night of the Roundtable” sound incomplete, and many of the interludes are way too long or messily assembled, but ultimately that all adds the mystery. Listening to this album feels like finding a long lost relic, and the messiness only makes it feel more special.
Part of me kept wondering throughout the project, “how would this have been received 10 years ago?” Would this be a project that people look back on as a classic in the vein of a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or would this have gotten lost in the shuffle? We won’t ever know, which is why even with these two new albums, Jay Electronica’s career is still one big “what if?”
Act II: The Patents of Nobility is a truly moving project and songs like “Real Magic” and “Memories and Merlot” have transformational power. Hopefully, Jay Electronica can continue to push himself and push us towards a new vision of who he is as an artist.