LEGEND HAS IT that an ancient figure — one signifying patience and time-defying skill — inlays a secretive, candlelit corridor within the crypts of Giza’s pyramids. Carved beside this mystical figure, hip-hop deity and mythological rapper Jay Electronica.
Born Timothy Elpadaro Thedford in the crime-ridden Magnolia Projects of New Orleans, Electronica first sparked the interest of rap fans in 2007 when his sole official project, the 15 minute Act I: The Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), surfaced on Myspace. Wildly innovative in its drum-less approach, the sample and string-laden piece of continuous music cemented the emcee as the rapper to watch, if only because he was so much more than just a rapper.
A storm struck hip-hop in 2009, the year that preceded Electronica’s signing with Jay Z’s Roc Nation record label and the year of exhibition. A pair of Just Blaze-produced singles, “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C,” was released to an adoring audience. The latter soared to the Top 10 on the iTunes Hip-Hop charts, a formidable feat for a song of such substance that failed to conform to any and all trends in popular song structure.
I remember eating lunch on my high school’s mezzanine, overlooking the cafeteria below when I first heard “Exhibit C.” I sat in shock, certain that I had just heard rap’s second coming of a true legend — the new millennium’s answer to the Nases and Jay Zs of the ‘90s. His cadence and depth attached weight to every syllable of every word, as if you should be thanking him for releasing a song to purchase and not the other way around. Jay Electronica possessed within an innate power of voice not seen prior to his arrival.
Under Jay Z’s guiding wing, Electronica appeared destined to one day claim his rightful place as the ruler of hip-hop’s kingdom. I can recall searching, desperately, for any news of the cryptic artist’s debut album. Nothing. But I thought little of the inconvenience; the single had just dropped that day.
Now, five years later, that album has yet to see the light of day. Promises, official and unofficial songs, and a track list shared by Electronica himself over two years ago all failed to bring a proper full-length to the ears of hundreds of thousands of fans. Soon, any prospect of Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn)’s release merely spurred chuckles or a hung head amongst rap circles.
However, the fire that so evidently burns within Electronica — the fire that fuels his majestic pen and magical mind — burns, too, within his supporters, who he refers to as family. The past two weeks have seen the release of two brand new, high-profile songs: “better in tune with the infinite” featuring LaTonya Givens and a remix of Drake and Soulja Boy’s “We Made It” featuring Jay Z himself. Both records are superb. The latter’s string and piano arrangements back a philosophical artist on the brink of return, and the former’s bounce sees Jay Z at his most impressive in recent memory.
In the time since their release, Electronica’s songs have together garnered more than one million views and streams. Online publications and flocks of fans have frantically jumped to cover the grand unveilings of these tracks, which have transformed into full-fledged musical events in and of themselves. The site that initially posted “We Made It” took the track offline, ominously signaling yet another period of dwindling hope and anticipation. But the New Orleans native continues to embody a similarly dwindling pillar of humanity: patience.
Jay Electronica, perhaps forever shrouded by the unknown, by hypotheticals concerning what could have been, is a living symbol against instant gratification, and perhaps the best rapper alive — time traveler or not.