From 2007 to 2009, mixtapes such as Style Wars and Attack of the Clones caused many to think Jay Electronica was hip hops next savior. As fans awaited his debut album, the New Orleans rapper slowly backed out of the limelight as he did everything in his power to avoid and delay the LP till nearly all hope was lost for it ever coming out. In March of this year, the 44-year-old rapper would be accompanied by the one and only Jay-Z in his return as they teamed up for his long-awaited major label release in A Written Testimony. This week, a leaked version of Electronica’s vaulted sequel to his classic 2007 EP, Act: 1 The Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), surfaced online and caused him to put out a definitive version exclusively on Tidal. Without Jay-Z on his shoulder, can Jay Electronica make a proper solo debut in Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn)?
Referencing BlackBerrys and Tumblr undoubtedly shows the records age, but it hardly draws away from Jay Electronica’s breathtaking performance. Instead, most of Jay’s writing issues come from listening to A Written Testimony as some of the ideas, rhyme schemes, and thinking pieces are recycled here. Glorifying this is one of the two songs that features Jay-Z, “Shiny Suit Theory”, which despite feeling better placed here, it’s an exact copy of the cut we heard on the album’s predecessor. While mentioning Jay-Z, his efforts on the otherwise stellar “Road to Perdition” are little to none as he repeats the same two phrases over and over again at random times during its nearly 4-minute length. Aside from this, Electronica’s bars tend to revolve around spirituality and skepticism. Whether its embracing nature and life on “Real Magic” or fighting the devil’s temptations on “Memories & Merlot”, nearly every bar will leave listeners with a different sense of wonder. With all of its knowledge, Act II still has loads of personality as Jay Electronica opens up about his most inner thoughts and stories. From the focused rag to riches tale on “Nights of the Roundtable” to the perseverant “Letter to Falon”, Jay’s storytelling is more illusive and vivid than ever. “Life on Mars” shows this on another level as he proficiently details a lone verse to capture his crumbling relationship, family issues, and future aspirations all in under two minutes. For every horrendous hook-like Serge Gainsbourg’s on “Bonnie and Clyde”, there is a track defining performance such as The Bullitts on “Run and Hide”, which makes Act II’s features a mixed bag. While Act II definitely suffers from lack of an overlying narrative, it is an excellent demonstration of the raw skill Jay Electronica possessed about a decade ago.
While feeling well put together as every song transitions seamlessly into one another, the many sonic failures show that Act II was rushed out to consumers. All over the record, the mixing is horrendous as Jay’s voice is not blended into the instrumentals. Whether its the “Aeroplane (Reprise)” sampled “Life on Mars” or the sappy “Night of the Roundtable”, Jay’s vocals sound like they are playing from a phone in the background half the time. While still enjoying the album, this major flaw makes it hard to relisten and admire critically. Placing speeches in between songs is something rappers have done for decades, and Act II is no exception to this. Ronald Reagan, Jay-Z, and a toy commercial from the 1980s are some of the monologues used and while most tend to ease the listener into Electronica’s epic tales, others seem unnecessary and solely there to be edgy. Looking at the actual instrumentals, there’s little to knock on them for, aside from the outdated sound cuts like “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Letter to Falon” embody. Some of the sonic highlights include: the percussion crazed “New Illuminati”, soul sampled “Memories & Merlot”, and the orchestrally conducted finale “10,000 Lotus Petals”. Despite having some major setbacks, the soundscape on Act II is dynamic enough to cover up most of its shortcomings.
In conclusion, Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn) may have its moments, but it fails to reach its 2007 predecessor and even A Written Testimony’s greatness. While Jay Electronica’s skills are possibly at the best we have ever seen, the senseless direction, poor mixing, and mediocre guest appearances cause this to be one of the most frustrating listens of the year. Adding a pretty solid beat selection to the mix, the LP only needs some quality of life improvements for it to be marginally better. Being recorded over a decade ago, this project shouldn’t be used to resemble Jay’s current approach but instead, show for the ground he has to make up. Now that Jay Electronica has released two albums within one year, his commitment to rapping finally seems there, which hopefully leads to him finding a more definitive and refined style for the future.
- Jay Electronica lyricism/songwriting at its peak
- Beat selection is nearly perfect
- No Narrative
- Recycled Themes from A Written Testimony
- Mediocre features
- Terrible mixing