Jay Electronica

By Luke FoxHe's the freshest signee to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label. He's buddies with P Diddy. He produces treacherous rap records for Nas, and holds his own on posse cuts with Mos Def. He's Erykah Badu's latest choice when it comes to Excellent Rap Artists to Spend Personal Time With. But in spite of all Jay Electronica's A-list connections, we used our scant five minutes of interview time to question the MC about why he's so important to rap: lyricism.

In your mind, what creates a superior lyricist?
I don't know. It's something I can't really put my finger on. Lyrics is a big part. Lyrics, delivery, cadence, what your goal is, what's your message, what you're giving off. But you can have all of those and still not be good. You can have all of those and still be wack. So, I don't know. Maybe you're just born with it or something. I don't know.

Have you ever surprised yourself with your own verse?
I wouldn't necessarily say I've surprised myself. I'm still waiting for a moment like that. I don't really remember shocking myself with something I did. But the verse I did on "Extra Extra" I like a lot. My favourite verse of my own is "Annakin's Prayer." It's a song that a lot of people might not be familiar with, but it's a little joint I did that I put on [the FWMJ mixtape] Scratches & Demos. That's one of my favourite joints. And the verse that I did on [the instrumental to] Gnarls Barkley's "Who's Gonna Save My Soul?" I did a verse on that one. Those are my favourite verses, at this point.

I'd like you to elaborate on a few of your lines for me: "I never got hated on directly to my face." How do people hate on you, then?
Behind my back. Hate, it comes back to you. Even if you're on your job or anywhere, something said behind your back will come back to you ― but it's never directly to you. I've never been hated on directly to my face.

And if someone did?
I don't know. I never did. I never did in my adult life. As kids, yeah.

"I'm trying to stop time so I can breathe." When do you find that time moves too fast for you?
At the point when I wrote that, there was a lot going on. I was living in Philly and going through a lot of shit. So it was based on that ― the camera and the shutter. It was a quick give-off, but that's how I was feeling at the time. Now I'm trying to breathe in what's going on. Since that time I've learned how to live at my own pace. I done got a little more comfortable with the breathing. Life breathing.

"Down South, they call me white man 'cause I hang MCs." What's your most memorable MC battle?
You know, I never really got into a lot of battling per se, the way people call a battle now: where it's a place a lot of people gather, two people battle, and then people are gonna judge. I come from an era where just standing at the bus stop might turn into a battle with you and this guy right here. You and this man, y'all goin' at it, and then y'all build up off each other. Just little open-mic things in Atlanta at a certain time in the late '90s, I used to hit little circles. But I was never on the battle circuit like that, never a battle MC that would show up at a circle of people.

When was the last time someone challenged you?
Oh, it's been a while. Oh, you know what? Maybe in 2008, this brother named Mazzi made a dis record [called "Lesson A"] ― there may have been some other artists mentioned [Note: Cool Kids were also mentioned] ― but I already paid him my mind at the time. I didn't really see it as him calling me out.

"You might find me in the Nine/ Where they don't mind dyin'." How much time now are you spending in New Orleans?
New Orleans now is almost like… Say if you were in your house, right? And you're living with your mom, your dad, your grandmother, whoever. And say one day there was a big fight with someone you love ― your grandma or your mom. You know how a couple days after that it just be quiet and weird ― New Orleans is like that. It's still New Orleans. I can look around and see familiar things, but a lot of people are gone. It's a weird feeling. I go home, my mom is still there, my sister, my grandmother, a lot of my immediate family is still there. So I go back. But it's different. It's still beautiful, it's still rich with culture, but there's only a little bit left of that. Makes the city feel weird.

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Article Published In Dec 10 Issue