Releasing a record that has, technically speaking, been in the making for well over 10 years, comes with a huge degree of pressure. There was always a chance that whatever it was that Jay Electronica dropped next – whether it was this or Act II of the initially planned trilogy – there would be at least some disappointment among fans who had been waiting so (im)patiently for what, admittedly, feels like forever. Somewhat remarkably, I think A Written Testimony has lived up to the anticipation and been well worth the wait. Presumably, Electronica has years of material at his disposal, so it’s a real relief to experience a tight and cohesive package that does not suffer from a lengthy tracklist. Hip-hop so often falls for the bloated studio album. Thankfully, A Written Testimony steers well clear of that. This is a distinctive project that showcases exactly what Electronica is all about. With a little help from a friend, of course. Well, maybe a lot of help.
Roc-A-Fella boss and legendary rapper Jay-Z supports Electronica so much that it essentially feels like a double act. I’m surprised it wasn’t billed as the Jay-2 project. This isn’t so much a complaint as it is a curious observation, particularly as Jay-Z is on astonishing form here. They have serious chemistry too: the back and forth between the pair on early standout “The Blinding” is an utter joy to behold. The sensation isn’t that dissimilar to listening to Run the Jewels. Based on 2011’s Watch the Throne, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear Jay-Z play another supporting role again, but he really does seem in his element here. Perhaps it speaks volumes that I’d likely be disappointed if I wasn’t to hear Jay-Z feature on Electronica’s next record (due in 2034, I suppose). Regardless of the personnel, A Written Testimony is an excellent work. The sampling is seriously inventive and always a joy to behold, the production is consistently phenomenal, and the thoughtful lyrical content rewards further listens. Its the full-package, really, and I’m not sure what else you could ask for. It comes highly recommended.8 10
Favourite tracks // The Blinding
The Neverending Story
A fair few albums that come out after an extended period of faff wind up sounding like exhumed bodies, any semblance of life long, long since gone. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those times. Recorded in 40 days and 40 nights (and clocking in at a smooth 40 minutes), A Written Testament feels like a release of tension rather than the exhausted efforts of a spent artist. It’s really very good.
As is so often the case with contemporary hip hop, to get the most out of it one almost feels it necessary to brew a cup of coffee and start taking notes. From recordings of the Nation of Islam to Jay Electronica’s musings on the gravity of his pen, the album is thoughtful more often than it is captivating. The incessant use of a ‘cheering children’ sample wears a bit thin, but otherwise the record ticks along nicely, richly rewarding repeat listens. Most of the tracks feature Jay Z, who presumably got so sick of waiting for the album to happen that he decided to record the damn thing himself.
A lot of hip hop gets a bad rap in the press (no pun intended) but the genre has its finger on the pulse more than any other, and has for some time now. A Written Testimony is no classic, but it’s a quality contribution that deserves to share space with the likes of To Pimp and Butterfly, Channel Orange, and IGOR. A look forward to the 2067 sequel.7 10
Favourite tracks // Shiny Suit Theory
Fruits of the Spirit
A debut from Jay Electronica has been long anticipated, with previous release dates coming and going for ten years, many fans are no doubt full of expectation. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that A Written Testimony has been somewhat controversial.
At forty minutes, it’s a short and sweet hip-hop project with a healthy chunk of uncredited collaboration from Jay-Z. That means there are some excellent vocals to be found, though it’s the lyrics that have made up the majority of the controversy surrounding the album. With a heavily religious and political charge throughout, it’s unsurprising that much of the focus is here, but the instrumental work is the star of the show for me in a majority of tracks.
“Ghost of Soulja Slim”, with its John Williams sample, is a highlight of the album alongside “The Blinding”, which follows, featuring Travis Scott and a thumping beat that compliment each other. “Ezekiel’s Wheel” is a calmer moment on the album, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the slightly cascading, off-kilter instrumentals we’ve seen from JPEGMAFIA and soulfulness from Solange. As others have noted, however, the sample of the kids cheering is an odd addition that splodges itself across the album and within a few listens its obvious enough to be noticeable at best, and grating at worst.
Controversies aside, A Written Testimony is an album I’ve willingly returned to over and over. With a good variety of interesting instrumentals and some solid vocal performances, it’s captivating in its entirety and doesn’t hang around long enough to tire of it. The large input from Jay-Z is welcome despite calling into question whether this is more collaboration than solo project from Jay Electronica. Regardless, I think I’ll be returning to this moving forward, all while hoping we see more output before we reach the next decade!8 10
Favourite tracks // The Blinding
Ghost of Soulja Slim