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While trying to finesse my way into the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival in time for Jay Electronica's set, I noticed a crowd of men in dark suits and bow ties rushing the entrance like soldiers. A slim Electronica, with a mouth full of gold and dressed in a Fruit of Islam uniform, flanked on each side by F.O.I. members, made his way to his trailer as if he were indeed the “Farrakhan of Rap.”
Five minutes earlier, I had arrived at the media gate to meet up with my co-worker and friend, Insanul Ahmed—who had traveled from the Bronx while partaking in Ramadan because he had never seen Jay Elect live. When we spotted the elusive rapper in the middle of the pack, we latched onto his entourage and made our way backstage unbothered. Photographers and basically anyone with a camera surrounded him like a cackle of hyenas.
The events that were unfolding proved that Electronica is truly someone special. It looked like an old photo of Ali walking through the streets of Harlem. Just based on the way he entered the venue we knew people were going to talk about this day for years to come.
A slim Electronica, with gold fronts in his mouth and dressed in a Fruit of Islam uniform, flanked on each side by F.O.I. members made his way to his trailer as if he were indeed the “Farrakhan of Rap.”
While we played the cut witnessing the hoopla, we noticed Mac Miller, Sadat X, Skyzoo, Torae, and Talib Kweli as the DJ warmed up the crowd with various records from the Styles Wars EP and the Scratches & Demo Tape. Then another frenzy began; this time with the F.O.I. flanking none other than Jay Z. They treated him like he was Barack Obama, creating a path for him to dap Jay Elect. The cackle converges again around the two kings.
With the intro to L.E.P. Bogus Boys’ “Going In For The Kill” blaring through the speakers, the Fruit of Islam started the show with a military drill, a subtle shot at Peter Rosenberg and an ode to Chuck Dangerous and the S1-W. Elect appeared and started performing “Exhibit A,” another Just Blaze heater. The crowd went nuts, we went nuts, Insanul started his rap hands routine, it was phenomenal. Elect stopped mid-song to address the crowd to say he didn’t like what was going on in rap and that he came to spit the real and didn’t come with a new dance. With the F.O.I. on stage and the Zulu Nation providing security, this was a serious situation. Jay has said as much over the past few days.
He had some special guests peppered into the show. Mac Miller came out for "Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes," and Talib Kweli and J. Cole came through to perform "Just Begun." This marked the first time all three of Roc Nation's Js touched the stage at the same show. The house that Jay Z built finally looks in order. With Cole and Jigga being the only two consistently releasing music, them being there for Elect's official return spoke volumes.
This marked the first time all three Roc Nation's Js touched the stage at the same show. The house that Jay Z built finally looks in order.
As the dust settled a bit, Electronica told the audience to put their diamonds up, and as a sample of a Minister Farrakhan speech echoes throughout the venue, Jay Z hopped on stage and gets right into his freestyle over Big Daddy Kane’s “Young, Black, And Gifted,” a fitting first song for a guy said to be out of touch with his roots.
Hova—equipped with his chunky Nation of Gods and Earths chain—was home to support one of his biggest gets as a record executive. Both need each other. Jay Z needs Elect like he needed Beanie in the late '90s/early '00s. After the major success of Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life and officially crossing over, the Philly sound kept the Roc street. Today Jigga is almost a billionaire and far removed from the streets he once ran. He's basically a corporation and some people feel like he's a sell out, despite him rapping about smelling like dank while sitting next to Hilary Clinton. Aligning with Elect shows that he still cares about quality hip-hop. On the flip side, Electronica needs Jigga for a platform and freedom to make the music he wants when he wants, something that Elect has obviously has taken advantage of.
Jay Electronica shook up the rap game in 2009 when he released the undeniable "Exhibit C"—a Just Blaze produced masterpiece that remains as the most lyrical rap song of the past few years. But has yet to release his long promised album, Act II: Patents of Nobility. Since then, he's teased rap with a song here, a sighting there.
Back in March he released "Better In Tune With The Infinite" while down in Austin, Texas during SXSW. Everyone figured he would disappear again but he kept the momentum going when he and Jigga hopped on Drake's "We Made It." Now here we were at the 10th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival to watch him in NYC, one of the many places he's called home, for the first time in years.
One thing remained clear during his performance: Elect is still relevant. People rapped along to songs that are four or five years old; there aren't many rappers who have never dropped an album who can say the same. Some might say he should release more music instead of tweeting, and that's fair. Hopefully Jay can live up to the hype and to his Twitter rants. However, the Nikky Tesla of Rap has proved he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Some fans enjoy his clandestine nature in an age of transparency. It brings mystery and curiosity into the picture. Until he decides to let Act II: Patents of Nobility go, this is what he has going for him and he shouldn't stop doing it. Nowadays he's sober, immersed in his religion, disciplined and focused. He is finally ready to deliver.
If Act II lives up to its lofty expectations then the past will be forgiven and forgotten. Jay has defied the odds all his life. He's had a long, weird journey. From being homeless, to having a baby by Erykah, to turning the hip-hop world on its axis, to dating Kate Rothschild, to showing up in Brooklyn with the Nation of Islam and Jigga.
After demolishing his set, Elect headed to his trailer and I introduced myself in a sea of cameras and dap-givers. While in his trailer we took a knee for Afrika Bambaataa when he paid Jay a visit, a moment I will never forget. I also had the pleasure to speak to Elect's mother who said she knew this would be his path ever since she bought him that drum set when he was five. Now, roughly 32 years later, there’s no turning back for Electronica. With the rare appearance at SXSW, releasing "Better In Tune," and Hova coming out to support him, the album might actually be coming. Why would he do this big push just to vanish again? Luckily for him, his music is timeless. Something that was solidified over the weekend in Brooklyn. But as he likes to say: His train is running on schedule.
Rumble young man. Rumble.
Angel Diaz is a Staff Writer at Complex. Follow him on Twitter.