Last week, Jay Electronica performed just three songs for his co-headlining performance at Philly’s Luxe Lounge.
It was easily one of the best hip hop shows I’d ever been to.
Let’s get it straight, I’m not judging with a personal bias. It’s easy to rock a crowd when you have an extensive catalogue of respected classics. At that point, the performance itself doesn’t even matter — the legacy of the music begins to dwarf the performer. It’s too early to call anything that Jay Elect has recorded a “classic.” Although it does seem like we are witnessing the embryonic years of a future Hall of Famer. It’s kind of like how I imagine watching Michael Jordan’s rookie season must have been. The vast pool of talent and the raw passion for the craft is impossible to overlook.
I was standing no more than 15 feet away from the man while he fired out the lyrics to “Exhibit A.” There was a burning intensity in his eyes. It was one of pure truth that can only come when you dig something deep from the bottom of your soul to expose to the world without apology. Just seconds before, he’d commanded his DJ to drop the beat out so that he could spit the second verse acapella. The subject matter was the bursting of the levees during Hurricane Katrina. Before he began he addressed the crowd.
“I’m from New Orleans, and I know we’re on the radio and they wanna hear music. But they blew them levees! The United States government blew them levees like they blew them towers!”
His conviction was contagious. The entire crowd roared in support while I stood in shock. The accusation was nothing new to me. I’d believed it long before he said those words that night. What I couldn’t believe were the powers of leadership that he possesed.
It made sense once I considered his background. Earlier in the evening, 100.3 The Beat’s Kendra G came out to the stage to introduce Jay for a short pre-show chat. She’d only gotten halfway through the first sentence of her introduction when he came shuffling out, waving to the crowd with a bashful smile. This wasn’t a man who succumbed to his ego. This was a man who responded to some kind of higher calling that perhaps not even he could fully explain. He talked about how he’d lived in various sections of Philly for part of his young-adulthood, revealing that he’d once taught at a Muslim school on Broad Street for a period of time.
After hearing this, I couldn’t help but notice how some kind of teaching spirit seemed to permeate his performance. He ennunciated his words clearly and forcefully without missing a beat. He also seemed to look every audience member in the eye, as if he had a special bit of knowledge to drop on every one of them. Even his call and responses had the air of an instructor teaching a class. They weren’t commands the way they were for most MCs. Here there was an understanding and a patience. Coming from Jay they were a lessons.
He closed the show with his one and only hit, “Exhibit C.” All hands were bouncing in the air as he delivered his lyrical autobiography. When he got to the part of the song that alludes to his time spent living in Philly, the whole crowd was shouting the lyrics in unison. The energy in the room was so intense that he stopped his DJ once again, only to redo the same part accapella (he likes to do that). It was his way of giving something special back to the local fans that came out to support his music. It all added up to something bigger than himself and he was well aware of it. This is part of that humble understanding of his. Something that only comes with supernatural intelligence and wisdom.
After he finished his performance, he plunged into the crowd as if they were the awaiting arms of his friends and family. He shook hands, took pictures, and exchanged words with the eager fans that all wanted a piece of one of the most compelling lyricists to emerge in the past 10 years. He was sharing. He was building. This was all part of his duty. The teacher was staying after class to help his students. Hopefully he’ll be back soon for another lesson.