Let me make an opening statement: Jay Electronica‘s gig in London on Friday is one of the best I’ve ever been to. For me, what makes a performance is not, say, the technical skill of the performer explicitly (although it feeds in to the whole thing) but the energy that fills the room. So, for a soul gig it may just be a evening of smiles and grooves, classical audiences may display appreciation that borderlines pretentiousness. But for this Jay Elec gig the energy was unlike pretty much any I’d experienced before – it was fanatical, almost frenzied.
The man from New Orlean‘s Magnolia Projects comes running out to Just Blaze‘s thumping production of ‘Exhibit A’. Almost immediately he’s in the crowd like he’s one of us, a theme that ran through his entire performance. ‘Last time I came to London it was as a visitor. This time it’s as a citizen!’. Cool. ‘It’s all love… we’re all family tonight… regardless of creed, colour, race, religion, class’ was his mantra – but he still knew his place in the paradigm of the evening: ‘We’re all family, but tonight I’m your God’. He spat down the mic til he lost breath, and when he did the audience picked up every word, even the sung vocals on ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’ (which caused him to stop the track and remark how no crowd has ever done that before). The energy was on a level of crazy; people just lost themselves in the whole occassion.
Barely a few minutes had passed before he had the whole venue paying a rousing tribute to the late Dilla before laying a verse over the classic Donuts instrumental ‘Gobstopper’. Some ‘Dimethyltryptamine’ was thrown in there. Every so often Jay would indulge himself and ask the DJ to cut the music so he could go acapella, and not even when the beat dropped out did the energy levels dip. Even as ‘Eternal Sunshine’ hit the speakers, perhaps the most serene, poetic track laced down in a studio, the people stuck to his voice. The building was entirely his.
About halfway through the show he had enough of the distance between the stage and the crowd (‘I feel too far away from you guys’) that he literally invited the audience up. I’m not too sure how happy security was but fuck them, and about three dozen people surrounded Jay Electronica until near enough the end. That is, apart from when he announced he was coming in to the middle of the crowd and the Billy Stewart sample of ‘Exhibit C’, one of the most exhilarating records in the world – and probably Jay Elec’s signature and best known track -, and that was the point everyone lost their shit. The building was being dragged left to right as the ceiling was being torn down by the intensity of the performance, by the hysteria of the crowd trying to reach to their God, by the way literally everyone in the building was being swept away by the moment. It was breathless, literally – Jay had to ask the DJ to stop for a bit during the second verse so he could catch a breather, and after it played out he ran to the bar in the back for some water before returning to stage via the crowd again – but one of my favourite points of live music in my life.
It was a gig where Jay Electronica’s energy was in complete symbiosis with the people there for him, feeding off each other, building like a feedback loop. It was intense, but born out of respect, appreciation and love. I’ve been lucky enough to chat to him briefly a few summers ago and he’s a real cool dude, humble as anything, and I was glad I had the opportunity to tell him I felt he was one of the best musicians to walk this earth. And at the end he brought out British collaborator – and one of my favourite artists (again, I’ve met him before, a better guy you’ll never meet) – Jeymes Samuel aka The Bullitts for a rendition of ‘Run & Hide’. This is not a high octane track. In fact it’s incredibly solemn. And in the end Jay Elec left Jeymes to lead a crowd of adrenaline pumped, macho, crazed people in to a soulful, artistic refrain. This is why Jay Electronica is one of the greatest living artists, and that is why, even if he never drops an album, he can perform tracks off mixtapes from 2007 and outperform pretty much every MC in the world today.