The Prestige, The Five Percenters, and Why Jay Electronica Hasn’t Released His Debut Album
Update: Jay Electronica put out a new song last night (14/03/14). The name of the song matches with the Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) tracklist that Jay Electronica shared on Twitter in July 2012.
It’s 2007, and Jay Electronica has just put out Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge). The 15 continuous minutes of music, without drums, built from Jon Brion’s soundtrack to the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is a timeless classic. Idiosyncratically beautiful, the tape interspersed used samples from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, spoken word, and an abstract rhyming style over orchestrated keys of ivory white and charcoal black.
It was aural haute couture. If you believed it, Jay Electronica, call him Jay ElecHannukah, Jay ElecRammadan, Muhammad A'salaamaleikum, was the deity that hip-hop had been waiting for. Even if you were atheist to the idea of a biblical rap icon, Jay Electronica perpetuated any worthwhile rap blog, heralded under the words: The Best Thing To Happen To Hip-Hop. In other words, he was fucking brilliant.
It’s 2013, and five years later, Jay Electronica hasn’t released another full-length. He’s had several singles, “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C”, and signed to Roc Nation. He's received props from JAY Z, who stated – “Him as a lyricist is almost scary. He's scary good” – and hat-tips from Q-Tip, Nas, Diddy, and Erkyah Badu, with whom he has a child. But, still no album.
Understandably, for anyone with more than a casual interest in hip-hop, Act II: Patents of Nobility (The Turn) is the Holy Grail. Jay has tweeted on two occasions that the album is complete, once in 2011, and again, with a tracklist, in July 2012. But, with no fixed release date, and a half-decade wait, anticipation for the record has reached both a fever point, and dismissal. Rap fans who believe that artists owe them something, rather than the other way round, have been demanding Jay release his record. But they’re slightly missing the point. It is meant to be a Holy Grail.
Let’s take into account the two titles for both records – (The Pledge) and (The Turn) – and contextualise them next to this quote from the film, The Prestige. Let Michael Caine explain.
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige"."
Jay Electronica loves films – remember, his first mixtape was built entirely upon the Eternal Sunshine soundtrack and movie samples – therefore it wouldn’t be ridiculous to suggest that he has built his career upon The Prestige. It’s fact that the first two album titles directly correlate to the above quote, with a third, reportedly titled Act III: The Last Will & Testament of Timothy Elpadaro Thedford (The Prestige), cementing the theory.
If we take the The Prestige theory into account, then Jay Electronica has already released his Pledge. Act I seemed ordinary, built upon a cult film soundtrack, but it wasn’t. It was special. Now, with the disappearance of its follow up, he has made “the ordinary something… do something extraordinary”, by generating a truckload of hype for something that doesn’t exist. Because it’s all part of an elaborate magic trick, if we follow the theory, the only way that the record can come out is with the conclusion, The Prestige. Once Act III is released as the culmination of the trick, it is only then, that Act II will make sense, or be discovered.
If we delve further into the album titles, then the theory can be further built upon. Timothy Elpadaro Thedford is Jay Electronica’s real name, and the title of the third act. This act, The Prestige, which is the conclusion of the magic trick, needs to be released in order to make the second act, The Turn, make sense. In simple terms, a magician can hold a coin, make it disappear, and reappear behind your ear. The first part, the coin, is The Pledge, and the reappearance is The Prestige. Once those two are in place, then if he chooses, the magician can explain the second act, the disappearance of the coin, The Turn. The album titles follow this theory. Once Act III: The Last Will & Testament of Timothy Elpadaro Thedford is released, it will give purpose to Act II: Patents of Nobility. A Patent of Nobility is the appointment of an aristocrat, and in this case, would refer to the re-birthing of Jay Electronica as a member of hip-hop’s high society. If we take into account the coin theory, then without the third part of the trick, the second act, The Turn, will not be tangible, because it cannot exist without its former and latter parts.
It’s easy to argue that this idea is reaching harder than a tiptoe teetering five-year old for the cookie jar. Jay has had a few featured tracks out in the past few years, all of which seem to be touched with glaucoma, a sort of unfocused haze. Maybe the reason Act II isn’t out yet is because it’s just not good enough. But they’re featured artist tracks, and they’re very separate. If anything, they’re keeping Jay Electronica’s name in the spotlight, assuring us that a follow up is imminent.
The religious references to deities and Holy Grails aren’t just scattered in here because Jay Electronica is the musical equivalent of a Christ-like-figure. Alongside being married to a Rothschild, he’s also a member of the Five Percent Nation, the religious group formed by Clarence 13X, a former student of Malcolm X. It's a movement that's been affiliated with hip-hop from the very beginning, coining lexicon from “ciphers”, to “dropping science” and influencing everyone from Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Brand Nubian and Nas.
With these artists, and any others associated with the Five Percenters, music was more than just a message. It was a metamorphosis of the base elements of the Nation of Gods and Earth into the wisdom of song writing. It’s the reason why no one else, except Jay Electronica, has managed to capture the essence of The Golden Era since. If Jay Electronica subscribes to the hip hop ideals of The Five Percenters, then he’s going to put out his record when he’s ready, and realise his next vision as much more than a piece of throwaway music uploaded to the internet.
Jay Electronica was first featured as an unsigned artist in The Source almost ten years ago, and it’s clear that he isn’t constrained by time. In an interview with URB in 2008, he stated: “Most people wake up everyday and are worried about doing stuff based on time. I used to feel like I gotta do this, this and that before this time, but I don’t feel that way anymore.” Regardless of the hungry hip-hop heads who are convinced they’re dying of thirst (despite this year being an all-you-can-eat buffet of great releases), Jay doesn’t need to release his record any time soon. Not if anything else he releases is as timeless as Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge).
But in the five years that we’ve waited, the features this year – on “Control” and “Suplexes Inside of Complexes & Duplexes” – and scattered festival appearances suggest he’s slowly building up to something. If The Prestige theory is to be believed, then maybe we’re waiting for Act III, and Act II is already out there, somewhere. Hidden.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanBassil
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