Back in 95 when Skee-Lo’s infectious wish that he was a “a little bit taller“ was flying up the charts, I couldn’t help but think if he actually was he might quickly wish to be diminutive once more. It’s true that at gigs being 6ft 6″ means unless Magic Johnson’s up the front you can pretty much see from wherever you choose to stand. The downside (apart from the guilt when someone 5ft stands behind you) is its difficult to blend in.
And so it proved at Jay Electronica’s first UK gig since “Exhibit C” transformed him from the internets hottest rapper to a Hot97 featuring, itunes destroying mainstream star. Oddly a lot of the publicity heralded the night as Jay’s UK live debut despite him playing here a number of times as far back as 2008.
(VIDEO BELOW From HigherPlane.net)
Looking dapper in an immaculately tailored suit, like Louis Farrakhan guesting on Mad Men, Electronica is witty, engaging and utterly at ease on stage. Early in the gig he jokingly asked if we’d mind if he had a Jack Daniels to ease his nerves. Pouring himself one he asked if anyone else wanted a glass to which an American on the balcony yelled down “Yes, Up here”. Later he admonishes him for asking for more, calling him a “rude American” while pouring him another anyway. After running out of glasses a girl at the side of the stage requests a swig to which Jay goes to enquire if she’s got cooties… before saying what the hell I’ll just catch whatever you’ve got.
All very amusing… until midway through he set Jay abruptly stops and staring straight at my head poking up above the throng declares “this guy here is the only person still making me nervous“. To general chuckles he wanders over and enquires my name, “Leon!!”…oh Neil he says when corrected.
“Neil, Why are you making me nervous?” he gently demanded. At which point Id love to say I came back with a witty retort, but no I just stood and let my cheeks cycle through a variety of purple tinged shades. “Are you here with your girl?” came the next question… “no“… “then why are you making me nervous…if it isn’t because you think Im going to steal your girl!?” Clearly by now he’d taken pity on me and in his best Dick Van Dyke accent declared “Im only joking… what a handsome bloke!“… clarifying as he walked away “but not in a gay way!“. And who says Americans don’t do sarcasm!
Enough of the stories you might say, what about the music?! Well, you can’t really describe Jay Electronica live without the stories, because frankly there are lots of them. He could clearly earn a crust as an after dinner speaker, but some might say they came to hear the man’s MUSIC not his anecdotes. Its difficult to criticise too much though when you look round and see a mass of smiling faces.
Also for a long time it seemed like Jay may not actually turn up. It was a thankless task for the two support acts in front of a crowd who clearly only wanted to see one person. Fatima at least tried, and her fine voice is worth seeking out in more favourable conditions, especially as she already has quality material with Floating Points, and her vocal on Shafiq Husayn’s wonderful “Lil Girl”.
DJ Benji B entertained the crowd with some choice tunes while the announcements that Jay was 10 minutes away, almost here or in the building became increasingly desperate as time ticked on. It was almost 11pm – the time the gig was supposed to finish! – before Jay finally appeared on the gantry above the stage to much applause and more than a little relief. Later it transpired that it was all Gilles Peterson’s fault as Electronica had been busy watching Arsenal lose, and Giles was responsible for switching Jay’s allegiance from Chelsea in Makalele’s days to the Gooners. Jay researched the crowds allegiances by measuring the boo’s as he mentioned London teams… obviously Chelsea received the largest chorus of disdain.
One of his numerous unreleased tracks “Dear Moleskine” got the evening started. Its typical of Jay’s leftfield nature that the track first leaked as part of a trailer for a supposed feature length film featuring Electronica exploring the globe talking to characters like Monks at the Bodinath Buddhist Temple in Kathmandu. Unreleased or not, the crowd knew every word, mouthing each one along with Jay.
Overall he performed surprisingly little of his own material, he rapped some Nas and early in the evening a heartfelt tribute to J Dilla.
Asking the crowd to imagine Dilla in hospital wired up to machines with doctors telling him by rights he should be already be dead. Such was Dilla’s love of working on his music, Jay said, that instead of feeling self pity he asked for his MPC to be hooked up by his bedside.
With the “Waves” beat playing he asked everyone to take out a lighter/mobile anything that shines and hold it up in respect of Dilla. For a minute or two he just zoned out as it played telling us to feel this beat is being communicated to you from his death bed. It might have been moving but unfortunately an argument was breaking out next to me between some girls up the front and a very young inebriated young black boy cruelly trapped in the body of a white boy from Surrey. They reasonably objected to his constant “brapping” and gesticulating with his hand onto their heads.
Next came one of the most memorable moments of the evening as Jay asked if anyone wanted to come up and try some rhymes over the Dilla beat. I think the look on Jay Electronica’s face in this photo says it all about how shocked he was at just how good the young guy (North London MC Mangaliso Asi) who volunteered from the side of the stage was (see this bit and the much more on HigherPlanes superb video Pt2).
As Jay said “Normally when you pull people up on stage they might be wack, but Gilles, Gilles Peterson you’re in the building you got a play this man on the BBC. Give me your scouts honour youll play him!”
One person posting on the Brownswood forum objected to the very idea of inviting “civilians” up on stage:
“If I wanted to be kept waiting, 25 quid lighter and shouted at by a member of the public, I’d buy crack round the back of Lidl“.
I have to say I’d have liked it if Electronica had performed more tracks, but I wouldn’t have swapped that for the genuine sense of not knowing what might happen next. Would he rap accapella, serve drinks, discuss politics, jump into the crowd, tell jokes? I’ve not seen a performer break down the barrier between Star and public as much as Jay did and that can’t be a bad thing.
In the picture above he announced he’d been writing his own opera, and began delivering lines in baritone Italian! I’m sure I was the only person who didn’t see it coming, but I remember for a split second thinking “jesus he’s got a great voice“. At that moment of course he moved the mic away from his mouth while the singing being played by DJ TJ the King continued. Does anyone know what the track was called?? Jay did say, and even asked if anyone spoke Italian and knew what it meant. A quick witted audience member replied “playo Exhibito C-o“.
It would be dishonest of me not to mention the one moment in the show that made me uneasy. When with grins on their faces Jay and his DJ said they had a theory they tested at every city on tour, and that is, its a fact that “every woman loves to be strangled during sex“. Some girls like to be strangled a bit, while others love to be really throttled! They then asked for all the ladies in the place who liked to be choked during sex to put their hands up and shout… a gaggle to the side of the stage thrust their hands up while the line of girls in front of me kept theirs firmly crossed.
Its not really for me to say whats right or wrong sexually, and frankly whether this particular music blogger either enjoys, has indulged in or is disgusted by a bit of rougher sex is not really relevant. All Im saying is it felt unpleasant, the atmosphere changed for a moment, and for what its worth I thought it both a wrong and degrading generalisation but hell thats just me! He did say he was only joking…
Back to the music! His production on “Queens Get The Money” gave Nas the “Electronica” sound, and he returned the favour here, performing a cover of Nas’s “My World” track. As usual he teased the audience asking if there were Nas fans in the building, hinting he might make an appearance… a trick he tried again later with Jay Z.
The “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” sampling “Pledge“ that first brought Jay to everyones attention back in 2007 was another highlight. As he did on numerous occasions throughout the night he cut the music, slowed everything down and recited the lyrics crystal clear to little more than the sound of others in the audience whispering the words. It’s a pet hate of mine that HipHop, a genre that more than perhaps any other should be about the words is often lyrically unintelligible live.
Predictably it was Exhibit A & C that really had the Jazz Cafe jumping, C being so good he played it twice, but the gig never really ended in a traditional sense. Yes he said goodnight London, and thanked us all but instead of exiting stage left he told everyone to head to the afterparty at MoMo’s, and then stepped down into the audience. There he stayed for at least 45 minutes, posing for pictures, signing, giving advice, even asking if anyone wanted to rhyme over some more beats while he worked the crowd. The lady who took the mic gamely kept going for a minute or two but realising Jay wasnt going anywhere gave the mic back to the DJ after cheekily advertising her myspace.
There are artists with a 10th of Jay Electronica’s talent who wouldn’t even consider “wasting their time” mingling with the fans for a minute let alone an hour. A guy wearing a tie suggested swapping and within moments he had Electronica’s no doubt expensive tie round his neck while Jay carefully knotted his “new” one.
So mission accomplished, London charmed, hit record No.1 under the belt… now the tricky part, matching the hype and delivering that long promised, long delayed LP.
“Last night We SMASHED #LondonTown! Good Morning!”
Jay Electronica – “Act 1: The Pledge” (MP3)
[audio:http://www.musiclikedirt.com/wp-content/MP3/gilles/Act1the%20pledge.mp3] and rather than post “Exhibit C” here’s the original track it samples:
Billy Stewart – “Cross My Heart” (MP3)
Jay Electronica – “‘Dear Moleskine’, ‘Abracadabra’, ‘Dimethyltryptamine’ and ‘Exhibit A’ (HigherPlane.tv)” (Youtube)
Jay Electronica – “Part 2 of HigherPlane.tv’s compilation of the night”
Jay Electronica – “Eternal Sunshine (Live @ Jazz Cafe) (Youtube)
Jay Electronica – “Exhibit A (Live @ Jazz Cafe) (Youtube) / Alt Vid (lower quality)
Jay Electronica – “Exhibit C (Live @ Jazz Cafe) (Vimeo)
Jay Electronica – “Jay invites Mangaliso Asi to freestyle for him” (Youtube)
Absolutely fabulous pictures from Atribecallednext… Brilliant.
My Flickr set of pictures from the gig
Overrating The UnderRated’s comprehensive review (must read)
HigherPlane was called a “rude American” by Jay but got served Jack Daniels by the man too!
YinnYang posts a detailed gig review and a Vimeo video clip