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Jay Electronica's Debut Album Is Here — Finally

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

2020 has already brought plenty of surprises - some welcome, some terrifying. Here's a surprise that shocked hip-hop fans in a good way. The artist Jay Electronica finally dropped his debut album. He first grabbed widespread attention back in 2009, when he released the single "Exhibit C."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EXHIBIT C")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) Nas hit me up on the phone, said, what you waiting on? Tip hit me up with a tweet, said, what you waiting on? Diddy send a text every hour on the dot, saying, when you gonna (ph) drop that verse? You taking long.

SHAPIRO: Ever since then, Jay Electronica has teased a full-length album. Singles, shows and promised release dates came and went. Then last night, more than a decade after "Exhibit C," he released "A Written Testimony."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLUX CAPACITOR")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) Remember Rappin Duke? Duh-ha (ph), duh-ha. You never thought we'd make it to la ilaha 'illa llaha (ph). It's the day of the judgment, fulfillment of the covenant. These universal truths remain self-evident.

SHAPIRO: Freelance music writer Kiana Fitzgerald is one of the people who has been waiting a long time for this album, and she joins us now.

Welcome.

KIANA FITZGERALD: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: I kind of sketched out the backstory here, but tell us what this roller-coaster ride has been like for you over the last decade-plus.

FITZGERALD: Well, it actually starts a couple of years before, in 2007, when he released his first mixtape. And I just remember being like, this person is really, really committed to the art form of hip-hop. And then in 2009, "Exhibit C" came out. And I just remember being in college, and the Internet just stopped. And everybody immediately began trying to decipher his lyrics, trying to figure out what he was saying. And ever since then, we've been waiting and waiting and waiting.

SHAPIRO: And we've now got these 10 tracks. Do they live up to your expectations?

FITZGERALD: Absolutely. And I'm not alone. I've been talking to people that I work with in the industry, people that are just hip-hop fans in general. Everybody is taken aback in a good way.

SHAPIRO: I know you've had less than a day to absorb this album, but tell us about a track that really jumps out at you.

FITZGERALD: I'll start with the second track, "Ghost Of Soulja Slim."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHOST OF SOULJA SLIM")

JAY-Z: (Rapping) ...Destroys itself from within. Pen, put a pin in that...

FITZGERALD: It actually begins with a verse from Jay-Z, who's heavily featured across the project. But by the time we get to Jay Electronica's verse, he is flying out of the gate letting us know exactly what we're about to hear from him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHOST OF SOULJA SLIM")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) If it come from me and Hov, consider it Quran. If it come from any of those, consider it Haram. The minaret that Jigga built me on the dome of the Roc was crafted so beautifully, consider this Adhan. From a hard place and a roc to the Roc Nation of Islam, I emerged on the wave that Tidal made to drop bombs.

SHAPIRO: I feel like I'm hearing an accordion in there. I'm hearing like a bit of lounge music or something sampled. Like, I haven't even thought about what he's rapping about yet.

FITZGERALD: He really does a great job of throwing as much at us as he possibly can because he knows that we've been waiting, and we're going to sit with this for a while.

SHAPIRO: You know, 2009, when Jay Electronica broke into the public scene in a big way, was such a long time ago in America. Does this feel like an album for this moment, or does it feel like it picked up where that single, "Exhibit C," left off?

FITZGERALD: This feels like a 2020 album, simply because the things that he raps about, the religious allegories that he brings into play, all of these things kind of point to the moment that we're in, which is like the world is at a standstill.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NEVERENDING STORY")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) What a time we living in, just like the scripture says - earthquakes, fires and plagues, the resurrection of the dead.

FITZGERALD: He couldn't have picked a better time to drop this album.

SHAPIRO: Is there a track you'd like us to go out on?

FITZGERALD: Yeah. The final track of the album, it's produced by Khruangbin, which is a Texas group. They're a psychedelic soul rock group. And it just ends on a really, really lovely floaty note. And I don't think many people were expecting this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APIDTA")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) Eyes fiery, cry tears to my diary. Sometimes a Xanny bar can't help you fight back the anxiety. I go to my lord quietly.

SHAPIRO: That's Kiana Fitzgerald talking with us about the long-awaited Jay Electronica album, "A Written Testimony."

Thanks for joining us.

FITZGERALD: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "APIDTA")

JAY ELECTRONICA: (Rapping) My eyelids is like levees, but my tear ducts is like glaciers. As I contemplate creation, the salt that heals my wounds pour out my eyes just like libations. I can't stop my mind from racing. I got numbers on my phone... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.