"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Prayer For Jay Electronica & Diddy

"Honestly, I'd prefer if Jay was working with the guy in the middle."

Despite the myriads of his accomplishments over the span of his career, Sean Combs’ primary talent has always been surrounding himself with far more talented individuals and making it seem like he was doing THEM a favor by gracing them with his presence. If you are in the business of selling yourself as commodity, I can think of no greater skill than being able to convince others that they should be in awe of you and your accomplishments. This can be dangerous to those he’s in business with when Diddy’s second great talent is exploiting those same talented individuals to his benefit alone. For almost twenty years, Diddy has been hip hop’s great grifter content to run an endless shell game to keep himself in eternal relevance if not revelry.

Let’s take one of Bad Boy Records’ most iconic remixes as an example of what I’m talking about: Of the participants on the "Flava In Ya Ear Remix," Biggie is dead; LL Cool J is co-starring on a NCIS spinoff with the dude who played Robin; Busta is a roided up freak; Craig Mack is trying to hustle some poor stripper into sleeping with him on the strength that he once knew Biggie; Lord knows what Rampage the Last Boy Scout is doing these days. Yet, Sean Combs stays pimping his shitty reality TV shows and Ciroc Vodka. Why? Because Diddy never loses. He has the uncanny ability of knowing when to cut and run from an artist at the exact moment they lose the ability to make him look good. It seems nearly every act that has ever worked extensively with Diddy has grown to publicly regret it. (Hell, the L.O.X. threatened to throw a refrigerator at the man!) Diddy is perhaps hip hop’s all-time most loathsome individual (a genre that features both Suge Knight AND Curtis Jackson!) which makes the shine that Jay Electronica has taken to the legendary hustler all the more troubling.

It’s becoming rapidly apparent that Jay Electronica is perhaps the last of the great classical lyricists. Kool Moe Dee, in his excellent (and grammatical error-ridden) book, "There Is A God On The Mic", postulated that each generation of rappers has a trinity of great lyricists that follow in the tradition of the greats that came before them. Electronica is a true throwback to 90s classical lyricism in the grandest sense of the term. His hyper-literate references, evocative storytelling and dense narrative descriptions clearly place him in the lineage of the Melle Mel-Rakim-Nas tradition. Like many true school 90s holdouts, I have personally bemoaned the general decline in reverence for the lyricist. To me this lack of reverence has manifested two-fold. The most obvious is the decline in lyricism in mainstream popular rap music but also the rise of "punch line" lyricism in underground and hardcore rap scenes as well. A generation of rappers raised on mixtapes and "A Milli" freestyles have grown to believe that being a great lyricist is nothing more than being able to serve up a bunch of semi-clever punch lines. I cringe whenever somebody suggests that rappers like Fabolous or even somebody as respected as Jadakiss belong in the top 5 of working lyricists. Electronica seems far less concerned with writing a hot punch line than describing emotional turmoil of telling the mother of a friend her son has been killed. This alone makes Jay Electronica a special breed of rapper.

What makes his ascent to the cusp of the pantheon even more remarkable is that it can be owed to the strength of a handful of a few truly remarkable songs. The unlikely grass roots success of "Exhibit C" on terrestrial radio has launched Jay from the territory of perennial blog hype hero to something approaching a genuine true school, lyrical-ass lyricist rap star. Granted, Jay Electronica has been backed by some powerful industry figures like Just Blaze and Erykah Badu since his breakthrough mixtape, "Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)" but his rise seems to be dictated by an organic following of fans who have discovered his music through word-of-mouth and file sharing. It doesn’t hurt that sheer infrequency of the release of his recordings have created a huge buzz amongst fans anytime Jay decides to descend from the mountain top and bless us with another track. The terrestrial breakthrough of "Exhibit C" was the logical conclusion of a growing critical mass that started way back with "Style Wars" and "Act 1" continued through "Queens Get The Money" and "Exhibit A" onward. Success has attracted a variety of industry leeches looking to mine his success for their own benefit. This is where Diddy comes in and my trepidation with his budding mentorship with Jay Electronica.

On the surface, a Diddy/Jay Elect symbiotic relationship makes a certain logical sense. It seems unlikely that Jay Elect will continue to get radio play recording largely hookless, lyric driven songs in today’s hip hop environment. Diddy with his natural pop proclivities could easily help Jay Elect form a synthesis of his music that would be more welcome within the parameters of modern terrestrial pop radio. Regardless of his own self-aggrandizement over the years, Diddy’s one unquestioned achievement is the ability to turn a very raw, uncouth Christopher Wallace into hip hop’s biggest pop star without sacrificing the edge that made Biggie a critical favorite amongst hardcore hip hop fans. It would go along way into securing Diddy’s slightly tarnished legacy as a talent scout and music executive if he could repeat the achievement with Jay Electronica. Jay Elect has already shown flashes of pop potential in the past with songs like "I Feel Good" and "Walk With Me" and considering the range of Jay’s talent, it’s within the realm of possibility that he could comfortably switch into that form of music without losing what makes Jay Electronica so great. However, part of what makes Jay Electronica so great in the first place is the natural avant-garde weirdness in his music. More esoteric fare like "Depature/Are You Watching?", "Eternal Sunshine," and "A Prayer For Michael Vick & T.I." easily match "Exhibit C" in terms of sheer lyrical prowess and have a novel weirdness that doesn’t show up as naturally as when Jay Elect works with Just Blaze et al. I’d hate for that to dissipate from his music for the sake of satisfying some major label idea of what’s considered "hot" at the moment.

The first released song in the Diddy/Jay Elect relationship has been largely encouraging in both terms of dissipating fears that Diddy will suddenly transform Jay Electronica into Danity Kane and for the potential for greatness in their partnership. "The Ghost Of Christopher Wallace" features 3 minutes of Jay Elect spitting his patented brand of lyrical flames before 4 minutes of Diddy’s legendary shit-talking. The song is meant to evoke Biggie in both name and spirit as the song plays like a new millennium version of B.I.G.’s classic "Who Shot Ya?" The song is largely a success if Diddy’s rant at the end dangerously treads towards Kanye-esque levels of ridiculous self-absorption.

Ultimately, the greatest potential problem with a Jay Electronica/Diddy professional relationship is what happens if and when Jay Electronica starts to fade from the public eye. As I mentioned before, Diddy has a natural talent of miraculously disappearing when an artist fades from the public eye. (See: Barrow, Jamal) As long as you are profitable to his brand, Diddy will find a way to exploit you for his own benefit but if you don’t you might as well as not exist. As great as "The Ghost Of Christopher Wallace" is, Diddy still manages to steal the vast majority of the time on the song and turn it into a forum for a celebration of his own achievements. That isn’t exactly a confidence booster that things will be different this time simply because Jay Electronica is the greatest thing since sliced bread was introduced to a toaster. So thank Shyne for warning me because now I’m warning you. You’ve got the mac, Jay. Tell me what you’re gonna do.
-B.J. Steiner


Jessen said...

I totally agree, I don't understand Diddy's existence in the industry, or why people like Royce Da 5'9's seek his approval so much (though royce's approval seeking from people more successful than him is a whole 'nother can of worms) and I wish the best for this guy's career. Personally Jay Electronica hasn't impressed me all that much with his Exhibit series and I don't quite understand his hype when other true school rhymers have been doing the same shit for years and none have been catapulted to fame the same way. Then again I root for drake, think eminem is the best off all time, and found die antwoord to be pretty lame, so what do I know.

hl said...

Dope post...I get the feeling Diddy just likes to be a part of whatever's hot. I doubt Jay Elec ever signs to badboy.

bding7 said...

whoa, new look.

jay is wise enough not to sign with diddy. but, given the existence of janelle monae, diddy is now more interested in letting people do what they want. it's a shame that his reputation is basically sealed at this point.

DocZeus said...

It's not a question of whether Diddy will let Jay Elect do what he wants. It's a question of whether if allowing yourself to get rapped in the Puffy Mystique is best for Electronica's career. It seems nobody has ever been satisfied with their run at Bad Boy. Apparently even Biggie and Puffy were having some run-ins before Big's death.

Yeah, I got tired of the old look. I'm still tweaking the site to find the right look. I hate Blogger.

tray said...

Wait, so why is the Diddy Mystique a bad thing even if he lets Jay do what he wants? No one's ever been satisfied with their run at Bad Boy, but that's mostly because he always steals artists' money. That's a shame, but that's Jay's problem if it happens, not ours.

DocZeus said...

All part of the same animal, Tray.

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Nova Blade said...

As a New Orleans native, this worries me simply on the virtue of the fact that no one takes rappers from New Orleans seriously in the first place. I mean, our most celebrated emcee is Lil' Autotune.

Someone like Jay Electronica could be the one to change people's opinions. But by putting himself in league with Diddy, someone who can only be refered to as hip-hop's gorgon (He sees you, your career gets petrified) he runs the risk of disappearing into obscurity by next year.

It's simply not a good look.

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