(Cover Photo by @ShotbyKenny)
“For those of you that don’t know, my name is Jay Electronica and I’m from New Orleans. For those of you that do know, my name is Jay Electronica, from the WEST SIDE OF DETROIT. HARTWELL & EATON.” – Jay Electronica
Jay Electronica is an enigma in Hip Hop. His sparse digital presence starkly contrasts his reputation among the greats, from J Dilla to Just Blaze to Jay-Z to K-Dot. His refusal to sacrifice lyrical integrity for critical acclaim has amassed him a modest yet dedicated following. As he says in says in his song “Exhibit C,” one of two solo tracks available on conventional music services, “I got a lotta family, you got a lotta fans.”
The Magic Stick provided an intimate setting for such a seismic presence. The venue itself was an apt commentary on Jay’s relationship to Detroit: He knew the city as it once was, in the days when he, and others including Guilty Simpson, used to “borrow” blank disks from Dilla looking for new beats. Upon his return, he finds a different city, one where it’s possible (and some would say inevitable) for a venue like the former Populux to exist, but it’s not all for worse that the city has changed. In his own words, “I don’t really (show out) in Detroit that much, but I BE here.”
The stylistic similarities between Jay and the acts that preceded him were not immediately apparent, but a co-sign from someone as careful and selective as Jay was enough to convince most. Michael Armstead brought a jolt of energy to the stage early, followed by the forthright cohesiveness of the group MadeGroceries, joined by the always on point DJ FTK.
Last but not least was Neisha Neshae, one of Jay’s fellow ROC NATION artists whose inspiring backstory was set in Michigan, performing to a group of hometown fans.
From the moment DJ TJ dropped “Dear Moleskine” (which has a version that boasts a Kendrick Lamar feature), a poised excitement came over the crowd. Quick to cheer and quicker to listen, it was apparent they knew just who they were coming to see.
“Whaddup Doe?!” he repeatedly asked, to increasingly enthusiastic responses.
“Detroit is a Rap City.”
– Jay Electronica
“So this is February, so of course it’s Dilla Month,” he playfully acknowledged, “my man DJ TJ of course is another Dilla baby like me.” He then asked permission to go back a bit further in his catalogue, a tribute to long-time fans that spent years scouring the internet for his music. He then dropped “Abracadabra,” produced by Dilla himself, as well as “DMT” (which has some eerily prophetic bars from 2007 that he was sure to highlight).
(Shortly after this video, Jay entered the crowd for the first of many times to perform “Shiny Suit Theory”)
His set was frequently punctuated by stories and anecdotes, shout-outs to people in the crowd, and people no longer with us. He consistently asserted his love for and connection with the City of Detroit. His one critique of the crowd?
“How come I don’t see no Carti’s out there?!”
He even brought up a few artists from the crowd to share the stage with him, after telling a story about the first time he ever got on stage in front of a bunch of people. It was in New Orleans, at a Mos Def show, when Mos asked for a local that could spit.
Noticeably moved by seeing reflections of his former self on stage with him, he deliberately altered the mood with “Better In Tune with the Infinite,” a touching exhibition of his thoughtfulness and lyricism, set to somber piano rather than kicks and snares. The song wields accompaniment by the incredible voice of LaTonya Givens, a Flint native, who Jay insists is one of the only vocalists that he has ever worked with.
As curfew approached, Jay entered the crowd once again to perform “We Made It” amongst his fans. Shortly after he was informed that his time was up, to which he responded, “Fuck that time, this is Detroit!” He re-mounted the stage and went straight into “Road to Perdition.”
Having likely incurred a fine already for going over, his next move was as surprising as it was enthralling. “Everybody get on stage with me!” he proclaimed, prompting rabid fans to scramble for a chance to join their luminary for one last song. Of course he chose “Exhibit C” to close the set, frequently cutting his vocals to hear the crowd recite every word.
“Shout out to Baltimore, Baton Rouge, my crew in Richmond / while y’all debated who the truth was like Jews and Christians / I was on Cecil B, Broad Street, Master / North Philly, South Philly, 23rd, Tasker / Six Mile, Seven Mile, Hartwell, Gratiot!”
After the song ended, it was time to call it a night or risk another violation. Jay announced that he would be coming down to shake hands with every person in the crowd, a testament to his commitment to the people that support him as an artist. It wasn’t but a minute before he announced that someone had told him they wished he would have played “Ghost of Christopher Wallace,” and after checking to be sure DJ TJ had it in the deck, he proceeded to cap off a remarkable end to a very special set.
It wasn’t until he was pushed out by security that he left the venue, but no worries if you didn’t catch him, he’ll be playing Dillatroit on Sunday along with an incredible array of performances and special appearances by those committed to the veneration of one of Detroit’s greatest contributions to music.