Gig Review: Jay Electronica at the Jazz Cafe, London (17/02/10)

The picture symbolises a lot. Not only do I revere Jay Electronica as a rapper, last night I felt like he was just one of us-a regular guy who loves hip-hop.

I’ve been to an awful lot of gigs in my time, but have never been to anything that was as fulfilling on so many levels as Jay Electronica’s debut concert in the UK. Click on, I’ve got a lot to say.

Jay Electronica: The Rapper. First off, this dude can spit. If you’ve heard any of his tracks and you know anything about hip-hop, you know this guy can get it done. Every single track he performed involved cutting the beat off before/during his last verse and going acapella. If you’ve ever heard rap acapella, you’ll know that you get a much better feel for the lyrics right? Well, imagine one of the best lyricists in the game doing it. Jay proved he can spit his most complex rhymes without skipping a beat, and cemented himself as one of the best doing it right now both lyrically and for his delivery.

Props also have to go to Jay’s DJ, TJ the King who provided some nice hypeman work, whilst displaying some great ability on the 1′s and 2′s. As he was a student of the late J Dilla, I’d expect no less.

Jay Electronica: The Performer.
He actually caught me by surprise: the relatively ‘serious’ nature of his tracks had me expecting a dark, intense show- we got quite the opposite. We got an inspiring, energetic show that was provided not only by the superb performance of each track, but the charisma and personality Jay exhibited (no pun intended). He admitted to being nervous initially, but it didn’t show (with a little help from Jack Daniels) and he brought everything he had to the stage.

Jay Electronica: The Man. Not only do I respect the man’s talents, I wholeheartedly respect him as a person. Right from the off (despite keeping us waiting) he wanted to talk to the crowd. He offered drinks, admitted to nerves, and really made the show a collective effort. Tip of the iceberg.

Throughout the show, he managed to convince most of us that he must have been a comedian in another life, making the crowd laugh whenever he had a spare second on the mic. Moments such as wearing Nikul‘s New Orleans Saints hat to perform the second verse of Exhibit A genuinely helped to destroy the ‘us and them’ barriers that so many concerts create. How humble a man of his stature must be to be willing to pour some of his own drink for members of the audience.

It doesn’t end there either. After he’d finished performing, not only did he let miscellaneous people in the crowd spit some rhymes over the Exhibit C instrumental, he spent the entire time talking to each and every person in that crowd. Writing personal messages to each and every person asking for an autograph, having fun in pictures (see above) and even swapping ties with one of our guys (hello Chris!), Jay proved that he really does appreciate the love and support his fanbase afford him. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I’d be surprised to see it ever again. It was an incredible show of dedication, and just showed how appreciative some people are regardless of their status.

However, this next incident is by far the most poignant. Whilst delivering a J Dilla tribute at the beginning of the show, he offered any crowd member the chance to spit some rhymes over a Dilla beat (I forget which beat). A young man next to us stepped up, and naturally we expected him to be some amateur time-waster, or someone looking for a laugh. Wrong.

This kid left us all stunned. Showing incredible adaptability, he instantly took to the Dilla beat thrown to him and proceeded to brilliantly deliver a lyrical onslaught. With his genuine confidence and charisma, anyone who was in attendance won’t forget Mangaliso Asi any time soon.

More on him to come soon, but just look at what Jay did for someone who before that moment was just another member of the crowd. For Jay to acknowledge on stage that ‘this kid can spit!’, for him to call out to Giles Peterson to get this guy on the radio says an incredible amount for his integrity (and of course, Asi’s ability!).

Special praise must be reserved for the audience: I’ve not yet been to any concert with such an educated and devoted fanbase, and one with such a positive atmosphere. Everything he played, they knew it as if they’d written it. Even in the build-up, there was a notable (and welcomed) omission of mainstream/pop rap music and instead we got plenty of Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Nas and much more. Each track got a great reaction, and it’s a fantastic testament to hip-hop that fans that truly love the game’s unappreciated lyrical talents are still around.

Every single one of us knew we were witnessing something a bit special. We were no longer just hooked on the rapper or the performer. During and after the show, we connected with the man himself.

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