RESPECT. Jay Electronica Story

Image: Anna Bauer

Ok here’s the final feature, the fabolous fourth one that I did for the new issue of RESPECT. No one man should have to talk to Jay Elect as long as I did. Ha! Just playin’, 3 hour convos FTW. Now that’s Southern hospitality. Catch the droppin’ gems.

Previously: Waka | J.Cole | B.o.B.

Sidebar: The conclusion of my convo with our pal Al.

Do This My Way
NOLA’s Jay Electronica wants to be successful. But on his own terms. And, in his most candid interview to date, in his own words.
As Told To Elliott Wilson

By the time you read this: Jay Electronica may have, at long last, landed a record deal. Or not. It’s hard to predict the future of the enigmatic MC who electrified the rap world from the end of ’09 to early 2010 with a song called “Exhibit C.” Produced by Just Blaze, who broke the record while guest-hosting Tony Touch’s Shade 45 Sirius show, the soulful sonic boom ushered in the rise of this NOLA brother with the Nas flow—captivatingly complex lyrics and vivid storytelling.

After being wooed by the record industry’s biggest execs for a year Elect is still, at press time, a free agent. But recent dealings with Mr. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter may be changing that. In his modest Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment, the man born Timothy Thedford spoke for over three hours about his almost Forrest Gump-like journey through this thing called life. Aiming to do justice to his jam-packed existence, RESPECT. hosts Electronica unfiltered. Here’s a toast to a true original.

“My light is brilliant.”

“Exhibit C” magnified everything. Everybody was coming at one time. I’m the kind of person where if I get to a point where I can’t make this decision then I’m gonna stand still. I don’t care. I’ll stand still for two years, 20 years. I’m 34 years old. I’m still learning myself, but I know myself a little bit, so I stand still. People was telling me, “Oh, you buggin’, this is the time.”

By the time March [2010] came, it was crazy. I coulda signed any kinda deal at that time. I coulda took these publishing companies to the cleaners. I met anybody you can think of. Like, I’m gonna entertain what you sayin’, but we already have a fundamental disagreement in the way that we view the music business and the treatment of people, period. I need to feel like I’m talking to my grandmother. I need to feel like I’m talking to my sister or my mama to feel comfortable. If I’m not at that comfort level then I’m completely uncomfortable.

(Universal Records CEO) Monte Lipman was the first person that visited me. He was supposed to come by himself. He came with his whole office, and Mr. Chow’s or Philippe’s. I don’t even know what that is. I was like, Is this a surprise attack? He came in, walked around the apartment like he owned it. He said, “Yeah well we here today, I came here to make you a rich man today.” He said them exact words. I said, “Hold on man, first of all,” and I gave him the history of the white man 6,000 years ago to now, and let him know, “Wait a minute, my man, you’re in my house. You are a guest in my home.”

He seemed like a decent human but everyone got their character defects and flaws and he behaved exactly how I expected him to behave, which was unacceptable. We had a long talk though, and left on good terms, but I thought he wouldn’t ever wanna see me again. Instead he was excited. He told my man he never had a meeting like that since Prince.

I would have genuine talks with music execs. And some would agree with me on anything. I would intentionally be saying genuine things and then five minutes later say a disingenuous thing that was completely contradictory, and they would still be agreeing. That turned me completely off. I don’t wanna deal with any of that. I was just thinking about goin’ back to the plan. I started going back to Act II.

I’ve been all over the country. I’ve lived in a lot of cities on the East Coast, the Midwest, Denver. If I need a break—every environment is a home environment. So going over [to London] this summer wasn’t foreign. With all this music that I’ve been listening to for Act II, I wanted to go somewhere to sit down and go over it.

While we were over there, XL, the label, was saying if there was any kinda way we could work together. They were the first who approached me on a totally different level. Presented me with the best thing so far. In terms of money, the splits, the who owned what. They really get what Jay Electronica is. I ain’t sitting on a catalog of 80 records; if I’m sitting on a catalog of 20 records, you better believe me that these 20 records are gonna last till 2030, 2050.

I didn’t wanna come back to New York in September, but I did because I’m working on a lot of stuff and I got a daughter now. I still didn’t have no intentions on doing no deal with nobody. Closest thing was the XL situation. People know I fuck with Puff but nothing materialized from that in terms of record deal.

“I got the rap game singin’ ‘At Last’ like Etta James.”

One night, I bumped into Jay-Z at the Spotted Pig; it was [Atlantic Records COO] Julie Greenwald’s birthday party.  I was like, “What is it gonna take for us to do a song together?” He was like, “You know, if I feel the record.” So, I sent it to him the next morning and later I emailed him again like, “This would be crazy if you could get in on it.” He was like, “I’m already in 10 bars. Can I go over 16?”

The song is two parts. The first movement is “Dinner At Tiffany’s,” which is composed by James Samuel of The Bullets. He’s a filmmaker/musician from the U.K. He composed the strings. We originally were trying to get Julie Andrews, but we were honored to get Charlotte Gainsbourg. That leads right into “Shiny Suit Theory,” which relates directly to Puff because nobody got through to my head the way he did.

Puff can make a statement like “Fuck the underground,” which is a blasphemous statement in rap. But he doesn’t mean that as a diss. He means, “We’re supposed to be out here shining.” Maybe I’m never gonna see the value of a Grammy. But for somebody to be able to show me the value of it, what it means for people to see you get that, and the inspiration of it. It’s like the Saints winning the Super Bowl. Yeah it’s only a fuckin’ game but what it does for the city, what it does for the people…

So the setting behind “The Shiny Suit Theory” song, is Jay-Z and I are each talking to our shrinks. We’re going through our feelings. Jay-Z goes, “Went from warring to Warren (Buffet), undercovers to (magazine) covers. If you believe in that sorta luck, your screws need adjusting. In the world of no justice and Black ladies on the back of buses, I’m the immaculate conception of rapper slash hustlers.”

So after we did the song, we sat down, kicked it, he started telling me what his idea of what Roc Nation was, what his goals are. It made a lot of sense, but I checked myself. It wasn’t just, Oh, I’m with Jay. We went to see the Gorillaz at the Madison Square Garden probably about a week later. More business talk. At this point, we got the lawyers trying to figure out what was the best, proper, possible way for us to work.

Birdman, he reached out recently. And naturally, based on the kinda music I do, based on the trajectory of my career, that doesn’t seem like a good fit. However: If I say, “I like Baby as a rapper,” people say, “I don’t get it.” People forget where I’m from. You forget how that shit is connected. But one thing about Baby is I could communicate to him in a language that he’s gonna feel me. He knows my circumstance. I told him I respect him, but I’m in talks with Jay. And he told me flat out, “I’ll match what anybody’s saying. I’ll beat what anybody’s saying.” But the reason why I would even entertain that is not because it’s Cash Money. Aesthetically, I don’t fit with that. But if we can connect, then we can get over any kind of hurdle.

“I’m back home scannin’ the land. Twenty-three million square miles of contraband.”

My family is from the Third Ward. Magnolia. Growing up in that environment, there ain’t no in-between. Either you was out there in that, or you wasn’t out there in that. I went to Catholic school, so my whole day I’m in a whole ‘nother environment, seeing shit that I don’t even know like, Oh, look two people pick him up, his mama and his daddy. Then I’m back in the projects, coming home with the uniform on. I get in a fight because I got on the uniform. Then I’m inside. I don’t really wanna go outside. Them niggas outside they wanna throw bricks in cars and, don’t get me wrong, I’ll go do it, but that just wasn’t me.

I always had delusions of grandeur, they called it, when I was little. I had a shrink when I was 8. It was always that I was just living unrealistic in my head. I tried to go to college for my mom and my grandmother because I graduated from St. Augustine High School, an all-boys school, a military school. I went to college for a semester. Northwestern State/University of Louisiana. I was pretty known on campus, used to do stupid shit, but I got caught. I got kicked out.

I came back to New Orleans and I didn’t know what to do. Everybody else was like, “Oh we out here hustling.” I started sniffing coke a little bit. I never shot up. Anyway, I was just lingering. I started hearing about some Million Man March. I didn’t really know who Louis Farrakhan was. I was raised in a Baptist church. All of a sudden people were protesting in the city. All these pastors from the churches, whether they were black or white. On the radio they was saying [Farrakhan] was the Antichrist and he was the devil. I’m like, Who is this dude?

Then one day I go to Xavier University’s campus, and there was a dude who was a Muslim, he was out there talking to some people about the Million Man March and why they should go and I was like, Let me see this. This particular man was actually living 100 percent of that word, and it was reflected in him. I paid for a ticket. I was on the bus and I didn’t know most of the people with me, nobody except one dude, Peter. We went there. New Orleans to D.C.

We went with the Muslims from my city, so they’re out there setting barricades. I was out there early in the morning with them in the front, waiting for this thing to go down, not knowing who Farrakhan is. I got on somebody’s shoulders and looked—far as you can see: black men. That nobody was fighting, we were out there crying. I didn’t even hear what Farrakhan said at the Million Man March because I was so captivated.

Eventually, I went to Chicago to join the Nation. I coulda joined in Atlanta, where I was living, but I always been the kinda person that asks, “Where’s the headquarters?” So, boom, I uprooted, left my apartment, back to square-one homeless, because I had to join the Nation. I went through processing class—13 weeks—moved through the ranks, became a lieutenant. I stayed out there the whole year. Then my man Peter came to Chicago. We became roommates, and around Christmastime, he wanted to go home, so I said, “Okay I’ll go home too.” We went down there, and then I didn’t wanna go back to Chicago. The weather was killing me. I went [back] to Atlanta because I lived there before. Being back in Atlanta made me feel like, Okay, now I’m going to New York.

I ended up goin’ back and forth there a couple of times. In New York, of course I was homeless, but it wasn’t new to me. I done went to a couple cities, including Detroit, and went from scratch a couple of times. Rashad “Tumblin Dice” Smith was the first person in New York that was like, “Yo, everybody look, let me tell you something right here: I’m gonna hook you up with such and such, we gonna try to get this meeting.” He hooked up a meeting with [Universal Records VP] Sylvia Rhone, and I met Erykah [Badu] around the same time.

Tone from Track Masters was a hater. He was in my meeting with Sylvia sitting there, like, “But I don’t get it, who are you? Where you from?” And I’m like, “I’m from New Orleans. I’m Nation, I’m street, I don’t know nothing about the industry.” So Sylvia’s jammin’ to the music and he’s like, “Oh I’m just saying, you’re from New Orleans, but you dressing like a New York nigga.” So we had an exchange up there and I stopped hearing from them.

I just went lights out. Even after I got into a relationship with Erykah, I could’ve used that, but I was under the radar. I was going through a transition, getting out of the Nation, doing things I hadn’t done in a long time. I started smoking again. I’m back in a relationship. This is the first time I’ve been in a relationship that’s outside the government of the Nation.

I just went completely personal, and I just devoted my whole self—really, a lot to Erykah. Traveling wherever she wanted to go, helping her with her stuff, just pulling myself. Then, you know, by the time Act I came out, I was in Brooklyn at her place while she was in Dallas.

To this day, I have a certain life that I want for myself, that I want for my children. I say my children because I have a daughter, Mars, but Erykah has other two children. I’ve been in their lives for as long as they can remember too, so they’re like my children—with respect to their fathers who are their biological fathers and are good fathers to them, and in their lives.

I like to drive, but I also like to be driven. I want a driver. That’s not wrong for me to say. I want a driver. I want a nice vehicle with a driver and a certain type of a lifestyle. I want a certain collection of a certain type of suits that I like to see myself in. Whether they designer or not, they fit me a certain way.

Yo, this interview is over, man.

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61 Comments
  • fuk waka

    tooooo high too read this shit today….. *yawn*

  • D

    This guy is genius.

  • ZoomZoom

    JAY ELECTRONICA IS WACK

    ELLIOT INTERVIEW PEOPLE WORTH INTERVIEWING NOT SOME LAME ASS 35 YEAR OLD ROOKIE… AKA JAY-Z NEW MEMPHIS BLEEK

  • Listen Up

    interview had some good insight, but then towards the end it rambles, 3 hours it seems you edited a lot of the convo

  • Belize

    yada yada yada……

  • wow

    weak interview very incomplete is the rest in the magazine
    i like that he waited on the right deal though but honestly
    this guy just talks way too much and raps way too little

  • King Jugganott

    New Orleans Stand Up!!

  • hugo

    Yo seriously, somebody get this fool out of the rap game. He just like everyone else. He in it for the money and the fame, extra large. This is his Exhibit A to Z. Jay Electronica, I know you reading this, the jig is up. Any record you sell is vampire blood sucking energy.

    Ms. Badu, badooed not enough?

  • http://Www.rapradar.com Black Panther

    Great interview it made me wish their was more! Wow did not know he was from nola? Cash money? Yeah that would be the worst choice! Rocnation is army!!!?

  • BEN 10

    DIDDY ALMOST HAD YOU ON UR KNEES… BUT U BENDED OVER FOR JAY …NOW U ABOUT TO GET FUCK CUZ JAY-Z IS ALL ABOUT JAY-Z

  • RC

    No hate at all but this interview didn’t really say anything.

    It was more like rambling between to folks that go way back or something.

    It was a long convoluted story.

    The more I know, the more I began to think, these folks are about as deep as puddles.

  • haha

    This interview was ok

  • http://rapradar.com ben

    dope interview.

  • Post no billz

    Jay elect is dope but he seems like an idiot and a racist..

  • anonymous

    elliot you are one of the ugliest niggas to ever have anything tro do with rap, you make russle simmons say goddamn and he looks like a fucking burn victim…go get a propper haircut and bust some sit ups for christs sake man.

  • Trav from GR, Mi.

    I’m addressing some comments above. An interview is suppose to be about the person being interviewed and that’s what this is.

    Jay Electronica is an intellectual Blakk man and I think only other intellectual Blakk man will respect his rhymes and the way he operates.

    Jay come to do a show at the University of Michigan man.

  • BLACK777

    Peace to the God Jay Electronica!!!
    Its Nation Time & the NOI still got ya back big bro…

    May Allah continue to bless you and your wonderful family.

    Also… YN, Great interview, I appreciate your journalistic insight..

  • QUEENZ

    great read, peace to Elect

  • still best rite now!!

    Dude has grown on me, but I cant respect how he went to New York hiding his accent & kissing ass, that shit is wack! Be proud of were u from nigga

  • http://twitter.com/airjustinn AirJustinn

    Poor righteous teacher

  • ARon

    i def cosign some comments above…. i bought into the whole jay elect hype and im still sitting here waiting and wondering why…exhibit c is nice, real nice but come on we need more material from you. you def do wayyyy too much talking and not enough rapping, and the more shit i see about you the more i believe youre a racist. hov aint gonna light no fire under your ass, look at j cole, that boy did it by himself and hes gonna be a legend. DO something jay

  • http://Www.rapradar.com Black Panther

    ^How exactly is he a racist? He clearly state that the man was trying to buy him as if he was property! The way it came out the man thought he care more about the money aspect than his respect. But he was wrong lol. Start reading and stop skimming and is their a second part to the interview?

  • Derty Kevin

    Did anyone ever ask him about the video with Benzino, dissing Em? Elliot I thought you even wrote a piece about that on the site.

  • puerto-black

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
    What he said

  • i said YERR

    yeah what they said ^^^^^^^^^^^ fuck jay elect. hes mad disrespectful in NY to NY artist … dudes a clown, he never drops ANYTHING. i dare him to battle Jay Nas Fab Jada Etc. NY STAND UP! and he got a problem with the G.O.A.T. EMINEM? HAHA em would EAT HIM ALIVE! #REALTALK

  • J

    regarding the RESPECT mag cover.. i get it.

    BUT

    if u somehow got to have a 1ST JAY ELECTRONICA & J.COLE….. and maybe pull a few strings and throw Jay-Z in that cover….. the 1st Roc Nation cover…. that would have been an epic statement.. im just sayin.. reminiscent of that (DRE, EM, 50) cover.. end of rap nerd rant.

    peace

  • Lost Tapes 2

    Everyone go sign the petition to release Lost Tapes 2! Support Nas! Go to WeNeedLostTapes2 (dot) com

  • MATIC

    JAY ELECTRONICA IS SO DOPE!!!

    HIS FLOW, HIS VOICE, HIS WITTY UNPREDICTABLE WORDPLAY.

    HE’S GOD CYPHER DIVINE!!! PLUS HE GOT JUST BLAZE ON THE BEATS.

    @ZOOM ZOOM LISTEN TO “EXIBIT A”

    THEN DOWNLOAD “WHAT THE FUCK IS A JAY ELECTRONICA?” FROM DATPIFF

    JAY ELEC IS STRAIGHT FIRE.

    DON’T WORRY, WE ALL STILL LOVE LIL WAYNE. C4 COMING SOON AND STUFF.

  • http://facebook.com/cwnewberry ChrisNewberry

    Where in the HELL does the racist shit come from? What, because he was man enough to tell another man who walked into his house and tried to act like if he owned the place that he was going to respect his home, and no amount of money he waved in his face or glamorous dream he presented to him was going to change that. What is wrong with that? This man actually had something else to say besides check out my chain, I spend $100k on weed every month, I’m the realest nigga ever in my neighborhood, etc. And yet, some of you have decided that you want to diss this man for that? Wow, its a tragedy when a man presents himself as a citizen of the world who has been humbled by his experiences and wishes to share that with the public, and nobody wants to hear that. Nope, I guess we would rather hear some cop claim to be the greatest drug dealer to ever touch white, or some big mouth run around with muppet baby chains on making noises and claiming to bust his gun all day. Yeah, that’s real right there! smh

  • BillyClint

    ^^chrisewberry@ c/sign

    also y did the interview end so quick like that…

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  • http://bit.ly/jkcclothes jimbroski

    first off his nat a racist..and the other thing is yall jus used to them good fridays every week trakes or mixtapes nat sayin that thats wrong or anything..but substance material will always take time..nas used to drop every two years without any mixtape en yall waited..now you cant smdh..his jus being him en being true to what he believes in en still make music thats all…jcole came here spent five years in university gat his shyt together en there he is…he wanted to get signed to hov en he did he doesnt rap about guns en all coz thats not him unless its relatin to stories from NC..anywayz am jus sayin regardless of whatever the case may be theres still gon be a hate/love issue period en thats that..

  • Sosa

    I’m impressed with this young man’s journey. Let him tell his story!

  • n8015301

    this nigga better drop a classic …………………..FUCK NIGGA !!!!!!!!!!!!YOU TRYIN KICK KNOWLEDGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • N.C. HipHopologist 1972

    I agree with the brother above. It’s a shame OUR CULTURE & MUSIC are really being defined by lifestyles that are destroying the very fabric that once held our community together through it’s most trying times.

  • http://www.myspace.com/inzite damm

    Dope

  • http://www.windowslive.com kendra

    i liked the interview cause it showed a more compelling story about who and what he is and what he want,s outta life…nough said tho….

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  • http://stoprapping.com RAPISNOTFOREVERYBODY

    words from a rambling racist

  • ben

    the fuck is this other “ben”?

    however, dope interview.

  • BLACKSPADE

    this interview was dope loved every bit of it hip hop’s a young man sport…but it really needs to grow
    up…im 34 and i dont plan on stopping no time soon …jay elect is like that hip hop hippie…love it ,,love it ..thank you R.R. keep it coming

  • http://rapradar hiphopjosh

    WELL I HALF TOO SAY THAT JAY ELECT IS ONE OF THA MOST INSPIRING GENIUS OF TODAY AND MY FAVORITE ARTIST I HAVE BEEN LISTENING SINCE ACT 1 AND HIS EARLY DAYS AND I ALWAYS WOULD TRY AND TELL MY PEOPLES LIKE THIS DUDE A STAR IN HIS OWN RIGHT SO TO SEE RAP RADAR GO IN FOR HIM AND PUT THIS MOST SIGNIFIGANT ARTICLE OUT FOR US BLOGGERS SALUTE TO U AND JAY ELECT ACT 2 WHERE ARE U ? ONE TRILLION

  • JonesD

    I agree with @ChrisNewberry ‘s statement. If we all have a talent and know its value, a smart man/woman would choose who he/she wants to do business with. Statements of putting someone in place that disrespects your home makes you a racist? ….. No, I believe that is self respect, and shows that no matter what, he will stand up for himself. And people commenting about his age…. WHO CARES. Every profession has new artist/entertainers/crafters that starts to buzz late. We don’t complain when we see actors/actress that are older having debut releases, or R&B/Neo-Soul artists with debut albums at 30+ in age. His age will not be a problem because his LYRICS ARE NOT YOUNG. The content of his raps don’t have an age. Jay Elec will be an artist that will cause some to pick up a dictionary (which is great), because we should be learning our whole lives through every piece of entertainment that we absorb.

    — Jay Elec do your thing. #Isupport

  • http://deeullconshus.wordpress.com deeullconshus

    ChrisNewberry had the realest comment ^^^… There is not a thing wrong, racist, or whatever else anyone said with this interview. This is true shit. But as other ppl brought up, I guess no one wants to hear real shit. Jay E and Roc Nation have somethinfg here. I honestly believe that if he didn’t have the ability to create some timeless, ubiquitous music, he wouldn’t be in the shit. He wouldn’t be waiting this long, indirectly hyping himself up if he didn’t think he had classics. So let’s just sit back, puff a bleezy, and wait for Jay to do his thing. In the meantime… HOW ABOUT THAT 6 FOOT 7 FOOT!! hahahaha

  • http://K1ngEljay.com k1ngeljay

    Yeah…. 3 / 4.

    The other three were dope, and i like the way this one was presented, and the journalism is still dope. The problem here was the content. Jay Elect. started rambling towards the end, and by the time I finished reading, the conclusion was kind of hollow… That was interesting about Birdman, but Elec. still didn’t address the one thing I wanted him to talk about, but I guess the shafting of Diddy for Jay (for lack of a better term) didnt happen until after this was done, right?

    I wonder what exactly was edited and not posted/published… can we get an extras post for the RapRadar readers? lol

  • Jawanza

    beautiful peak into the life of this man. good work!!!
    peace.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ahhmontea AHHMONTEA

    C’mon yall dont spaze. This interview was nice, you got to hear Jay’s story in his own words(the truth). No 3rd part bullshit, thanks elliot i needed dis.

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  • BIG DX

    F.O.I.!

  • fan of good music

    I would like to see the full vid of dear moleskine and hear and see about his travels to asia.
    looks really intresting : )

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  • OpenMindNY

    Good article, it probably would have gotten better but Jay realized he was getting real deep. What little he did say has enlightened me.

  • Maestro

    They always hate what they do not understand. Most of you can’t relate, but others can.

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  • Killa

    Great interview.

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  • http://streetdose.com StreetDose.com

    This was a real good interview. It brought a lot of insight as to how he got into the game and how him and Erykah Badu hooked up. I like the part about the Universal CEO walking around the crib like he owned it and he had to put the white man in his place. Jay E has definitely made something outta nothing everywhere he went so I don’t expect it to be any different on RocNation! Much props to him. Great interview.

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  • Dj D@wodu

    Thank you. This article is epic. If you have been following the “semi-buzz” of Mr. Electronica, one knows the WIZARD does not waste words. “Are you watching closely?”

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