Jay Everyman – The People’s Champ at Manifesto’s Main Event [Article]
Toronto, ON – I’m sure you’ve heard many a conscious rapper promote that they’re about the people. Many talk it, but don’t live it.
Jay Electronica is truly about the people.
What does that exactly mean? It means that his music and career is earnestly not geared toward financial excess, and that he won’t sacrifice his art for wealth. It means that he sincerely aims to reflect the times, and dissect the human condition from his perspective and share it in his music. It means he’s a true artist, an artist’s artist that seeks to unify people and expose arbitrary divisions that keep us apart. It means that he rapped half of his short set at Dundas Square literally in the crowd. Not standing on a speaker or surrounded by security, but in it, like he was personally talking to everyone around him. He tore through those “Exhibit C” verses with the ferociousness of a wild cat, while the audience’s heads and arms bobbed from kick to snare in a magnificent, synchronized reciprocation of energy. So Hip-Hop.
Then he graciously ended his set instead of cutting short Black Thought’s time slot, though the people were in a frenzy and demanding more. He checked with his DJ twice, asking the crowd what song he should go into next, but fought the itch out of respect for his comrade. But did he return backstage? Nope. He hung around for a while, standing shoulder to shoulder with fans who looked dumbstruck at literally rubbing elbows with their favorite rapper.
Moments earlier, being short on time, I had to conduct my interview with him on his walk to the stage from the Hard Rock Cafe. Moving through the upstairs kitchen, I ask him to reveal something about Act ll exclusively for Toronto. He looked at me with his eyes burrowed in his eyebrows and a smile that suggested, “you cheeky bastard you, nice try”. When I press him to reveal something, anything, he replies, “I don’t know what I can say that I haven’t said already”. Then, when I inquire about production on the album, he says, ” [I] can’t give away too much”.
In the short trip down the elevator, I implore him to touch on the mythical persona he’s developed. “I don’t know if I’ve cultivated that. Apparently that’s something that’s happening. I don’t do nothin’ mystical. I’m on Twitter talking about the Saints. I’ve very public so the mysteriousness and all that stuff, I don’t know where that come from.” Perhaps it’s from the fact that not too much is known about him. He’s not very visible – he rarely does interviews, and when he does, he doesn’t reveal too much. Or it could be the way he releases music, through miscellaneous forums or unverified social media accounts that disappear soon after surfacing.
We’re outside now moving towards backstage with his road manager, some PR people, event coordinators, security, and Toronto rapper Page (a friend of his). Seconds after debunking his mysterious aura, we’re discussing his purported travels to ancient cites. “I try and not necessarily go seek a specific thing. If I do, I still try to stay open to whatever is there for me when I get to a place.” Then I get more direct, asking about the occult themes in his music, such as his various references to UFOs. Does it come from him being a 5-Percenter? “It comes from the Honourable Elijah Muhammad, and Master W. Fard Muhammad, who taught the Honourable Elijah Muhammad. That’s where all of that stuff comes from.”
You still don’t have an exclusive for us? He laughs, “No sir”. We’re backstage now, with the entourage filing in. I wish him a belated happy birthday and say God bless. He pauses to thank me, and sensing that I had many questions left, says to look for him after the show. I think nothing of it, and make my way around to press row.
In the intro that set him up to take stage, a triumphant instrumental sounded his arrival, at the end of which could be heard the voice a certain Sean “Puffy” Combs – a companion of his. In the audio, Puff (hard to call him Diddy when you grew up in the 90’s) says something to the effect of, “He needs to get his shit together and drop something, there needs to be balance in the rap ecosystem.” Mr. Combs can rest assured knowing Jay Elec is in that sense a dedicated environmentalist. The Al Gore of rap if you will, a concerned climatologist and expert observer scrutinizing changing weather patterns, and serving up remedies to help to fix the soul of Hip-Hop Earth.
What ensued was the aforementioned raucous raising performance. A back to the future hip-hip show – some ol’ time killing. In about 20-something odd minutes, he bodied that Yonge and Dundas stage.
After the show’s end, the Manifesto festivalgoers slowly began dispersing. Artists filed out, chased by throngs of reporters, event organizers and fanatics. Ciphers formed, hosting would-be MCs who were galvanized by what they had just witnessed. Ladies, and very soon afterwards fellas, started lining up for the after party at the Hard Rock across Dundas Square.
While browsing through clusters of people who were still milling about in the post-concert hype, I spot Jay. He made small talk, snapped pics, gave hugs, shook hands, and exchanged smiles with people. If you didn’t know he was a rapper, he was indistinguishable from everyone else, except all the attention was on him. To my surprise, as he sees me approaching he says, “I ain’t forget about you”. Seconds later, he heads backstage and takes each person with him, arguing with security to ensure that everyone got through.
I perched myself on a ledge, watching the mob of fans and media flock around him. He was doing his best to address each person’s request (picture here, hug there), and fielding questions and requests from all directions. I hang back and observe. Mindbender in particular – an artist and rap aficionado who can be found at practically every hip-hop event in Toronto mouthing the words to virtually every song – gave Jay more than an earful until it got awkward for all those around. His road manager finally intervened and set him up in a tent, where press people and fans lined up outside waiting their turn.
Next to me away from the crowd, I spot a friend I haven’t seen in years, nervously drying his sweaty palms on his sweater. He’s an MC. “I’m going to spit something for him man, I wrote something. I hope he likes it. I’m going to spit something,” he says, barely keeping himself together. I encourage him, and he works up the courage to approach his idol. Jay obliges, and even takes his iPhone out to tape the freestyle. My friend delivers and spits a dope sixteen, which garners “aaahs” from everyone around.
He practically collapsed when Jay told him he’d blast the freestyle video out on Twitter. The young MC slowly peeled himself away from the group. He looked like a shell-shocked victim that had just survived a bombing raid and was observing the destruction around him. With glazed eyes looking straight ahead but nowhere in particular he mumbled, “I just rapped for Jay Electronica. I just rapped for Jay Electronica,” before walking off into the night. A minuscule, classic hip-hop moment in a classic hip-hop night.
Written by Atkilt Geleta for HipHopCanada
Photography by Ajani Charles for HipHopCanada