Jay Electronica proves his reputation as an underground hip hop legend with a performance sure to be remembered. His performance at Yugong Yishan showed that he's a first rate performer.
By William Wang
Over the years, the good folks at JUE festival have been done an impressive job to bring in international talent to Beijing. Travelers looking to catch a bit of ˇ§the local sceneˇ¨ need look no further than JUE, a festival that brings out some of the best in local and international talent.
This year, JUE persuaded legendary hip hop artist Jay Electronica to come out to the capital (and Shanghai) to perform. The New Orleans native isn't your typical rapper. His illustrious career doesn't even have an LP to its name yet. But his singles made industry waves, particularly when he released an epic 15 minute track Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge). It is a captivating song based on a contemplative piano and acoustic guitar piece that doesn't even contain drums. The track proved Electronica's word skills, but even more so, his defiance. It flew in the face of record industry standards, against the money machine that plagues countless artists.
His set at Yugong Yishan this past Tuesday proved to fans and the curious that his music may be cerebral, but that doesn't mean it don't party. Hip hop performances can be limited by a singer's lack of dynamism, but Jay Electronica was magnetic. It wasn't rock star energy that pulled people in, but his passion and sincerity.
Rapping over chopped up beats and explosion sound effects, it wasn't long before he climbed off the stage to sing from the floor amongst his fans. It totally made sense. A flashy gold necklace may have hung from his neck, but bling has never been his modus operandi. When he sings about his past life of poverty, it's reflective, not self-aggrandizing. Spirituality is a key theme across his work, often referencing religious scripts.
Jay Electronica's lyrics are known for bordering on the abstract. He references the bible, politics, and anyone from Kurt Cobain to Kurt Vonnegut. But during his live show, his intellectualism is (for better or worse) counterbalanced by constant calls to ˇ§Put your hands in the air!ˇ¨ It may not be the most sophisticated way to grip your audience but this crowd was totally on board.
By the show's end, it was clear why many people consider Electronica to be a legend of hip hop, if not a savour. But also Electronica had secured his position as a man of the people. He had taken requests, chatted with audience members and even invited one on stage to share the mike for a song. After the last song, he was more than gracious with his fans, posing for as many pictures as people hoped to take.
The night had opened up with two Xinjiang hip hoppers, Boom Xu and MC Air who got the room heated up with their enthusiastic use of English and Chinese profanities. They were followed by New Yorker Miss Ko, a woman notorious for rapping in perfect Mandarin. But she also broke out the old school with tracks like Bell Biv Devoe's Poison or House of Pain's Jump Around much to the delight of the squealing girls pressed up at the front. A couple people felt that Miss Ko was too pop to be a good match with Jay Electronica, but JUE is all about bringing communities together, and if people have to mix and match a bit, so much the better.
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