Jay Electronica returned to his hometown with humility, wisdom, and excitment.  

jay electronica photo by steph catsoulis for my spilt milk
Jay Electronica at Buku, by Steph Catsoulis

Jay Electronica was the prodigal son on Saturday night at Buku, and one of the few rappers who performed up this weekend after Lil Uzi Vert, Ski Mask the Slump God and Famous Dex no-showed. The New Orleans native rapper grew up in the “the Magnolia projects in the Third Ward slum,” to quote Electronica. Essentially homeless, he traveled between Atlanta, New York, Detroit, and Baltimore, befriending other hip-hop artists and deejays. He released the 15-minute track, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” via MySpace in 2007 and gained significant attention. He has released music sporadically, was signed by Jay Z to Roc Nation Records, and is widely considered the greatest rapper alive, but he has never released an album. 

Jay Electronica has shrouded himself in mystery, but when he took the stage, the veil came off. He was excited to be back in his hometown, keen on relating and uniting his New Orleans crowd. "Welcome home" was written on his black hoodie, and after opening with “Dear Moleskine,” he yelled, “I’m home motherfucker!” 

Electronica captivated the crowd with every word as he alternated between using a beat and rapping a cappella.  His voice is a base with heavy vibrato, making it an instrument in and of itself. Whenever the beat dropped out, nothing was missing. 

Electronica jumped into the crowd during “Exhibit A.” The crowd gravitated toward him and when the song cut out, he continued to rap a  slightly tweaked verse from “Dimethyltrypatamine.” Electronica singled out one audience member who stood about a foot away from him and rapped directly to him, saying, “The levee monster sucked up New Orleans while they was playin’ man vs. man in Afghanistan.” As if he was giving advice, Electronica said, “Let him recruit you / he will try to use his powers so seduce you. / Don’t let him seduce you.” The man looked like he'd been touched by an angel after the interaction. 

jay electronica photo by steph catsoulis Jay Electronica, by Steph Catsoulis

 

Electronica monolgued throughout the show. Before performing “The Levees Broke (Katrina),” he claimed that the same government that coordinated 9/11 conspired to blow up the levees. The claim was audacious, but his lack of self-censorship fed the crowds energy. The song itself is a critique of the state and federal government’s response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrine. Performing parallel to the river magnified the impact of the lyrics. 

Playing “Better in Tune With the Infinite” had a similar impact. “The waters in the bayous of New Orleans still glistenin’,” he said, referring to the fact that the bayou continues to be beautiful after the tragedy. He saluted the audience, proud to be in this city together. Because of that, the show felt less like a festival slot and more like a spiritual experience. "Jay Electronica is a prophet," one fan tweeted. Another felt "blessed by his presence."

Electronica hopped in and out of the crowd throughout the set. He got annoyed with the distance between him and the audience and invited about a quarter of the crowd to join him onstage. “Right now, we are all Jay Electronica,” he announced before playing a cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” He rapped an original verse over the beat that was fraught with thought-provoking lyrics and an impeccable flow.

After the verse, he invited New Orleans native rappers to come on stage and freestyle. You’d have to be either crazy or hammered to follow Jay Electronica on the mic, but some took him up on his offer. A girl wearing ski googles was the last to go, and although she tripped up when she started, Jay signaled the audience to cheer for her. She found her feet and spat out a good verse, but his ability to unite the room in mutual respect was far more impressive.

jay electonica show photo by steph catsoulis One of the impromptu freestylers at Jay Electronica's show, by Steph Catsoulis

 

“Exhibit C” marked the end of the show. He jumped into the crowd one last time and walked around to shake hands with as many people possible. He stayed in The Ballroom for about five minutes after he was done performing to meet fans. Jay Electronica is known for many different reasons; being the best rapper alive, never releasing an album, being signed by Roc Nation with only three songs to his name, and being Erykah Badu’s baby daddy to name a few. On Saturday night at Buku, he added humility, wisdom and respect to that list. The numerous rap artists who canceled this weekend should take a page out of Jay Electronica’s book.

For more from Buku, see our review of Migos and wrap-up from the rest of the festival.