Jay Electronica – “Something To Hold On To”

I’ve been a fan of Jay Elec Ramadaan Muhammad Asalaamica Rasoud Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala thru ya monitor ever since I first heard “Exhibit C” (which is no less than one of the best hip-hop songs of the past five years), but a few weeks ago I heard this track for the first time, and I’ve wanted to write a post about it since.

It may be my new favorite by the enigmatic rapper, and I can only think of a handful of times in my life when I’ve been so blown away by a song on first listen. My reaction definitely has something to do with the fact that I paid close attention to the lyrics when I first heard this, which I don’t always do; I’d say that’s an essential part of listening to this track, so I’m going to reprint them below.

It’s hard for me to put my finger on what impresses me so much about “Something To Hold On To,” but it seems to sum up the power that Jay Electronica’s music can have when he’s at his best. With an unfailing sure-footedness, he swings back and forth between more “abstract” wordplay (“swallow my verse / which is my universe / God obeys no thirst”), general descriptions of the hood (“The more guns ya bust the realer your crew / Cats carry gats concealed in they suits”) and pieces of incredibly lucid storytelling (pretty much the second half of each verse). These stories, about his cousin, “this kid Larry,” and a girl named Lakeisha, show Jay’s willingness to follow little plotlines down lyrical alleyways in pursuit of The Truth, or something. He describes Larry’s life and the reasons for his cousins drug problem in much more detail than you expect him to. And in my favorite part of the whole song, the second half of the third verse, he just keeps following the tangent of the story of this family, arriving at a really powerful conclusion, far away from where he started. He does this all while speaking in plain language like a veteran storyteller, but still maintaining extremely tight lyrical control and flawless delivery.

These verses are perfectly accompanied by the beat, which isn’t particularly showy or unusual (unlike the bizarre “Shiny Suit Theory” backing track, which makes it hard for me to enjoy the actual lyrics). It’s propulsive in a way that gives Jay’s words a sense of urgency, and it also has that vaguely cinematic feel that he really seems to value in his production (given how often he raps over movie soundtracks). And when I say “cinematic,” I meant that it sort of functions differently than the majority of hip-hop beats–or at least has some added component that I don’t usually notice in most hip-hop. The surging chord pattern and rising strings give his words an extra emotional resonance, like an inspiring speech in a movie that is made only more goosebump-raising by a good ol’ emotionally exploitative soundtrack.

When I listen to “Something To Hold On To,” I get the feeling that Jay Elec is trying to engage with the meaning of life, or the human condition, in a more direct way than most hip-hop–most music in general, in fact. Not that that should be the requirement of music, obviously. But I think song lyrics are one of the most difficult places to engage with such grandiose themes, so its thrilling to watch someone do so as effectively as Jay often does, in many of his songs. But in this song especially, he weaves a rich tapestry of real, dramatic human tragedy, and the fact that he’s actually lived an itinerant life on the streets of cities all over America lends it that added authenticity. In his travels, he’s seen a lot, and it’s easy to imagine he’s gained some deeper understanding of our country. Someone once called him “a hip-hop Jack Kerouac.” He breathes America.

That why I feel a Jay Electronica album, if he ever chooses to bestow one upon us, could be an extremely powerful piece of art. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Now that’s enough out of me! Please please please, listen to this song, listen loud, and listen closely. The lyrics are below.

As I scratch the last days off the calendar
N***as roam the streets with heavy metal like Metallica
Pistols with the silencers
Killing soldiers softly
The crime pays a little but the consequence is costly
My cousin, I love him, we go back in the days
But now he struggle with the monkey and he trapped in a maze
I still care for him
To tell the truth I’m kinda scared for him
Cause when he conscious he in rare form
But that’s the story of his life, getting locked up or shot up
Or in somebody’s kitchen on the block cooking rocks up
I think he lost hope when he seen them lock his pops up
Or when he seen his sister baby father get his knot bust
My grandmother complain and tell him make a change
But her thinking is outdated she can’t understand the game
Chyeah, hard time three to nine in a jailhouse
Is no different from slaving nine to five in a warehouse

There’s a lot of shit going on up in my hood
I thank god I’m alive oh and I’m a knock on wood
Yea though I walk through the valley of death
I know the lord got my back with every step
You see nothing here surprises me
I got a whole lotta soldiers down to ride with me
But lord please give me, something to hold on to
Something to hold, I need something to hold

Yo in the projects shit is mad real for the youth
N***as get ill for the loot
The more guns ya bust the realer your crew
Cats carry gats concealed in they suits
Whether cee-loo craps or macks gorillas may shoot
When the eyes meet don’t steer wrong and don’t stare long
Cause n***as’ll kill for that when they be full of heron
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder
How crews remain standing once the AK’s thunder
Under the stun roof tops, career thugs cook rocks
Then hit the blocks
To make a killing plus fame
Man they loving this game
It’s mega action the trees stay hot like saunas
Shorties with fly hair-dos get dipped or play the corner
Summertime they shine block parties galore
So many soldiers die they buy a separate forty to pour
I knew this kid Larry n***as thought he was poor
But he had cream for days ran a solid scheme with Ks
AKs with the banana clips, rubber handle grips
The same nigga that got Randal hit
He living scandalous
He used to pop no-doze so he won’t be caught sleeping
And he couldn’t even walk around the block cause he was beefing
I say that to say this
That’s ghetto everyday shit
Where slugs miss chipped bricks leave scars on chicks
It’s kinda trife right now
But that’s the life right now
And way back it wasn’t half as trife like now

There’s a lot of shit going on up in my hood
I thank god I’m alive oh and I’m a knock on wood
Yea though I walk through the valley of death
I know the lord got my back with every step
You see nothing here surprises me
I got a whole lotta soldiers down to ride with me
But lord please give me, something to hold on to
Something to hold, I need something to hold

Peace god what’s today’s math
Just trying to escape wrath
With two left feet, it’s kinda hard to walk a straight path
Soldiers laying in gutters from god to greed
My old dad left momdukes and scarred his seed
We all family
But seemingly these cats can’t stand me
Haters gonna hate be it a lexus or a camry
Understand me
But do the knowledge first swallow my verse
Which is my universe
God obeys no thirst
Fallen angels in the ghetto trading in they wings for things
Semiautomatic machines with red beams
Street magicians converting the crack and the cream
Sat back saw em turn black Zack to a fiend
He’s a teacher
Had a fly daughter named Lakeisha
If you hustle have a beeper smoke reefer you can freak her
I seen her giving head inside the club behind the speaker
Last year she had three abortions for the preacher
And one miscarriage for this kid they call Harris
He told her that her loved her and hes moving her to Paris
She fell for it
Touched her third rail for it
And next year she woulda been sixteen
Once told me that she wanted to go to God get clean
So she could be a role model for her brother Eugene
Hes a beautiful seed
Eight years and can’t read
At night his asthma so bad he can’t breathe
He wants to be an astronaut
And fly to space but his teacher told him that he just ain’t got what it take
So he cried while the other kids played at lunch break
What will it take to raise out mind-state?

There’s a lot of shit going on up in my hood
I thank god I’m alive oh and I’m a knock on wood
Yea though I walk through the valley of death
I know the lord got my back with every step
You see nothing here surprises me
I got a whole lotta soldiers down to ride with me
But lord please give me, something to hold on to
Something to hold, I need something to hold

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~ by toren on June 21, 2011.

One Response to “Jay Electronica – “Something To Hold On To””

  1. […] I love Jay and why I’m confident this album will be incredible, check out my post on his song “Something To Hold On To”. And since no tracks from this album have been released yet, check out the […]

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