Jay Electronica

What makes me different from everybody else just boils down to dissatisfaction,” exclaims rapper-producer Jay Electronica. “The bar is so low in rap—mediocrity is king! Who’s really trying to push the boundaries and move forward? Who’s really trying to come up with a new approach and make me feel wild?” The answer, of course, is Jay Electronica. Born Timothy Tredford in New Orleans, the now Brooklyn-based, 34-year-old Electronica embodies a series of compelling contradictions. On the one hand, he runs with a bold-faced crowd, collaborating with the likes of Nas and Diddy and fathering a daughter with neo-soul star Erykah Badu. On the other, he might very well be one of the most consistently striving—and innovative—artists in hip-hop today. Releasing most of his music free via the Internet, Electronica creates grittily addictive bangers, like his hit “Exhibit C,” though he’s just as apt to drop a track like “Act 1: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge)”—a 15-minute musique concrete surreal symphony. “He looks like he’s an alien,” Badu intones on “Act 1 . . . ,” offering an assessment of Electronica that pretty much sums up the general feel of his music: diverse, complex, and mythically not of this world. After appearing this month as part of this year’s Q-Tip- and The Roots–curated edition of the Hennessy Artistry tour, Electronica will finish prepping his highly anticipated, first commercially released album, Act II: Patients Of Nobility (the turn), which is due in stores before the end of the year. The record was crafted during a globetrotting odyssey that saw him venture all over Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “People are afraid to go into an environment they are completely unfamiliar with,” he explains. “For me, my life is a journey. Nothing against Drake, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Kanye West, but they’re in a certain kind of machine that doesn’t afford them the freedom to do that.” He adds: “The greats have always been the people who gave you of themselves, as opposed to just giving you a product.”