At this point, Jay Electronica has long since entered into hip-hop lore, with his debut album becoming legend on the level of Detox and his persona somehow making him the most elusive character in the game this side of MF DOOM. He seldom makes public appearances, instead drifting around and popping up here and there with a guest spot or a leaked track, almost never more than one in any six month span. It's the most perplexing delay of an elite lyricist's solo album since Andre 3000 walked away from OutKast last decade.

Early on, of course, the talent was undeniable, with "Exhibit A" and "Exhibit C" leaving hip-hop fans—as well as fellow artists and high-level label execs—salivating over what was to come. A few additionally inconsistent years followed, with tracks leaking here and there, the promise of an album continually on the table, and even a mysterious mixtape or two surfacing scattered across the Internet. But that was enough for Electronica to be buddies with Diddy and to get a record deal with Jay Z's Roc Nation, which he signed Nov. 13, 2010.

Things immediately started looking up for Jay Electron; he dropped two new tracks—one, "Shiny Suit Theory," featured Jay Z and was looked at as a big "Fuck you" to Diddy, though the two made up indirectly on Twitter shortly after—within four days, an unheard-of output from the elusive New Orleans native, and it seemed like an album was finally imminent. But things quickly went dark again, and he went silent for over a year before resurfacing. Since signing to the Roc, Jay's dropped fewer than 20 verses in just over three years, from guest spots to leaked songs, with the most recent coming last week during SXSW, when a fan on Twitter prompted him to release "Better In Tune With The Infinite" featuring LaTonya Givens.

With Jay Elect back on everyone's radar, XXL rounded up his best verses since signing on Jay Z's dotted line—also known as the moment everyone first believed his album was on the way—and ranked them from best to worst. Agree, disagree, or act indifferently, but you know you wanted all this material in one place for you to blast at full volume and dream of Act II: Patents Of Nobility. You're welcome. —Dan Rys (@danrys) with XXLStaff


15. "Hail Mary"

Lead Artist: CETO
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica
Producer: N/A
Project: So Magnolia
Day The Track Dropped: Dec. 28, 2012
What Makes This Verse Dope: No one had any idea who CETO was when this track dropped straight out of the sky, but it was the second Jay Electronica verse in a month, and that alone was as rare as a Wayne verse without a pussy reference at the end of 2012. This track is an ode to the Nola men's fallen brethren that didn't make it out of the city—a respectable, if not exactly original, premise—but there wasn't much, if any, meaty lyrical content from Jay. He didn't even really spit an entire verse, settling for the hook and a couple bridges, plus an out-of-character gay slur. Are we sure this was the real Jay Electronica and not some type of Monstar inhabiting his body? Yikes.
Best Lyric: "Money by the trash bags / A body in a Glad bag / If the 3rd Ward is Iraq / Then the Magnolia is Baghdad"


14. "Run And Hide"

Lead Artist: The Bullitts
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica
Producer: The Bullitts
Project: Short Film (Song starts at 3:30)
Day The Track Dropped: July 28, 2011
What Makes This Verse Dope: A little perfunctory, short verse about how the Western World is fucking us all up embedded inside a 9-minute film by The Bullitts, it's just a little too preachy without enough substance or wordplay to mask it. Electro seems to be waltzing through this one, just getting his job done—the narration of the woman in the film's inner turmoil—without stepping too far outside his lane. Not that the song is bad, because it's not when taken as a whole, but when we're breaking this down into verses, this one just doesn't stand out in any real way.
Best Lyric: "Sentimental rain drops / The tears fall in increments / Like incremental pain drops / That wash away the stained spots"

run and hide

13. "Call Of Duty (Modern Warfare 3)"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: Mobb Deep
Producer: Havoc
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: Oct. 10, 2011
What Makes This Verse Dope: This beat is pretty ridiculous, both for Jay Elec and for Mobb Deep, with Prodigy recycling old Infamous lyrics on the hook and Jay Elec seemingly tripped up a bit by the vocal sample that seems out of place at best. But he finds a rhythm by the second verse, spittin' game on Funk Flex, the British Royal Family and Rupert Murdoch and his goons, all while having time to spout some unity lyrics aimed at every religion on the planet in between brunch with the Rothschilds and dinner with Jay and Bey. Seems like a busy day to us.
Best Lyric: "Electronic / Niggas call my album Detox / 'Cause they know I’m finna bring the next Chronic." (That's not why they're calling your album Detox, Jay...)


12. "Control"

Lead Artist: Big Sean
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica, Kendrick Lamar
Producer: No I.D.
Project: Unreleased
Day The Track Dropped: August 12, 2013
What Makes This Verse Dope: There was basically nothing he could do after the forest fire's worth of destruction that Kendrick sprayed upon the entire hip-hop landscape, including Sean and Jay; by the time most people got through Kendrick's whirlwind, they were too busy rewinding to even realize Jay was there. Chalk that up to a first—when was the last time anyone could remember that Jay Electronica got overshadowed on a track? It's not a bad verse at all—though it's easy to get caught up on that repetitive "I’m silent as a rock / ‘Cause I came from a rock / That’s why I came with the rock / Then signed my name on the Roc"—but when he gets overshadowed this bad, you can't put this verse in the top five. Impossible.
Best Lyric: "Draw a line around some Earth, then put my name on the plot / 'Cause I endured a lot of pain for everything that I got"


11. "Atom Anthem"

Lead Artist: D. Prosper
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica
Producer: Rashad Smith
Project: #Atom 12.12.12
Day The Track Dropped: Dec. 12, 2012
What Makes This Verse Dope: For an ex-poet taking his first steps into the hip-hop game, D-Prosper absolutely wrecked this track, coming out of nowhere and bringing a spare Electronica verse with him. It's hard to hate on Elect's verse, really; it's not bad, and he brings some good one-twos, despite kicking off his verse by jacking Q-Tip's flow from the old-school Tribe days. It just all seems a little too out of his comfort zone, maybe a little too lackadaisical, to compare to his other verses. More than anything else, D-Prosper comes so close to eclipsing him, lyrically, on this track, that it's an awkwardly tough one to call.
Best Lyric: "A slave to nicotine, whiskey shots, anonymous / The rear view shows no one there reminding us / No Ramadan, Qur'an, Hanukkah, yarmulke / Could save me the way that the DJ did"


10. "Jedi Code"

Lead Artist: Rapsody
Featured Artists: Phonte, Jay Electronica
Producer: 9th Wonder
Project: She Got Game
Day The Track Dropped: August 20, 2013
What Makes This Verse Dope: Disclaimer: from here on out we're only dealing with different levels of dopeness, because this top ten is chock full of must-listen tracks. Phonte crushes shit as usual, and Rap can stand with the best of 'em. The only thing going against Jay Elect was that this tape dropped a week after Kendrick put the world on blast with "Control," and nothing was the same. The Candy Man doesn't sleep—any shoutout to Ghostbusters is gonna get a special shoutout from us, as well—but after three years of avoiding it, he can't help but dip back into biting on old B.I.G. verse. Points come back for calling himself "Jay Electronicextravaganza" and for the image of baby Jesus crying tears into his popcorn. The track is so dope it can mask the fact that he sort of floated right through it.
Best Lyric: "It's a Roc Nation, Jay Electronicextravaganza / The fans need a oxygen mask for every stanza"


9. "Murder Death Kill"

Lead Artist: The Bullitts
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica
Producer: The Bullitts
Project: They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories...
Day The Track Dropped: June 25, 2013
What Makes This Verse Dope: Jay Elect chooses to play the vocal foil on this cut, taking the listener on a tour of his Nawlins hometown in a grim reminder that it ain't all Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras. The imagery is brutal, the deeds described vague, but that's what makes it all the more effective. This is one of those verses where focusing on the emotion, rather than the facts at hand, makes the reality of the situation being described in the verse that much more vivid. When imagination is able to run wild—and when a rapper is able to paint the picture in just the right way—it can be more devastating than any graphic novel Ghostface has ever painted with his words. This one hits like a ton of bricks.
Best Lyric: "The pain was like a boomerang that karma always brung back / A woman scorned is a page torn, a bridge burned, et cetera / A picture's worth a thousand words so welcome to the cinema"


8. "The Announcement"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: John F. Kennedy
Producer: Jay Electronica
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: Nov. 15, 2010
What Makes This Verse Dope: It takes a rare breed to feature a president on a track, but Jay Electronica was never the most normal dude, and he had just inked a deal with Roc Nation; we'd be shooting for the moon at that point, too. This verse is riddled with references to Hova—"Decoded hieroglyphics in the shrines for the mummies / We not Illuminati but our eye is on the money," for one; "Here’s a footnote on The Blueprint / Whom's fucking with We?" for another—and his excitement with signing to the Roc. It was meant as an introduction to one of those rare lyrical gems that crop up a few times a generation, and it would be hard to argue that this verse wasn't heralding big things. It's not the most lyrical, the most complex, or the most dense, but it didn't need to be. It needed the right allusions, the right references, and the right attitude, and that's what it got right.
Best Lyric: "The light from the Dynasty sign froze all of the critics / And nary a soul got on they frog toes to ribbit"


7. "Better In Tune With The Infinite"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: LaTonya Givens
Producer: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: March 15, 2014
What Makes This Verse Dope: First off, it's the first thing we've heard in six months, easy, from Jay Elect, and he apparently dropped it last week during SXSW based solely on the hopeful request of a fan. But it's also one of those stark, naked, confessional tracks that almost every rapper outside of Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar stays all the way the hell away from these days. The piano and meditative violins are soothing to the point of disarmament, which makes the lyrics—"The sun rise and the moon tides and the sky's gon' reveal me / My brain pours water out my tear ducts to heal me"—stand that much stronger.
Best Lyric: "My feet might fail me, my heart might ail me / The synagogues of Satan might accuse or jail me / Strip, crown, nail me, brimstone hail me / They might defeat the flesh but they could never ever kill me / They might can feel the music but could never ever feel me"

The Big Chill 2011 - Day 3

6. "Dear Moleskine"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: N/A
Producer: Just Blaze
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: April 7, 2012
What Makes This Verse Dope: More rappers need to embrace clear-cut references to Bill Murray's more obscure catalogue, like Jay does here with his Groundhog Day reference. But outside of that, is there a more Jay Electronica lyric than this: "When you cried all your tears out / And one page of your diary can tell you what your year 'bout / That's a lonely place / My mama said 'Son, why such a lonely face?' / Because the pressure's on me"? That sounds like something Andre 3000 would write after the 4 millionth person asked him where his solo album was (and by the way...). It's like the pressure built so much up on him that his notebook accidentally spilled some of his fears out into this track, and he's trying desperately to keep it all together in time to fight off "The ghost of the past." Haunting.
Best Lyric: Lama sabachthani / I'm trying to see light but the devil trying to blind me / The grim reaper walking with his shovel right behind me / Trying to introduce me to the untimely unkindly"


5. "Suplexes Inside Of Complexes And Duplexes"

Lead Artist: Mac Miller
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica
Producer: Larry Fisherman
Project: Watching Movies With The Sound Off
Day The Track Dropped: June 18, 2013
What Makes This Verse Dope: Electricity spins a warped story that weaves through fairy tales from Cinderella to The Wizard Of Oz, with the metaphor extending all throughout the verse and slowly, intricately tying in a second story that may well be autobiographical. He's in full-on alliterative mode after that, though without the tongue-twisting acrobatics, but either way his tumbling flow over this beat lends itself perfectly to the bedtime narrative.
Best Lyric: "Mr. Candyman, the parables parabolic / The poetry's like the poems and psalms of Ecclesiastes"


4. "They Die By Dawn"

Lead Artist: The Bullitts
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica, Yasiin Bey, Lucy Liu
Producer: The Bullitts
Project: They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories...
Day The Track Dropped: May 28, 2013
What Makes This Verse Dope: As evocative as the Quentin Tarantino trilogy it was meant to invoke, the production already sets the stage for an epic tale. And when your story is in the hands of two men like the artist formerly known as Mos Def and Jay Electramadan, you know you're going to get something that delivers. The verses are short but economical; Jay's describes advice from his grandmother, who told him to straighten his life out and pull himself out of the gutter. "Mainstream dropout / White widow cotton mouth / Out in Queen's Park with a crew of dirty stopouts" is a great sequence made even better by the appropriation of "London Bridge" in the next line. It's quick and to the point, but Jay delivers again.
Best Lyric: "Every devil, every scoundrel, every henchmen, every hound / Get lassoed by the sound / Ran across the desert, then shackled to the mound"


3. "Shiny Suit Theory"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: Jay Z, The-Dream
Producer: Jay Electronica
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: Nov. 17, 2010
What Makes This Verse Dope: Also known as the Holy-Shit-This-Roc-Nation-Shit-Is-For-Real verse, and the one that may have pissed off Diddy for a day or two before he found existential comfort in another million dollars he discovered under the pillow. Let's be real—it takes a real lyricist or a monster beat to pry a truly dynamic verse out of Jay Z these days, and Electronica must have struck a nerve, because Hova busted out his running shoes. Maybe the best part of his verse is that, days after he chose the ROC over Bad Boy, Electro spends a full two-thirds of his verse quoting advice that Diddy gave to him. Guess he was planning to take that and run to the Grammys, eh?
Best Lyric: Me and Puff, we was chilling in Miami / He said "Nigga fuck the underground you need to win a Grammy / For your mama and your family / They need to see you shined up / You built a mighty high ladder, let me see you climb up / Nigga what you scared of? / Terrorize these artificial rap niggas and spread love / Pollenate they ear buds"


2. "Close Your Eyes"

Lead Artist: The Bullitts
Featured Artists: Jay Electronica, Lucy Liu
Producer: The Bullitts
Project: They Die By Dawn And Other Short Stories...
Day The Track Dropped: Dec. 10, 2011
What Makes This Verse Dope: There's an emotional depth and near-desperation that comes flowing out of Jay on this verse, where he nearly disregards rhyme schemes or patterns at all until he finally settles into a pocket with his "phone home" lyric. It's Electronica rising from the depths and reaching for the stars, but avoiding the corniness that came in songs like "Run And Hide," masking them through E.T. references and Biblical passages and finishing with a B.I.G. flourish. It's got every Electronica hallmark when you break it down like that: emotional stories masked in cultural metaphors mixed up with religious dogma and embalmed in a tongue-twisting cacophony of inspirational themes and Brooklyn hip-hop callbacks. Whew—even writing that sentence wiped me out.
Best Lyric: "Stick to the script like paper clips and coffee stains / Never let a seed of doubt deter you from your lofty aims"

bullits lucy liu

1. "Jazzmatazz (Guru Tribute)"

Lead Artist: Jay Electronica
Featured Artists: Tone Treasure
Producer: DJ Premier
Project: Leaked
Day The Track Dropped: Dec. 7, 2010
What Makes This Verse Dope: The sample for one (which flips the intro to Group Home's Livin' Proof), the gesture for another. But we're talking about verses here, right? Well he doesn't leave anything on the table in that department, either. How could you with this groove? Here he's at his beat-dodging best here, coming up with his own rhyme patterns and leaving it to the listener to figure out where he'll land next. Nothing can really touch "Exhibit C," but if this ain't better than that, it's the closest one.
Best Lyric: "My style is like a shot of Jack Daniels / A baby grand piano / Lightning Hopkins, smokin' cigs / Strummin' on the banjo / The son of man's the son of a gun with hella ammo / Sheriffs shootin' Bob Marley / "John J. Rambo"