For three decades and counting, Los Angeles has been home to historic hip-hop dynasties that have changed pop culture. Without question, Compton has had the greatest seismic impact given its storied past (examples include NWA, Death Row and DJ Quik) that made way for Game to break down floodgates with his mid-2000s ascent. Concurrently a few miles northwest, Watts’ Nickerson Gardens was not only the birthplace of TDE’s blueprint as a whole, the public housing complex produced the label’s premier artist Jay Rock.
Literally and figuratively rough around the edges, Jay Rock’s first national exposure was through a short lived joint venture with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music imprint for the release of 2011’s Follow Me Home. Primed for the limelight a year later with a promising verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees,” his next shot at glory was 2015’s lukewarm 90059 which featured Black Hippy group cut “Vice City,” a double-edged sword that generated mass anticipation for a four-man Avengers style album while distracting from Jay Rock becoming recognized as a self-contained entity.
Strengthened by Kendrick blazing trails, Marvel’s Black Panther: The Album was but another win for TDE’s resolve towards domination. A genius strike of cross-promotion came via “King’s Dead,” an instant hit which put steam behind a new Jay Rock album, essentially reintroducing him as a newly energized emcee rapping alongside a bizarrely entertaining guest spot from Future. A blatant 180 degree shift from the confines of his wretched comfort zone, Redemption is full of creative risks that pay off in spades.
Having suffered his share of industry setbacks and struggles to make music that resonates universally, with Redemption Jay Rock takes aim at following in the footsteps of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and SZA to become TDE’s fourth breakout signee. Making the most of having who most consider the number one rapper on speed dial, he crafts a best case scenario for artistic compromise on the label’s first hip-hop follow up to the mega success of Pulitzer prize winning DAMN. Lamar’s influence on this phase of Jay Rock’s trajectory can’t go understated, as he takes on an executive producer role curating while contributing multiple appearances including the aforementioned “King’s Dead,” a fun sparring session on “Wow Freestyle,” and background vocals all throughout.
As the student has become the teacher (perhaps Kendrick’s means of repaying his big brother figure for initially ushering him through the door), with Redemption Jay Rock has mastered the art of making his trauma commercially accessible. Backed by alarming (albeit simplistic) organ notes and trap drums, “The Bloodiest” takes a trip back over a decade in time to an era where the dangerous ins and outs of the drug trade laid in stark contrast to navigating the shark infested music business. Sticking with nostalgia, the ominous “ES Tales” has multiple references to adolescent joy: a faint Super Mario Brothers coin sound effect, a street oriented flip of the ‘one two, buckle my shoe’ nursery rhyme (which could also double as a Nightmare On Elm Street homage) and the hook “Don’t you know no good” quoting a second string character played by Martin Lawrence on his heavily revered ‘90s urban sitcom.
Aware of the correlation between sung vocals and crossover appeal, Jay Rock’s makeover could require past listeners to suspend disbelief if they’re to take this progression as organic. Reminiscent of DJ Mustard’s finger snap driven sound, “Tap Out” is a radio ready number featuring R&B singer Jeremih. The Cardo-produced “Troopers” finds Rock crooning in the style popularized by Swae Lee, likening his former crew of illegal entrepreneurs to armed forces. “Rotation 112th” flourishes as an ode to getting wasted, successfully channeling the fast paced archaic Southern crunk sound, one of the clearest indicators that Redemption represents a turning point for the once staunch tough guy.
Having bounced back from a number of bumps in the road, Jay Rock has emerged as a rising star, with Redemption wasting little to no time. Able to hold his own and outshine a lackluster J Cole on “OSOM,” he explains the trials of unwanted attention from fickle onhangers and the depths of low points reached after his initial industry stint went wrong. Despite beating the stacked odds of ghetto dwelling long ago, the title track conveys a more recent clarity in the wake of a nearly fatal 2016 motorcycle crash, another probable catalyst for his personal and musical growth. The triumphant blaring horns of the thriving single “WIN” back what could be Jay Rock’s most assured performance to date now that he’s inched a few steps closer to becoming a household name. As it stands, he’s a hometown hero to downtrodden Watts natives and a vivid newscaster translating poverty’s strife in an eclectic fashion for those looking in from the outside.