Top Dawg Entertainment. The Hip-Hop home of Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Rock. Collectively they’re known as Black Hippy, and they’re four of the most potent rappers in the game. We all know about Kendrick, and the shockwaves he’s sent throughout the music world with his two releases so far.
In between those two projects, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q released their debut albums, These Days… and Oxymoron, respectively, both unarguably two of the most exciting releases in hip-hop’s last decade. And now, just as the last specks of dust settle after Kendrick’s …Butterfly bomb, Jay Rock steps into the fallout to stir things up again, releasing his second album 90059, four long years after his debut Follow Me Home.
If you know Rock’s debut album at all, you’ll know him as the hood-rapper in the Black Hippy crew, the one with the gritty, hardened voice who tells hood tales of his rough and precarious upbringing in his native area of Watts, in California. There could’ve been a danger of things becoming too one-dimensional and tiring on Follow Me Home, with its tough beats and raw aggression striking blow after blow, but Rock threw in cuts like “Hood Gone Love It”, “Just Like Me”, and “Finest Hour”, all with rich and lush arrangements to offset the hardness, where he showed just the kind of street poet that he can be. It turned out to be a dynamic debut from a rapper showing a lot of promise.
He’s followed through on that promise in the four years he’s been away. His sound’s evolved; there’s not that brashness and hardness to it anymore. The sound from his debut’s been given a polish, as if the rough streets of his native Watts have been given a new, smooth layer of tarmac. Rock’s still giving us hood tales, “[he’s] straight up out that East side” (“Necessary”) after all, but he sounds calmer now.
“Walk mellow talk mellow” he says in “The Ways”. He even has a crooning, sensitive alter ego Lance Skiiiwalker that he slips in and out of on the album, who’s arduously trying to balance a relationship while being a rapper in “Telegram (Going Krazy)” and is at a desperate loss in the hard-hitting title-track: “why ni**as keep f**king with me”.
Jay Rock’s never glamorized street life, he’s only ever been its mouthpiece, and 90059 is littered with evidence that suggest he’s grown weary of the hood struggle. “Have you ever put your hand over fire just to see what you could tolerate?”, he asks in the soulful “Gumbo”, and as hardened as he is, he might’ve held his own hand over the flame for too long now. It’s in the mellow, ultra-introspective “Fly On The Wall” that he finds his saving grace, in the form of long-time friend Busta Rhymes, who comes to the rescue of this “young ghetto child [that] got lost in the jungle”.
He upliftingly assures “when the wheels fall off I’ll get out and put on a spare on with you”. It’s the push on to greener pastures that Rock needs, and he ends the album on a hopeful note, realizing that even though he “don’t know where [he’s] headed, [he] can’t look back, there’s nothing there” (“The Message”).
Jay Rock’s sound has gone through a positive metamorphosis while he’s been away. He’s wiser, and what was street-hop has bloomed into hip-hop on 90059. There’s more of a poetry and refinement to it all this time around. And as for who Jay Rock is now that he’s returned? Like he says: “I be that ni**a they call Jay Rock, I’m a rapper, but if you see me movin’ baggies out the trap, don’t get it backwards” (“Wanna Ride”). He’ll always have the hood in him, but he won’t be in the hood forever.
Purchase: Jay Rock – 90059 (iTunes)
Words by Oli Kuscher