Hip-hop changes daily. From the sound, to the look, all the way down to the acceptance of new ideas to expand the culture. I often find myself out of the loop on some things that the younger crowd of hip-hoppers thinks everyone should know because of how quickly things change, and how fast we’re introduced to the next coolest dance, song or artist. Very few people outlast the test of time, typically the artists who stay true to themselves are the ones that remain. The same can be said for lyricists; their command on the mic will always be key to great songs. Lyricism is slowly making a comeback, and Top Dawg Entertainment’s MC, Jay Rock, is one of the true MCs helping to keep the flame lit on the torch.
Jay Rock has a really strong following, and is a part of arguably the best rap group out. Top Dawg Entertainment is the premiere crew of MCs in hip-hop today. With Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock on the roster, it’s safe to say they lyrically have the best lineup of any crew in the game. Kendrick is undeniably one of the game’s heavyweights, but Jay Rock isn’t far behind. Jay Rock’s latest album 90059, dropped earlier this week. After listening to the album in its entirety, I can confidently say that it’s one of the best albums so far this year. The album really depicts what West Coast rap has evolved into. It’s the quintessential West Coast gangsta feel throughout, paired with one of the best lyricists in the industry.
90059, as one of the hooks states, is “the zip” where Jay Rock is from, Watts, CA. Growing up, Johnny Reed McKinzie Jr., better known as Jay Rock, chose to rap instead of indulging in a life of drugs, gangs, an almost certain path to an early demise. Having dedicated himself to his craft and telling his story on wax, Jay Rock quickly became a fan favorite. The stories he tells come from a place that many can relate to, and even if you can’t, don’t worry, Jay Rock’s lyrics, like on his song, “Fly On The Wall,” are told in such great detail that you can see the words turn to images in your mind. This is a song in which Jay Rock collaborated with the legendary Busta Rhymes, and Busta clearly tells him on his verse that he’s next up to blow. .
Support like that has got to be incredibly encouraging for someone that’s been on the grind like Jay Rock has. Busta is someone who often advocates for newer and slept on artists to get the recognition they deserve. Getting the blessings from the “O.Gs” in the game is something all rappers dream of. It brings a certain validity to listeners and fans such as myself, who prefer lyricism over the dances and catchy hooks. For the artists themselves, it keeps them focused and wanting to put in the necessary work to be able to have the longevity of someone like Busta. Jay Rock didn’t reach this level of success overnight, either. He’s put in the hours, and done his homework for quite some time.
Jay Rock first hit the scene in Top Dawg fashion. In 2008 he dropped his first single, “All My Life.” This was some people’s introduction to TDE. The song featured arguably the hottest rapper out at the time, and self-proclaimed “Best Rapper Alive,” Lil Wayne. Wayne was at the peak of his career, and Jay Rock was a new face. He was also one of the people that would end up being responsible for putting West Coast rap back on the map. Sure, we’re all familiar with Compton rappers, and have been for the last three decades. Although Jay Rock was from Watts, a place hip-hop may have never explored on such a big stage, his face was a new one, his story was a familiar one.
Jay Rock grew up like most boys with hoop dreams. Then as time passed, and life started happening, he soon realized his calling was elsewhere. Early on as a teen, Jay Rock admits he dabbled in drugs trying to find a way to feed his family. As the 29-year-old rapper put it, it was at about 18 or 19 that he realized he really needed to focus and figure out what he really wanted to do with his life.
Jay Rock decided to try his hand at rapping, and telling his version of the story. He hooked up with and started a group and independent record label with some fellow California rappers. The Black Hippy was the lead act from Top Dawg Entertainment, and burst onto the scene with a purpose. Prior to Top Dawg Entertainment, many rappers focused on getting signed as being the avenue to measure success. Getting signed isn’t for everybody though, and sometimes it can hinder your growth as an artist. Jay Rock had come to a crossroads in trying to further his career, and decided to try work with another group on a different independent label.
He had left briefly to pursue his dreams with Tech N9ne and Strange Music, who welcomed the then underground Jay Rock with open arms. His decision to join Strange Music was cool with his then former group and label mates of TDE, and there was no bad blood between the parties. Jay Rock spoke on of his time with the independent label, Strange Music, on Power 105’s The Breakfast Club. He said that he was able to learn a lot from them, specifically Tech N9ne. Adding that the reason he left is, “it’s hard to get where you’re going on a train that’s already moving.” Strange Music was moving with a full head of steam when Jay Rock joined, so it was better for him to go back to TDE, a ship he’d helped to build.
It was at that time that some advice he received repeatedly from his dad, had began to make sense. “When things around you start to change, you just stay the same. Your time will come.” For a long time, he wondered what that meant. But as soon as things started to change around him, it all started to resonate. Jay Rock didn’t change up, his surroundings did and a few of the people around him as well. By staying true to himself, and continuing to work hard, TDE and TDE fans were excited to hear that he had returned.
With so much talent over there at TDE, you might wonder just how much those guys learn from one another? Or how do they motivate each other to put out such quality music? Jay Rock touched on that briefly in a recent interview with MTV after his album’s release. “That dude (Kendrick) don’t sleep with this sh-t. That’s what gives me inspiration to keep going. We all learn off each other and feed off each other’s energy.”
The West Coast is back and here to stay. Jay Rock is almost certain to have a meteoric rise to the top of the game with this sophomore album. And no sophomore jinx seems to have worried the veteran rapper. 90059 was done in classic fashion, with something true hip-hop heads from each generation will appreciate. He provided us with something you’ll “Wanna Ride” to. The album is his “Telegram” to the rest of the industry and “The Message” is Jay Rock is bringing the heat!
– Blake Holmes