“Where the hell is Jay Rock?”–a question that has been asked by many TDE fans since 2011. Ever since Jay Rock dropped his studio debut Follow Me Home, he hasn’t released any new solo material while his TDE labelmates had at least two albums under their belts. Kendrick has ascended to Hip-Hop God status, Schoolboy Q has asserted himself as one of the most acclaimed gangster rappers in the game, and Ab-Soul seems to have lost himself to the weed with that “These Days” project… but at least he was doing something. All Jay Rock has done since 2011 is drop sick verses and do interviews where he says “na’mean” a thousand times while hinting at the Black Hippy album that will never come. In 2014, he dropped some songs that never materialized into anything further and even when the album cover and tracklist came out, there was still some pre-order bullshit that delayed the release date. I and many other fans started to lose hope, and kind of just assumed this album would never come.
So when I finally had the album in my library it was still a little hard to believe. Aside from his standout guest verses, all we have from Jay Rock in the way of officially released material is his rather generic Follow Me Home album from 2011. There’s proof from his verses on “Money Trees” and “Black Lip Bastard” that he can outshine his Black Hippy groupmates, and even his own material like “Parental Advisory” shows that he has a great amount of promise. However, his bland debut gave precious little proof he could hold his own over two albums. The tracklist for what would become 90059 gave hope, though. A huge problem with Jay’s first album (and all TDE releases for that matter) was the length – this project only has eleven tracks. He also teases us with a Black Hippy cut – something we haven’t gotten since Ab-Soul’s Control System in 2012. We also get recent signees Isaiah Rashad & SZA to add a little personality on different tracks. So without even listening you get the feeling that this won’t be a complete dud.
The album leads with a banger, “Necessary”. Following the mellow intro, a deranged organ creeps in, and then bang! “I’m straight up out that East side / Swingin’ like ziplines.” Jay Rock comes in with full force over an extremely funky instrumental with hard-hitting drums and classic West Coast toppers. Jay’s flow is butter on this; it’s the perfect amount of banging grit and effortless spitting. On “Easy Bake”, the tempo slows down and Jay switches up his flow, again addressing the problem of blandness he had on his first release. Kendrick’s line-sharing with Jay is a pretty cool moment, especially when Jay shouts, “Aw fuck it, call me Bobby Blue Bland!”. But one of the album’s best moments is that beat change. The funkiness of that vocal filter is undeniably awesome; SZA’s verse is absolutely gorgeous, especially the way she caps it with the “Dirty for you” line, and Jay Rock also provides a great verse. Nothing really matches the height of that, but we do get some lush instrumentals with “Gumbo” (another funk-influenced track), “Wanna Ride” (which has a definite Cilvia Demo feel production-wise), “Sir” (highlighted by the synth that comes in at the 2:30 mark), and “Telegram (Going Krazy)”. The album mellows out a bit, but Rock’s persona and lyricism stays hard. On the second verse on “The Ways” he spits:
“Got you rewinding and take, wiling and smiling and such /
Keep your vagina in touch, dialing my line in a cut
This hydroponic and got you hot with the bottles and bubs”
The members of Black Hippy had, for the most part, gone their separate paths since good kid, m.A.A.d. city, so I kind of forgot ‘Black Hippy’ was still a thing until I saw them riding in that car held by cops in Kendrick’s “Alright” video. “Vice City,” the album’s posse cut, is unorthodox. The members rap over a gloomy beat, each using an unusual flow where they cram their final words into the end of the line (“Big money, big booty bitches, man that shit gon’ be … there-for-me”). But if you’re a fan of these guys you’ll probably love it. The dark nature doesn’t quite hit as hard as some of their other efforts (“Black Lip Bastard”, “Say Wassup”), but the lewdness and hubris is addictive. We hear Jay Rock hitting the track’s high note with the “Bust a new nut on her nigga’s jersey!” line, or with Q capping his verse with the hilarious couplet:
“You be talking boss, saying big words, like philosophies, man you weird homie / What it sounds to me that you broke as fuck, and your bitch gon’ leave and that’s … real homie”.
All in all, a solid return for Black Hippy. Busta Rhymes also drops in and spits a strange verse where he fanboys all over Jay Rock for a whole minute. However, the verse is technically proficient and Busta’s renowned presence is flamboyant. Back that with the soothing melodic horns that coast over this track and you have a beautifully executed jazz rap track. You also get horns that are fragmented on “Money Trees Deuce” and ones that coat the entire track on “The Message”. Overall, the album is capped with very jazzy and soulful beats that set a mellow mood to convey Jay Rock’s message of perseverance.
Overall, this is more of an artistic statement from a Jay Rock album than we could ever expect. He manages to switch up flows and even sing some track – all while maintaining his street appeal. Jay Rock’s approach to honesty is as genuine as it’s ever been and it compensates for the dull moments. He’s not the most exciting rapper, but his level of ‘realness’ is inspiring in itself. When it’s backed by some of the most lush contemporary West Coast beats of this year, the result is a solid project that will cram itself into what’s already a crowded conversation for rap of the album of the year come December.