To say that a lot has happened since the release of his debut, ‘Follow Me Home’ would be quite the understatement. In the 4 years since, Jay Rock has went from being the flagship artist/shining star for a small independent label, to becoming the most slept on artist on it’s roster. The journey has been a bumpy one to say the least, from signing to Warner Bros. in 2009, releasing several mixtapes before being featured on the cover of XXL’s Freshman ’10 cover with the likes of J. Cole, Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa. He was joined by fellow Los Angeles native, Nipsey Hussle, as they were expected to be the face of the “New West”. Both of them would become the victims of record labels simply not knowing how to market new age gangsta rap in a southern dominated market. After years on the shelf, Rock received his walking papers from Warner Bros.
Opting to stay independent, he inked a deal with Tech9ne’s Strange Music, and along with Top Dawg Entertainment released ‘Follow Me Home’ in the summer of 2011 after almost 3 years of delays and label politics. While it didn’t make a dent on Billboard charts, it was met with critical acclaim, and for good measure the approval of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. During the same summer, his label-mate, Kendrick Lamar took the internet by storm with ‘Section.80’ (released a few weeks before ‘FMH’) and like that, the torch had been passed. Despite thought provoking concepts, throwback lyricism and superb production, Rock went from the star to role player for TDE.
While his verse on “Money Trees” (‘Good Kid, Maad City’) was met with critical acclaim and fanfare, we had to patiently await his next at bat. While TDE signed with Interscope, scoring #1 albums from Kendrick and Schoolboy Q, the streets have been asking about Rock. Top Dawg promised 6 albums from the label last year, needless to say it wasn’t fulfilled. Keeping his name buzzing, Rock again dropped a solid guest verse on YG’s “I Just Wanna Party”. Released the single “Pay For It”, along with Kendrick, but still no release date in site.
Top Dawg kept the world posted on the progress of the album, Rock himself remained mum. That is until he released “Money Trees Duece”, the continuation to the classic ‘GKMC’ track. Riding the same flow as the original, he effortlessly glides on the Flippa and J Proof produced track, reminding us why he was TDE’s flagship artist to begin with. While he seemed rather bored in the video, it was a calmer tone than his normal hardcore approach we’ve become accustomed to. The next track released “Gumbo”, had a similar feel to it. The funk influenced track revisits the Dre circa ‘2001’ sound, with an infectious chorus that plays like a recipe of sorts.
After releasing the Ol’ Dirty Bastard influenced “90059”, it was revealed that it would also serve as the album’s title. Representing the zip code for his native, Watts it seems to follow the theme of his debut. While no date was announced, it became understood that it was sooner than later. In a Instagram message, Top Dawg put the ball in the hands of the fans, while the album was available for pre-order, the actual release would depend on the demand. Either the desired # was fulfilled, or it was simply a marketing ploy, the news broke last week that the album would in fact be released digitally on September 11th with physical copies arriving the following week. (Side note: I bumped into Punch and Sza at this year’s Afro-Punk Festival, and in normal TDE fashion he was tight lipped about a possible release date, the only information he offered was that there was a listening event planned for New York, that at the time had been postponed)
The album’s opening track, “Necessary” starts off with Rock reminding you of the albums title and it’s symbolism, before a beat switch and classic Rock. 2 minutes into the album, it’s obvious the progress he’s made as a songwriter. He makes no secret of embracing his underdog role. “Easy Bake” finds Rock trading bars with Kendrick. While it isn’t as good as their previous efforts together, it’s a solid track nonetheless. Their chemistry comes naturally, even as their styles are quite different. The second portion of the track finds Sza performing the track first heard in the video to the title track, before Rock delivers a nice verse. “Wanna Ride” is one of the album’s brightest spots, featuring a hook from Isiah Rashad. There’s a beat switch about a minute into the track, but Rock doesn’t miss a single beat, he effortlessly switches his flow and proceeds on.
“The Ways” starts off like something off of Redman’s ‘Muddy Waters’, Rock gets the chance to show a little more personality this time around. His normally gruff voice is at time high pitched, and while it may sound odd, it works throughout. Sir (whoever that is) provides an R&B hook, that reminds me of Schoolboy Q’s, “Studio”. Even finding time to channel Mannie Fresh circa Cash Money’s heyday. If nothing else, it could be a viable single. “Telegram” is a ‘information age’ relationship song, with Rock vying for his girl’s attention while she’d rather confide in friends and social media. Then comes the long awaited Black Hippy collaboration, “Vice City”. While it’s a dope song, it is in ways disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high, but in comparison to “Say Wassup” from his debut, VC falls short of the glory. Each MC rides a similar flow, and it’s fun, I expected much more after hearing what was said about the track following listening events in both NYC and LA.
Fortunately after the slight letdown, the album ends extremely well. While on paper, the Busta Rhymes featured “Fly On The Wall” may seem out of place, it ends up being conceptually clever. Busta spits a verse reflecting the progress he’s seen Rock make as an artist, in the same vein as he did with The Game on “Doctor’s Advocate”. The aforementioned, “Money Trees Duece” is next up, and even after almost 3 months, it still sounds great. The album closes out in grand fashion, “The Message” which serves as a venting session of sorts. Over a soulful saxophone Rock connects the dots between what’s been going on in his mind between his debut and sophomore album.
The effort put forth rivals that of ‘FMH’, and it’s quite clear he’s made a concentrated effort to iron out some of the kinks found on his debut. As expected, his beat selection is still grade A, this time around though he keeps things rather short and sweet. 11 tracks, down from his first albums 18. My only gripe is, this time around there’s no song with the depth of a “Just Like Me”, where he tapped into his conscious in a Pac-like fashion. He has however found his comfort zone musically and seems to enjoy the space he’s established not only within the TDE camp, but the entire coast. While it’s unrealistic to expect the same level of success on the Billboard 200 that Kendrick and Q’s albums had, I’m positive critical acclaim and a loyal fan base will continue to propel his career.