At long last, the day is here, and we didn’t even have to wait until 2016! After a unique release strategy that demanded a certain number of pre-orders were received, and despite the fear of many that we wouldn’t be able to hear the LP until next year (the originally scheduled release date was May 16, 2016), Jay Rock’s highly anticipated sophomore album 90059 is finally in our headphones.
It’s been over four years since Rock’s first - and most recent - studio album. Remember, Follow Me Home was released long before Kendrick and TDE made their way in to the upper echelon of rap stardom. The debut was released only weeks after K-Dot’s acclaimed Section.80 and at a time when Jay Rock was juggling affiliation to both TDE and Strange Music. A commercial disappointment, the album did manage generally positive reviews, but I view it more as the most forgettable release in the TDE discography. The music was simply too formulaic, ultra-conventional West Coast gangster rap made worse by its uninspired production and daunting runtime. Half the album sounded more like one long, drawn-out track. There were high points, however few and far between, such as the Black Hippy features, “Life’s A Gamble” or even “All My Life,” which made listeners wonder why Rock didn’t venture outside his comfort zone more often.
My problem with Jay Rock is that his aggressive street demeanor and largely conventional style, which works well to offset the eccentric tendencies of Kendrick, Q and Soulo, especially on Black Hippy posse cuts, lacks some of the uniqueness and versatility that fuels the popularity of his label mates. This leads to him sounding more one dimensional over the duration of an entire project.
My hope is that 90059 is the turning point for Jay Rock as an artist. He’s an underrated lyricist with an admirably gruff voice, who would do well to follow the lead of the other Black Hippies and start pushing the boundaries of his sound. I need more “Get On Your Shit” and less “Elbows.” I’ve waited four years to hear if he can figure it out, and it’s time for a 1 Listen album review, so let’s rock (pun intended).
As per 1 Listen rules...I'm not allowed to pause or rewind the album, this is purely my stream-of-consciousness, gut reaction to the album as it plays in its entirety. I'll revisit the album in a few months when I can really measure it's impact.
Note: I tried to resist hearing the album’s singles so I could better experience them in the context of the LP, so this is all going to be new for me.
I like it already, this intro already sounds more soulful than anything on Follow Me Home. Oh, well that changed up quickly, and I’m not mad at all. This production is crazy, I wish I had the credits. [Editor's Note: The track is co-produced by Black Metaphor, JRB for the Coalition.] “I’m just tryna blow good dope,” so that’s what Jay Rock’s been up to these last four years. Damn, this shit rides. See, he’s talking about a very real struggle and the need to do what you can to make it out of a bad situation, but in a way that makes it obvious that it’s possible to sound fresh while rehashing the same subject matter. Make sure you wear headphones so you get the full effect of the audio panning. I like this one a lot.
“Easy Bake” ft. Kendrick Lamar & SZA
Damn, Rock’s voice sounds different here. I can’t put my finger on this sample, but I’ve heard it before, many times. The beat is menacing, very layered, and Rock’s flow suits it well. The God Kendrick comes in and…. shiiiiiiiiiit. Rock and Kendrick trading bars reminds me of a West Coast Jada & Styles, I want more. Oh, and any time a radio-esque skit appears on an album, I’m fully onboard. I like SZA, I can’t really say I listen to her music all that often, but I can’t say I’m ever mad when she pops up as a feature. Damn this is funky, I wonder how strong the Kendrick influence is on this album.
Let me just say again how dope that last song was...wait. No. Is that a Kool and the Gang “Summer Madness” sample? It’s a wrap now, as soon as “Summer Madness” appears in any form I’m sold. Anyone remember that LeBron commercial with that song and the pool? Just me? Nevermind. All this talk of seasoning and gumbo is getting me pretty hungry. This song is really smooth, definitely some "late afternoon cruising with the windows down” music, I feel like I’m floating on a cloud. Or in a bowl of gumbo. Three songs in and I’m impressed so far.
“Wanna Ride” ft. Isaiah Rashad
This. Beat. Jay Rock is a great rapper, it’s unfortunate his lyricism is constantly overshadowed by Kendrick, Q and Soul. (Also, I need another Isaiah Rashad project immediately.) I hear wailing, churning, squeals… my ears are loving this. Rock seems to be shifting his flow and voice perfectly to complement the production and mix things up on this album, here especially, and he’s doing an excellent job. Every chorus so far has been on point, too. Damn, so Isaiah didn’t get a verse? I’m going to be honest, now that the song is ending I’m hoping I didn’t confuse the Rock and Isaiah’s voices at all, but I’m pretty sure Rashad was only on the hook. Too bad.
“The Ways” ft. Sir
I love the use of dialogue so far, and also “hanging with Laquita” sounds fun. I’m not overly familiar with Sir, but just to throw in a bad pun I’ll say “thank you Sir.” This track is very atmospheric, but has plenty of knock. Kind of reminds me of “Swimming Pools” for some reason. Ooooh, now these funky, electro synths are a nice touch, very "Summer Madness”-ish again.
“Telegram (Going Crazy)” ft. Lance Skiiwalker
AAAaaaaaaAAAaaAAAAAaaAaaaaaaAAAAAaAAaAa. Sorry just singing along with the backing vocals, and also whoever is singing sounds like Kendrick. Is that Lance Skiiwalker? Who is Lance Skiiwalker? It sounds a lot like Jay Rock. I really can’t get over how much I like the production on the album, so far it’s sounded completely cohesive without once sounding repetitive or stale. (Okay, I looked it up and Lance Skiiwalker is in fact Jay Rock, so I feel both validated for thinking they sounded similar and stupid for not knowing that.)
Not a fan of the Dirt Mcgirt voice. Surprised the Internet hasn’t jumped on Jay Rock for biting Ol’ Dirty Bastard, considering the recent propensity for labeling everyone and everything as a style thief. Or maybe it’s more tribute than theft, those lines get real blurry real fast. That said, these verses go hard. Rock is in all-out aggression mode and it pairs with the screeching boom bap backdrop like beer with chicken wings. It’s a great combination, but I might feel like shit later if I over-do it. I still hate this chorus, though.
“Vice City” ft. Black Hippy
It’s hard to express in words the excitement that appears from the thought of hearing a new Black Hippy track, so expectations are high. Kendrick, as the biggest star, might as well lead us off. Damn, this flow is great, I hope everyone does it. YES, Rock takes the baton just as hoped. Ab-Soul KILLED it. ScHoolboy is killing it too, and I’m so disappointed that this is coming to an end. Right when I convinced myself that maybe life will be alright without a Black Hippy album, this song comes in and punches me in the face to let me know how wrong I am.
“Fly on the Wall” ft. Busta Rhymes
Wow, this takes the energy down a level. This rain sounds majestic, I could probably fall asleep right now if I wanted - in a good way, of course. Jay Rock’s verse is powerful, but almost more powerful is the moment right when he stops talking, and we're greeted by nothing but the sound of the beat to reflect on what he just said. Note to anyone making music: add more sax. How old is Busta Rhymes? Does he just hibernate these days, coming out only to murder the occasional feature spot? This song is fucking amazing.
“Money Trees Deuce” ft. Lance Skiiwalker
Okay, I kind of lied. I realized that I did hear “Money Trees Deuce” when it came out, but I kind of forgot about it. I’m not sure why though, because I’m feeling it. There’s an air of melancholy, but Rock’s voice cuts through it and instills a sense of vigor. So damn motivated right now that I might even think about doing something productive tonight. Maybe. Spoken word outros are so understated, and this one perfectly caps the song and its subject matter.
The instrumentation on this album was exactly what I wanted from Jay Rock, and something I was wondering about in the wake of Kendrick’s recent sonic experimentation. This is music for the soul. I would apologize for not writing here more, but once I started to vibe out I wasn’t coming back until the song ended.
Four years passed between Jay Rock’s first and second studio albums, but after hearing 90059 in its entirety it’s impossible for me to complain about the wait. This album is amazing from top to bottom. Follow Me Home may have been the most disappointing release in TDE’s discography, yet Rock seems to have taken everything that was flat before and given it life on his sophomore go-around. The production is superb, layered, full of life and emotion, and never once does it feel like a tired retread of your bare bones West Coast instrumental. The subject matter is still 100 percent Watts, yet Rock keeps things fresh by experimenting with flows and well-placed features. The album is a brisk 11 tracks, so you’re left wanting more. Make no mistake, this is still Jay Rock, the gritty, no nonsense hustler and voice of the streets, but it’s also Jay Rock more fully realized, coming back from hiatus to live up to the promise he showed years ago and remind us why he’s a part of the most exciting crew in hip-hop.
Welcome back, Jay Rock. The pleasure is all ours.
[By Brendan Varan. He can’t get over how much he enjoyed this album." Follow him on Twitter.]