It’s been 10 years since I first saw the music video for Jay Rock’s “All My Life (In the Ghetto).” Rock was one of the last new artists that Rap City introduced to my ears before its cancellation. The Watts rapper was on television and accumulating radio spins, being acknowledged by the mainstream and expanding his reach to the masses, but the attention surrounding him never grew. In the near-decade since, Jay Rock has built up a catalog of material that people should be talking about, but it just hasn't happened.
Next Friday, June 15, Rock will release his third studio album, Redemption. It will be his first project distributed by Interscope, joining labelmates Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q as the third TDE artist under the Jimmy Iovine-founded regime. With the success of “King's Dead”—Rock’s highest-charting single to date—the major label machine, a verse from JAY-Z, and some of TDE's secret sauce, there’s hope Redemption will turn into Rock's long-overdue breakout album.
To commemorate the forthcoming release, we've compiled a list of Jay Rock's 10 best songs. This list will likely need to be altered in a week or so, but we don't mind the extra work.
10. Jay Rock — “Kill or Be Killed” ft. Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko (Follow Me Home, 2011)
The first time I saw Jay Rock perform was as an opener on Tech N9ne’s All 6's and 7's Tour. For a short period of time, Rock was signed to Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label, a union organized by TDE. Before going their separate ways, the two came together with the soulful Krizz Kaliko for the gripping “Kill or Be Killed.”
Produced by Digi+Phonics member Willie B, the record's cinematic intro is perfectly paired with keys drenched in feeling; it’s music that foreshadows the heaviness to come. Rock’s lyricism displays his strength for storytelling; the vividness provides a captivating rush. Tech N9ne isn’t a rapper—he’s a machine gun with a heartbeat. There’s no other way to explain his ability to flow with such rapid, passionate tenacity.
9. Jay Rock — “Parental Advisory” (2014)
When Jay Rock first started to make some noise on the West Coast, he was readily mentioned as the potential heir to The Game’s gangsta rap throne. The music industry would change before he could take his seat, but “Parental Advisory” sounds like the music such an heir would create. The dual Snoop Dogg samples brilliantly present a familiar street funk, a refreshing combination of gutter and groovy. The way Rock effortlessly slices and strikes the pocket with power and precision is like watching a black belt chop through cinder blocks without breaking a sweat.
“Parental Advisory” didn’t make Rock’s sophomore album, but it’s by far one of the best loosies currently living on TDE’s SoundCloud page.
8. Jay Rock — “King's Dead” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Future & James Blake (Redemption, 2018)
The trifecta of Kendrick, Future, and Jay Rock is nothing the mind could imagine prior to pressing play. “King’s Dead” is a song that leans so far into uncharted strangeness that each verse deserves to be dissected in Area 51. I’m certain Future inhaled helium before delivering his show-stealing interpolation of Juicy J’s “Slob on My Knob,” and that's light compared to Kendrick transforming into a deranged monster truck to bulldoze over the last 30 seconds.
Wedged between their madness is Rock’s victory lap performance. His flow is like a tamed explosion; the TDE OG has mastered a technical looseness that makes the most difficult lyrical feats sound as if they were done with ease. His contribution may be swift, but it's absolutely deserving of praise. Regardless of who did what, “King’s Dead” is a treat of tricks and a contender for best song of 2018 from an unlikely rap trio.
7. Jay Rock — “Get On Your Shit” (Black Friday, 2010)
Jay Rock doesn’t shy away from the raw truth. His pen is dipped in realism; everything he paints is an honest depiction of life. The final song on his 2010 mixtape Black Friday seeks to uplift and motivate without sugar-coating. The beauty of “Get On Your Shit” is the illustration of positivity. He details his journey from humble beginnings of growing up in a home infested with roaches to the burgeoning success that music was beginning to afford him. “Get on your shit,” he says, not sounding like a lecturing parent but an encouraging friend. This is his way of saying, "Yes, you can do it too."
6. Jay Rock — “Gumbo” (90059, 2015)
The gradual growth of Jay Rock’s artistry is noticeable with each successive project. As a lyricist, he has only gotten sharper, more refined. His beat selection has also improved, an expanding sonic palette that puts more consideration into musicality. “Gumbo” is a fine display of Rock’s fine-tuning, with two strong verses over a stripped and soulful soundbed from producer J.LBS. There’s a pleasant softness to how well the synths sampled from Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” intertwine with the guitar riff. Inspired by Rock's late grandmother, “Gumbo” lives up to the warm, flavorful dish that encouraged its creation.
5. Jay Rock — “All My Life (In the Ghetto)” ft. Lil Wayne & will.i.am (Follow Me Home, 2011)
There's the warm, summertime production that makes you feel like Ice Cube on his best day, the nostalgia of Rock's Price Is Right bar (an instant classic), and a verse from Peak Wayne. “Your family can die when I say go, green light, green light, what’s your green like?” was major in 2008. How much they paid for the verse is unknown, but it was worth every penny. Wayne treated 16 bars how Oprah treated cars—everyone got one. Most of his verses from this period are good, but Rock truly received a goldmine. “All My Life (In the Ghetto)” is to earlobes what ice cream is to taste buds. Anytime, anywhere, it’s good for the soul.
4. Jay Rock — “Hood Gone Love It” ft. Kendrick Lamar (Follow Me Home, 2011)
If “All My Life” is ice cream, “Hood Gone Love It” is that first rewarding bite into a slice of homemade apple pie. “Hood Gone Love It” wasn’t a massive hit, but it’s an anthem rooted in love for a home that wasn't rusted by time. The love Jay Rock has for the hood is unwavering. Both of the singles that were crafted and chosen for his debut album, Follow Me Home, are songs of celebration and commemoration. The tranquil J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League production is pure enough to kiss an angel, and a young, then-unknown Kendrick Lamar delivers colorful penmanship that combines vivid imagery with ear-grabbing acrobatics. “Hood Gone Love It” is a homage to home, and how that love matters more than any outside acceptance.
3. Jay Rock — “Traffic Jam (Easy Bake Remix)” ft. Kendrick Lamar & SZA (2015)
“Traffic Jam (Easy Bake Remix)" is Shaq and Kobe in 2001. Rock’s contribution leading up to Kendrick's appearance is strong, but the energy completely shifts once K.Dot's voice is heard. The remix to 90059's "Easy Bake" surges with newfound life. Jay Rock and Kendrick have been label-mates since 2005. That's 13 years of brotherhood. Here, they sound completely in sync as they go back and forth.
The vigor soars to new heights once SZA abruptly interrupts the two with a voice soaked in love and butterscotch. When Rock reappears over the elegant loop, he doesn’t miss a beat, closing the record with one final reminder that the song still belongs to him. The remix could be separated into four different records, but somehow all the moving pieces combine into a layered super-song that just explodes like it’s covered in landmines throughout its five minutes.
2. Jay Rock —“Money Trees Deuce” ft. Lance Skiiiwalker (90059, 2015)
Jay Rock’s guest feature on Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees” is flawless from start to finish. He delivers every bar as if his life depended on it. With such acclaim surrounding the guest verse, it was a bold move to title another song “Money Trees Deuce.”
I wouldn’t consider “Money Trees Deuce” a repeat performance, but what’s delivered is absolutely electric. Over three verses, Rock overflows with passion; the lyrics carry the ambitious weight of a man who will not be held back. It’s the kind of record that pumps and surges the soul with the spirit of a thousand hustlers. Lance Skiiiwalker's reaffirming chant to beat all odds was a proper pairing. Before “WIN,” it was “Money Trees Deuce” that felt like Jay Rock was starting to make music for Olympic champions.
1. Jay Rock — “Vice City” ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & ScHoolboy Q (90059, 2015)
There’s a greater likelihood Kim Kardashian will be dating Paper Boi in the next season of FX’s Atlanta than TDE delivers a full-length project from Black Hippy. Unless an album is being recorded while the foursome is on the current Championship Tour, it’s highly unlikely they will ever complete an entire project together.
“Vice City” stands as the best example of what could be. For four minutes, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and ScHoolboy Q operate in thoughtful unison as if the group was merged into a rapping Voltron. There’s something rare about hearing these different personalities and styles merge into a singular entity. “Vice City” is chemistry.
By Yoh, aka Yoh or Be Yoh'd aka @Yoh31.