Would you believe that Jay Rock has been signed to Top Dawg Entertainment for ten years? They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and apparently TDE wasn’t either, because Anthony Tiffith and his group of MCs have been hacking at this hip hop thing for a while now.
It’s paid off, though, because they’re now sitting on top. The ball is in their court, so to speak, with one of the strongest cliques in the game. Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul have all released quality albums in the past two years, and now it’s Jay Rock’s turn to showcase what he’s learned from TDE’s skyrocketing success.
If To Pimp a Butterfly, and good kid, m.A.A.d city before that, proved anything, it’s that there’s a West Coast renaissance happening, where feats of modern production are re-working the G-funk sound into something that is completely fresh and, to put it plainly, awesome.
You’ll hear this sound forty seconds into the album’s first track, “Necessary.” The intro chants “90059 be the zip,” before a stanky, piano-driven beat paves the way for Jay Rock’s addition to the new west. The story is familiar: Jay Rock, who comes from a poverty-struck neighborhood, tells the story of doing whatever it takes to make ends meat. “The struggle is real,” he repeats before he asks the lord for forgiveness, saying, “I know I ain't living right and know I'm not perfect, but plus I gotta eat what I'm doing it's worth it.”
The two-for-one song style has been the way of the world ever since Kanye West dropped his Twisted Fantasy record, and everybody from Kendrick Lamar to Drake since has employed it. Here Jay Rock links with the TDE golden child for Atlanta-tinged part one before the label’s resident R&B angel kicks off the funkier counterpart. It’s a sign of the nostalgic-experimental nature of the record to come. Each track seems to take on an old sound with new ideas. Jay connects with Busta Rhymes on “Fly on the Wall,” a track that revisits Busta’s love affair with J Dilla-esque production. The boom-bap jazz was produced by Dae One and AAyhasia, and is a stand-out track that nods to the style’s biggest influence.
“Money Trees Deuce” revisits the success of the Jay-Rock assisted good kid, m.A.A.d city, but doesn’t sound anything like the original. With a different beat and a totally new feel, it does live up to part one, but is sort of a questionable name with the lack of similarities.
On “90059,” the chorus plays out like a meltdown on wax, much like Kendrick’s “u,” with both tracks beginning with a shriek of horror. The hook is just as far-out, with Lance Skiiwalker sobbing through the lines, “I don't know why niggas keep fucking with me / These streets make it so hard to breathe / Highs and my lows / Look both ways, where I'm supposed to go / Ah, shit, get out my pocket.” Jay Rock’s verses match the intensity, kicking things off with a dystopia description of “Winos in the alley, nearly slumped over / Demons in they eyes, glassy, no Folgers / Wake up sober, kill you for a cold one.”
“Gumbo” remains one of the finest tracks not only on the album, but that Jay Rock has assembled to date. Without a feature, Jay rocks on the entire four-minute slow burner, kicking a double time flow that is up to par with the best of them. The hook is soulful to boot.
The record, in many ways, is based around “Vice City,” 90059’s Black Hippy posse cut and the first time the quartet has released a commercial track since hopping on the “Swimming Pools” remix back in 2012. To keep it as real as possible, the track was released with an accompanied video the day before the LP dropped. That’s how you roll it out in 2015, according to the TDE team anyhow. We can’t help but to agree.
Cardo, who might be the biggest name on the production credits, and Yung Exclusive, produced the posse cut. Together, they crafted an airy trap beat for the four MCs to flex their respective styles on. There must be a competition amongst the four, because each one came with a verse that was meant to outdo his peers. The tying element seems to be this behind-the-beat style that Kendrick demonstrates on the hook: “Big money, big booty bitches / Man, that shit gon' be death of me.” Kendrick’s ability to make a hook that can be taken as a party anthem at face value, or as social commentary if you listen a bit more closely, makes the song special, but the entire group conquering their verses made it an instant classic.
Jay Rock may not have the political poise of Lamar or the swagger of ScHoolboy Q, but he remains a valuable member of the Top Dawg Entertainment collective and the modern hip hop world as well. He isn’t dropping the kind of lines that will go #viral, but his autobiographical description of the struggle is one of the great stories hip hop can tell, even if it has happened over and over again in the past. On the album opener, he begins to paint the picture, and by the time the LP-closing “The Message” hits your speakers not a whole lot has changed. “Live as free as we can cause Hell on Earth is being recaptured / I'm caught in this ghetto rapture, spirit detached / I'm smoking backwoods looking for greener pastures,” he rhymes on the closing track, reminding us once more that the inner-city struggle isn’t one that anybody likes to be caught in. Things can get hairy around the first and fifteenth of every month, but you have to do what you have to do. What’s more hip hop than that?
The forty-five minute album is surely Jay Rock’s finest work to date, with eleven of his most solid compositions created in a twelve-year career that hasn’t yielded a whole lot in the past five years. The tracks are vibrant and creative, and with an understandable amount of help from his Black Hippy partners, it creates a valuable listen. With 90059, he’s found his best sound yet. Hopefully he can continue to create along this caliber.