Jay Rock might not be the flagship artist of TDE like his labelmate Kendrick Lamar is, but he is the most important. The Watts native was the first rapper from Top Dawg Entertainment to sign a major-label record contract.
TDE was a young, inexperienced label based out of LA with young, budding talent. Rock was the first up to bat, leading TDE into the music industry. Signing with Warner Bros. put the spotlight on the mom & pop style label. But like many artists first label deals, before things could really take off with his debut album, unforeseen circumstances ruined things and it was back to the drawing board.
The learning experience was crucial for Jay Rock and TDE’s growth, but that deal falling apart meant he had to take a backseat to a young, bubbling Compton emcee named K. Dot. From there, the label put their energy behind Dot (who would later go by his government name Kendrick Lamar), Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q. Rock would take on the role of big brother and mentor as Top Dawg CEO Anthony Tiffith shopped their younger talent for label deals. All ended up putting out solid indie projects that caught the eye of major labels. Jay Rock kicked down the door so that the rest of TDE could bum-rush it and build their empire. As TDE became a household name thanks to their young talent, Rock played his position and maintained a cult following of fans that support his every release.
Instead of staying Indie like on his last LP 90059, Rock returned to a major label by signing a deal with Interscope. The success of “King’s Dead,” on The Black Panther official movie soundtrack, gave him the most attention he’s received since the 2008 release of his Lil Wayne-assisted single, “All My Life (In the Ghetto).” With the popularity of “King’s Dead,” and the buzz around Redemption, this might be his second chance at becoming more than just a grizzled vet that missed his shot at stardom.
REDEMPTION is Rock’s most personal, introspective, and lyrical material, to date, revealing how hard at work he’s been at honing his craft while Kendrick Lamar has become a rap mega star. Speaking of lyrics, Redemption is light years better than his debut, FOLLOW ME HOME, and displays growth as a songwriter since 90059. A great example of his lyrical growth and story telling is executed on “Broke +-.” It’s obvious Ab-Soul and Kendrick’s love for wordplay is rubbing off on Rock, but he gives his day one fans a taste of nostalgia with his classic, menacing flow on tracks like “ES Tales” and “Rotation 122th.” On “OSOM,” J. Cole delivers an impressive verse about about escaping from his problems through drug use, which Rock follows with an equally and profoundly reflective verse. Things get more lighthearted when Kendrick Lamar joins Jay Rock to trade bars on “Wow Freestyle.” They take turns going in and out of pockets on the beat while using the Martian flow. The highlight on the album is the title track, finding Rock at his most vulnerable, rapping about his life choices and the trauma of his recent, near-fatal motorcycle accident. SZA beautifully floats over the soulful Soundwave and Terrace Martin production. Jay Rock takes a triumphant victory lap on the Kendrick-assisted single “Win.” Capping the album on a high note, and putting an exclamation point on what he wanted to accomplish with his third album.
Jay Rock has something that most artist don’t, and that’s patience. He literally watched the artists he helped groom surpass him. Rock has always delivered consistently enjoyable albums, but never a defining one; that one album that stands as the earnest of his greatness—Redemption feels like that album. Jay Rock has finally figured out how to make cross-over hits without going too commercial, and also how to remain authentic without sounded dated. This project showcases the many facets of TDE’s cornerstone artist’s talent.
This album probably won’t lead Jay Rock to mega stardom like his labelmate Kendrick Lamar, but it gives him the opportunity to reintroduce himself the right way.