Reviewed by Thomas Herron
Though some of his label mates and fellow black hippy members may be the first people that come to mind when fans think of Top Dawg Entertainment, Jay Rock really jump started one of the most powerful labels in hip hop after his signing in 2005.
Rock, a Watts Los Angeles native, was the face of TDE really until Kendrick started to blow up and that’s isn’t sheer luck. Rock has the rare ability to combine lyricism with his past street life, all while making it relatable to a larger audience by not only rapping about his past, but his day to day. This ability puts the Watts native in the same category as other West Coast rappers who’ve been able to combine their signature sound with lyricism to make for a complete skill set, such as Game and Ice Cube.
Though Jay Rock burst through the scene at a time where hard-hitting lyricism was the most popular form of rap, with artists like 50 cent, Game, and Wayne dominating the game, he has evolved musically enough to not only maintain relevance in his own subgenre, but to add a couple of hits to his resume.
His third studio album, Redemption keeps pace with the evolution of his career. Jay Rock showed flashes of melodic ability on songs like “All My Life” featuring Lil Wayne, but he never truly turned away from his low-toned, emotion infused lyricism.
Redemption completely changed this. The Black Hippy member found a perfect balance between his own signature style and the melodic style that’s seemed to take over the game for one of his more complete pieces. Jay Rock’s music never lacked melody, but he usually turned to feature artists to deliver his hooks, such as on “Pay For It” featuring Kendrick Lamar and Chantel.
1. THE BLOODIEST
“The Bloodiest” starts the album off in Jay Rock’s traditional style, hammering the listener’s ear with a hard-hitting sound and a lyrical ability that can get hidden beneath Rock’s West Coast style.
2. FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH
The second track, “For What It’s Worth,” offers a more calm version of Jay Rock the listener rarely hears, but the nature of his music is not lost in a slower paced track, sprinkled with his aggressive real life lyricism on all of the verses.
3. KNOCK IT OFF
“Knock It Off,” begins with Jay Rock thanking god for the many gifts he feels the lord blessed him with, and is the first glimpse the listener is given of Jay Rock’s newfound ability to manipulate his flow not only on the chorus, but the verses, to create a melodic sound that keeps with the character of his tone and confident style, repeatedly reminding the rest of the game, “You ain’t me, knock it off.”
4. ES TALES
“ES Tales,” opens with an extremely low-toned melody stating “Back in the projects, I lost it all, now I’m back in the projects,” illustrating Jay Rock hasn’t forgotten where he came from, but has managed to also evolve his content in keeping with his own lifestyle. This song also features perhaps the greatest combination of Jay Rock’s melodic side and his traditional style, as the beat features a low but attention grabbing 808 that Rock harnesses to create an aggressively melodic style.
5. ROTATION 112TH
The next track, “Rotation 112th,” continues the artist’s evolution as Rock is on his own hook yet again, creating a melody that seems natural despite the deep sound fans have been accustomed to in the past, while delivering a textbook West Coast hook, singing “I got the drink, I got the smoke in rotation, if it’s war, double back in rotation.”
6. TAP OUT
Rock features Jeremih on the next track, “Tap Out,” which fits well with what he tries to do on the whole album, maintaining a melody over hard-hitting production and an incredibly aggressive lyrical style, even when the flow seems more relaxed.
“OSOM,” is one of the best tracks on the album, which offers Rock at undoubtedly his most melodic on the hook. Jay Rock surprises the listener with a singing ability that extremely few expected. It’s also another instance in which Rock manipulates his flow so delicately to match the beat, where he used to deliver his hammering flow to make the beat his own. Rock also matches one of the game’s greatest in J. Cole for the most complete song on the album by far in regards to content, flow, lyrics, and melody.
8. KING'S DEAD
“King’s Dead,” sadly loses some of it’s shock value since it’s been out so long, but after a more careful listen, Jay Rock’s newfound ability to switch up his flow is well displayed on his verses here.
“Troopers,” is also a well produced song and another shocker in regards to simply a paradox of work that one would expect from Jay Rock in regards to content, but would never expect regarding sound.
The next track, “Broke +-,” is a return to form for Jay Rock, attacking the beat with a signature flow on the verses to conquer it with his deep tones and emotional songs, offering an unorthodox chorus in making Broke an acronym, and though it may not fit well with the rest of the album, it works.
11. WOW FREESTYLE
“Wow Freestyle,” features Kendrick and as usual, when these two get on a track together there is no such thing as being disappointed. Jay and Kendrick lyrically duel here, matching each others flow, and the prior also continues the experimental manipulation of his flow to much success.
Featuring SZA, the title track of the album features an emotional Jay Rock beginning with a question to the listener and himself, saying “If you had a second chance in life, what would you do?” He also continues rapping about his own near death experience rapping the hypothetical perspective of what would have happened had he not made it out of a motorcycle crash alive. Of course, SZA’s chorus compliments Jay Rocks traditional song structure, turning to a voice like hers for the chorus yet again.
“WIN,” is a popular track of the album and that can be credited to the production. Jay Rock made an aggressive feel good track which sounds like a contradiction in itself. The flow and lyricism here isn’t Rock at his best, but the tone of the song does a good job of covering that up.
Jay Rock has always been conscious of his subject matter, but on Redemption, Johnny McKinzie mastered all of his strengths and attacked his prior weaknesses, without sacrificing his own musical character, to result in his most complete LP to date, and that is to take no credit away from the quality of the production.