You’re sleeping on Jay Rock.
Jay Rock had the best verse on Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. There, somebody had to say it.
On Money Trees, Jay Rock paints a vivid, visceral picture of what it’s like to live in the poverty of south-side Los Angeles, delivered in his trademark guttural snarl. It’s gruff and uncompromising, audio barbed wire meets Rock’s peculiar hood poetry, but it’s also empathetic in a way that ‘real’ rap so often falls short of. How many gangsta rappers can you honestly say you feel sorry for?
Imagine if The Game was still good, and he didn’t have to pretend he could fuck you up. That’s Jay Rock. His only album, Follow Me Home, hits like a baseball bat to the jaw, every song loaded with iron-hard punch and every line bleeding sincerity in a way that paints a totally inimitable perspective of what it’s like to live hand-to-mouth on the streets of Watts, LA.
Jay Rock doesn't rap in a way that glorifies the gangsta lifestyle, in the same way as his west coast forebears have for the last twenty years, but nor does he dream of a better future à la Tupac Shakur or his labelmate Kendrick Lamar. Instead, he raps about the life of a Watts Bounty Hunna Blood from a position of resignation to his fate and acceptance of gang crime as an inevitability of social injustice. Like a west coast Mobb Deep, he raps like a cornered animal, a snake in a cage, fighting not for a brighter long-term prospect but facing down the immediate necessity of keeping his head above water. That’s a unique perspective we haven’t seen in the genre since figures like Nas and Prodigy first had us wondering if the Geto Boys were wrong, and if it really was that good to be a gangsta.
“Imagine if The Game was still good, and he didn’t have to pretend he could fuck you up. That’s Jay Rock.”
Do yourself a favour and check out Black Friday, his last mixtape prior to Follow Me Home. Or for a real mindfuck, have a listen to No Sleep ‘til NYC, the joint mixtape Rock made with Kendrick Lamar way back in 2007, when the latter was still a faceless Lil Wayne impersonator called K Dot. After all, Jay Rock has been signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, the once-unheard of label that built it’s reputation on the backs of rappers ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and of course Kendrick Lamar, since 2005. That’s ten years now, and at the time of me writing this all anybody’s heard of with regard to his next album is two tracks that miiight be on it, and even then it’s hard to say. Who knows.
Until then, keep an ear to the ground for Top Dawg’s prodigal son. Jay Rock faces a possible future as the AZ of the modern era — floating just above the underground scene, but never in the mainstream, and always in the shadow of the more famous MC who helped to make his name. Possibly a little harsh, but if there’s one thing Jay Rock’s name is synonymous with, it’s harsh realities.