20. Jay Rock "Money Trees" (2012)
Producer: DJ Dahi
Album: good kid, m.A.A.d city
Label: Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope
To appreciate Jay Rock's definitive verse on "Money Trees," one must first recognize not only the position he was in at the time, but also his team's advancement. Top Dawg Entertainment's ascent into rap supremacy in 2012 was an inevitable affair. Schoolboy Q kicked off the year with the menacing daze of Habits & Contradictions, Ab-Soul flirted with pure lyrical meditation on Control System during the summer months, and Kendrick Lamar capped 2012 by delivering his rite of passage narrative, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
But where was Jay Rock? Just a year prior, he released his debut, Follow Me Home, to lukewarm response. Soon his Black Hippy colleagues cruised by him in popularity and skill level. His relevance soon became dependent on feature work, with Rock making appearances on each of the aforementioned projects, one better than the next.
"Money Trees" presents a moral struggle for the Watts-native, who like Lamar, is faced with the eternal task of capturing hope in a city that has anything but. "Imagine Rock up in the projects where them niggas pick your pockets/Santa Claus don't miss them stockings, liquor spilling, pistols popping," he starts out, evaluating the costs of his actions with a gruff delivery.
As his words scale the afflicted city, it becomes clear that survival will only come to those who are resolute in demeanor ("Gotta provide for my daughter n'em, get the fuck up out my way, bitch/Got that drum and got them bands, just like a parade, bitch"). It's a story that doesn't have a happy ending, nor did it need to have one. Jay Rock would know better than most; money trees can provide shade for only so long. —Edwin Ortiz