Don't listen to Twitter. When Jay Rock's sophomore album, 90059, dropped, the tweets panned it for the most part. They—better yet, we—waited four long years for the follow-up to his debut, Follow Me Home, and the people felt slighted. Like most things on the Internet, I took those opinions with a grain of salt and played this album constantly over the weekend waiting to get tired of it. And you know what? That still hasn't happened, nor was I able to find any reason to be disappointed. He delivered.
There's no room for filler tracks and down periods on an 11-track album. It starts off nicely with "Necessary" preparing the listener for the gangsta shit they're about to get into. Jay Rock might not be the biggest star on TDE, but he is their leader. Each artist on the label's roster learned the game from him. He was with the imprint from the start and took all of them under his wing so they could learn from his experiences. Listening to this album, that statement becomes apparent in his ability to see both sides of the game. We get Jay at his best when he spits that OG knowledge.
He also doesn't make the mistake of shamelessly trying to reach for radio spins. Jay isn't that type of artist. We've seen Jadakiss and Beanie Sigel ruin albums by trying to feed the machine instead of staying in and owning their respective lanes. Instead, Jay shows range by playing with his flow and experimenting with his sound on tracks that feature beat switches.
He wastes no time as the second track, "Easy Bake"—featuring his understudy Kendrick Lamar and SZA—displays both. Compared to the rest of Black Hippy, K. Dot and Rock have the best chemistry. They have yet to make a wack song together. More than halfway through the album comes the title track, "90059," one of the early tastes we got of the LP, and it finds Rock screaming like the ghost of Ol' Dirty Bastard throughout. I wasn't the biggest fan of that song when I first heard it; I wasn't ready for his howls. But it showed us that he was willing to expand on his sound, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued enough to want to hear the rest of the album. In hindsight, "90059" works within the context of the project. The beat is hard as fuck as he toils with his sound, a creativity he shows throughout this album.
Some of the best tracks on the record are the ones in which he steps out of his comfort zone. "Wanna Ride," featuring Isaiah Rashad (who murders the hook), was put together by three different producers: J. LBS., Tae Beast, and Antydote. Jay starts off by spitting a couple bars about getting money and twisting his fingers to 2Pac. And then it unexpectedly switches into an entirely new song that could be the soundtrack to a contemporary spaghetti western. "The Ways" featuring Sir and "Telegram (Going Krazy)" featuring Lance Skiiiwalker come soon after and follow the same trend of Jay trying something different. Being on an indie label like Top Dawg allows this. Jay doesn't have to deal with major label politics like ScHoolboy and Kendrick (both are signed to Interscope). He's in the business of selling records and had to expand his palette, but he did so without losing himself along the way. He's reaching for the mainstream in a creative way. Is he going to do it with this album? No. He's headed in the right direction, though.
"Gumbo," "Fly on the Wall" featuring Busta Rhymes, and "Money Trees Deuce" (my favorite track) show Rock at his absolute best. All three songs highlight his ability to tell ghetto stories from the perspective of someone wise beyond their years. The best street rappers are able to shed light on the duality of street life. Rock is in the mold of Styles P, Beanie Sigel, and Scarface in that regard. When I listen to Rock rap about the hood, I don't hear the glamorization of gangland. I hear hope. "Fly on the Wall" and "Money Trees Deuce" are songs of pain and aspiration. And how can I forget "Vice City," the Black Hippy posse cut with its string section and heavy bass? TDE is the strongest rap crew in the game still, and the competition is not even close. I can't see anybody wanting sauce with them. Each member is masterful in his (and her) own right.
Jay Rock didn't suffer from the sophomore slump curse. It might not have been what most expected after a four-year wait, but I'm willing to bet they'll change their tune after a few more spins. The version that leaked sounds weaker, and the beats don't hit like the official one. Take that into account when you choose not to support your "favorite" rappers. Cop that mastered version, dummies. Jay is the leader of the best team in rap. Salute him when you see him.