When we first join Jay Rock on “Necessary,” the lead track for his sophomore album 90059, the sound conjures imagery of the listener just stumbling into a studio in the midst of a session and finding Jay Rock in the booth chanting “Nine double oh five nine be the zip,” in honor of his native Watts.
Bytime we finally get some bars 40 seconds in, Rock is not packing any punches and is clearly not going to waste any time easing the listener into his second full-length studio album. The heavy vocals he used to wow listeners on his TDE/Strange Music debut Follow Me Home are ready to go with lyrics to boot, “When you live in America, either kill or be killed.”
Nothing about this album can be viewed without context. We are nine months into one of the densest years in Hip Hop of recent recollection. There has been a steady output of albums from big names with hype that is even at times matched by quality. From the top level releases such from Drake, Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky to other first albums from Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$, this year has made it tough to stand out with even more albums to come from Mac Miller, Game, Drake and Kanye West.
If this wasn’t enough to make Rock’s task tall, he is coming off a hugely impressive Follow Me Home and hasn’t released a full project in the half-decade since that project officially put him on the map. Finally, Rock is the last early adopter from Top Dawg Entertainment and Black Hippy to make his own paid project and two out of three members set the bar extremely high with number one albums while the outlier Ab-Soul fell into a trap that Rock could easily replicate of being unable to outdo his free project Control System.
With all this on his mind, Rock came out with a short tracklist of only 11 songs, a major departure from contemporary releases. With only 11 tracks, there are an impressive amount of highlights. The smooth, jazzy sounds of “Gumbo” provide an opportunity for Rock to rhyme in a more melodic tone and cadence than he has in the past with his often bass heavy beats.
“Money Trees Deuce” is a callout to the most famous verse Rock has ever spit on Kendrick Lamar’s good Kid m.A.A.d. City and with the tall order of living up to the name Rock delivers on his own RE:DEFinition. In further homage to that seminal moment, he begins the track spitting “Imagine Rock up in that field where problems ain’t so audible.” Strong lyrical output throughout the track paired with an interesting re-imagining of the beat which can sound like the original “Money Trees” if you close one eye and tilt your head a bit.
Bookmarking that reprise are the soulful “Fly On the Wall” and “The Message” which provide a raw look at the man who often plays the role as Black Hippy’s tough guy but has battled mentally and physically to make it to this breakout project.
The former contains the strongest of the handful of guest verses as the legendary Busta Rhymes comes in to assist an emcee he likely inspired once upon a time to deliver a memorable pair of verses on a standout track.
Released a day or so before the album stream, “Vice City” was the album selection that received tons of hype when it fans saw that Black Hippy would reunite for the first time since 2012. It is a common opinion that the groups best joint effort was “Black Lip Bastard” remix which appeared on Solo’s Control System. That was a time way before they were the most talked about sets in Hip Hop and new Top Dawg additions like SZA or Isaiah Rashad, who both perform admirably on the album, were known commodities.“Vice City” is a good song but fails to make the jump to great that other efforts featuring the core four of TDE have in the past. That sentiment is true for this album as a whole. A solid effort that is up there with the best of the year but it definitely sets the stage for the emcee who made Follow Me Home and many feel could be the second best in the set to Kendrick to make the jump to great when sophomore time comes around.