A brush with death can do much to change how you approach your life. This horror was Jay Rock’s reality on the night of the 2016 Grammys when TDE’s longtime anchor suffered a serious motorcycle accident that left him with multiple broken bones. Fortunate enough to recover from his injuries, the Watts native got back to work on his craft, eventually distilling his outlook on life and his post-accident mentality into a commanding, convincing chant: “Win. Win, win, win, win!”
The thunderous declaration that arrives on “WIN” is a fitting exclamation point to close Jay Rock’s Redemption chapter, placing the stoic on a champion’s pedestal with his most technically sound album to date. His delivery and vocal performance are stellar throughout the project, making for a more engaging product that still retains his hard-edged persona. On “Rotation 112th” he slices back and forth over the eerie synths with the precision of a five-star chef, while elsewhere on “The Bloodiest” he settles into an exasperated cadence in the first verse before snapping into laser-sharp focus on the second.
Redemption shines brightest when the music itself matches Rock’s dynamic performance and infuses enough energy for him to seize the moment. “Wow Freestyle” is the album’s standout track for this reason, with blistering production courtesy of Hit-Boy supplementing relentless verbal attacks from Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. The golden child of TDE is sprinkled all over the album in the form of ad-libs and a lone chorus on a shortened version of “King’s Dead,” but his lone verse on Redemption is a doozy, reminding the rap world of the seamless chemistry he’s had with Rock since “when Top had the red charger.”
When Jay Rock steps out of this formula to vary the soundscape, some switch-ups work better than others. The J. Cole-assisted “OSOM” is one of those that succeed. Dreamville’s head honcho returns with another addiction-centered verse akin to his message on KOD, while Rock’s snarling second verse bookends the song on a high note.
He saves his most powerful reflection for the titular track “Redemption,” envisioning the scene at his own funeral in the wake of his near-fatal car accident. It’s not a perfect picture (“I see mo’ division / I see some of them showin’ up just to post a picture / Like they was my nigga, Instagram’s a dead man’s best friend,” he raps in the first verse), but it cuts to the heart of what made this project so essential to the rapper, while SZA’s majestic work on the chorus uplifts the song with added dimension.
That said, silver medal moments do litter Redemption, making for sparse profound introspection. The slow brooding “Broke +-” stumbles to the finish line due to its dreary production. While packed with metaphorically solid lyrics, the pensive thoughts about his trial-bulations deserve a beat that grips the listener to the speakers the same way his words do. The equally dull “For What It’s Worth” is equally underwhelming for a Sounwave contraption, lacking the ranging dynamics that give the album a sluggish kickstart.
Still, “Tap Out” serves as a solid change of pace midway through the tracklist, reminiscent of a mellowed-out version of SOB x RBE’s fiery Black Panther cut “Paramedic!” Jeremih glides over the chorus on an instant earworm, while Jay Rock’s effortless verses blend beautifully over the magnetizing 808s.
As a staff, record label and muthafuckin’ crew, TDE has become a standard for excellence in Hip Hop and Redemption certainly clears the bar when it’s all said and done. Sure there are missteps, but there’s also growth. It’s not like Jay Rock needed to do anything else to prove his place in Hip Hop but it’s always a treat to watch the established rappers give it their all in the studio.