Jay Rock is an LA emcee who’s been doin’ it for a few years now: Redemption is his third LP, out on Top Dawg and Interscope, and features an impressive array of guest performers such as J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar (elsewhere cited as a writer as “Kendrick Duckworth”) SZA and Future. In style, he’s country-ish like Earl Sweatshirt but straight-ahead, non-cerebral and easy to understand, spitting hopeful lyrics like ghetto prayers directed at everybody.
“The Bloodiest” opens things off grimly, in bareness and caustic restraint, like trap’s elder brother with a more pronounced, deeper and biting bass sound, and more of a knack for storytelling. Right away afterward, though, we get nicely sequenced respite: “For What it’s Worth” throws out a soulful sampled female vocal for its intro before kicking into a sonically booming but somehow still subdued beat, right along with this crazily trippy spliced snare sound-funnel leading into an assembled snare. Jay Rock is “Tryin’ to solve (his) problems off this fifth o’ Henny” and he SOUNDS scrappy and not full of himself or postured, much to the listener’s refreshment. We get a sense of his vision with the line “I’d rather be a prospect / You know Godlike”, all over the real accounts of guns and liquor and the idea that if “I can’t rap… that’s suicide”. So in other words, it’s already too much real life to even bear, exactly what we want out of a rap album in 2018, or anytime.
“Knock it off” ends up being boorish street boasting in slow West Coast form but opens with a curious aside: Rock immersed in this monologue of “Dear God I want to thank you for this big redemption / Dear God I want to thank you for this bad bit** I got on my side right now”. Again we get the theme of things “Godlike,” then, and of redemption, the artist’s willingness to throw something deeply hopeful like his sense of spirituality along with the real occurrence that, like Drake, he’s just giddy for that power-u. Redemption is a good affirmation, in other words, that even if you don’t have all your sh** together, or ANY of your sh** together, sometimes just imagining what it would be like if you did can be enough for some storied satisfaction.
Elsewhere Redemption morphs into a gratifying party banger: “ES Tales” stomps in with this awesome beat by Teddy Walton that reminded me a little of the Beasties on the “Hello Brooklyn” movement of “B-Boy Bouillabaisse.” Rock sounds every bit up to the task too, spitting bars like he’s feeling it and having fun doing this rapping thing, which is more than we can say for many of the pampered sycophants we’ve suffered through this decade. “Tap Out,” which boasts Lamar again as “Kendrick Duckworth” allotting him as one of the writers, opens with this on-off Dre vibe like Eminem’s “Drips” or “Say What You Say” before dissipating into an even eerie, grimier landscape complete with a female taking the chorus vocal lead. The problem is that then it dissolves into R&B (I thought not rapping was suicide for this guy) and he’s so good at flowing that I think in this case it’s some time wasted.