Jay Rock has been around for a hot minute, you just haven’t realised. He was TDE’s first signed artist, and inked a deal with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music in 2011 to release his debut album Follow Me Home. It featured the Kendrick Lamar assisted ‘Hood Gone Love It’, which you’ve most likely bumped on GTA V. Rock’s style walks the line between gritty, West Coast rap and conscious, food-for-thought lyrics, a duality exemplified by his timeless verse on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees’ and his sophomore release 90059. But in 2018, 13 years after he signed his first deal, Rock finally made his jump to the forefront of the game with Redemption.
Redemption feels like Rock’s magnum opus, the album where he lays everything out on the table. Its creation follows his near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2016 and sees Rock lay down some of his most introspective work to date, peppered with gut punching bangers like ‘King’s Dead’—a song that now has both a Grammy and an appearance from Future in his falsetto bag. But even in stardom, Jay Rock stays grinding like he’s underground.
“I ain’t even celebrate my Grammy yet, I’m still grinding,” Jay Rock tells me over the phone from Brisbane. He’s enjoying some downtime before the first date of an Australian tour. Despite a lack of sleep, he’s got a lot to say about Redemption, authenticity, and the prospect of a Black Hippy album in the future.
Hey Jay Rock. ‘King’s Dead’ was one of the biggest songs of last year. What was your first reaction to hearing Future’s verse, crazy or genius?
Man, I said straight away, “It’s a hit!” [laughs]. I knew that the record was going to be outta’ here the first time I heard that shit. Big shout out to Future, he a genius man. He did his thing.
Redemption feels like a turning point in the Jay Rock story. How did your mindset change between 90059 and this album?
When I dropped 90059, I thought it was on. I felt on top of the world, I was about to go on tour, I was feeling myself. But even at a high point in your career you can get knocked back down. Anything can happen. And after the motorcycle crash, a lot of things were on my mind. Fortunately, with the grace of God and everybody having me in their prayers I made it out and healed up. After that, my whole goal was to go in the lab and just do something dope, give back something that’s timeless. I made sure everything was right this time around. I wanted to drop a classic album. A lot of people have been telling me this is the one, that this was the album of 2018. So man, shoutout to the fans for holding me down.
When you were in the studio, putting these trials and tribulations on wax, was it therapeutic, or did it make the pain more real?
A little bit of both to be honest. When you get stuff off your chest you feel a lot better than when you do holding it [in]. That’s one thing I learnt about myself, because I was always a kid that would keep things bottled up, and if I felt something, I said nothing. I think the best way to get these emotions out is to go on record because it comes out sounding dope.
What kept you going after the accident?
Family, friends, fans. Everybody was supporting me, and refusing to give up on me. The unconditional love I got from people is what kept me going. There was a lot of things in my mind that wanted me to give up, but I had to focus and keep a positive outlook on the situation. Because at the end of the day, I’m still here, I’m still breathing. I got a second chance to do what I love, and what I love is music.
In my field they say to be a great writer you need to read great writing. I think that idea also applies to rap. Who did you study to tighten up your pen game?
I study the best man. Pac, Jay-Z, Scarface, DMX, Spice One, the OG Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre. Almost everybody on the West Coast. You gotta’ be a student of this rap game to know where you’re going.
You’re an LA veteran when you look at how fast the scene there changes and evolves. What do you think of new West Coast acts like Blueface and Shoreline Mafia?
It’s the new generation man, and these kids love it. You can’t knock it. It’s a different frequency that’s catching the kids and I love it, man. Especially when you put these artists on at a party and everybody gets to dancing. These are feel-good records. Shout out to Blueface!
What is it about LA music that never gets old?
We’re the land of beaches and bridges man! You think of LA you think of pretty girls and the best weed in town. When you’re there, you’re pursuing a good time, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s the vibe. Once you hear that west coast sound, you got no choice but to dance and find a nice young lady to party with—have a good time!
One of my favourite songs on Redemption is ‘For What It’s Worth’, especially the line “Got the streets and these beats right in front of me”. What keeps you from going back to that life?
I just try and keep myself busy man, and always try to stay focused. Sometimes it’s easy to lose focus on what you gotta do on your journey. But I’ve got a lot of family and homies that are still in the streets, so I’m still hands on. Really what got me out in my younger days was music man—music saved my life. I’ve always stuck with the music. And right now in the hood there’s a lot of people trying to follow those footsteps. They’re trying to do the music and make it out with a positive outlook. It can get hard, and I’ve been there before. That’s why I address it on that song.
Back then, did you have people around pushing you to strive for more?
Yeah man, you’ve gotta keep people around you that want to see you get out or you’re gonna run into a brick wall. There’s a lot of people in this world that want to see you crash and burn, but there’s a lot of people that want to see you fly as well. You have to be careful about who you keep around.
I need to touch on your incredible verse on Kendrick’s ‘Money Trees’. What do you think made that verse that hit so hard?
Baking soda yola whippin’, no more turkey on Thanksgiving! It’s just how real the record is. There’s a really strong vibe to it. The real is always gonna prevail. And once you be honest with yourself and put out what you feel without a sugar coat, you end up making something like ‘Money Trees’. I think that’s why everyone loves it.
Would you say that’s your favourite collaboration with Kendrick?
Yeah, it’s gotta be ‘Money Trees’. It’s one of my favourite features I’ve ever done in my career. But Kendrick and I, we’ve got so many records and a lot of them I think are timeless. If you love ‘Money Trees’, you gotta’ go back and listen to the No Sleep Till NYC [mixtape that] we did man.
For the release of your first album Follow Me Home, you worked with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music, but these days you only work with TDE. What makes them different from other labels in the industry?
First off, shout out to Tech N9ne and Strange Music man. Tech took me on my first tours and stuff, and I learnt a lot from him. What makes TDE different is that we’re all putting out real music. Not saying everyone else isn’t, but I feel like we do things a little different. We don’t do it like the labels, and everybody sees what we got going on. And they’re constantly trying to figure it out. But at the end of the day, we’re just trying to continue dropping dope music for the fans and not trying to follow any trends. We’re trying to start our own.
You’re someone who’s thriving in the streaming era, but you also used to give out CDs from a van. Do you ever miss that?
Oh hell yeah man, we used to do that around Playa Vista. We’d go to every mall around LA, every school, and we’d just pass them out. That’s how we started getting heard.
It seems like everybody in rap right now is doing a joint album. We all know Dreamville have something huge on the way. Do you think we’ll see Black Hippy join the party soon?
Man, you gotta’ get Top on the phone for that [laughs]. If you can get him on the phone, then maybe that can happen.
So Redemption came and killed the game—what’s next for Jay Rock?
I’m not sleeping, man. As I said, I ain’t even celebrated my Grammy win yet. But I’m going to keep working, and I think you’re going to have another album from me by the end of the year. As far as TDE, Schoolboy just put out a single, Zacari just put out an album, I was just in the studio with Ab-Soul a few weeks back, we just working. All work, no play baby.
Jay Rock’s 2018 album Redemption is available now. Stream it here