90059 (released September 11, 2015)
Of the four members of TDE’s Black Hippy collective, my man Jay Rock always seems to be the most overlooked.
Sometimes, I think he likes it that way. He makes it plain on the remix of “Black Lipped Bastard”:
I’m the silent assassin of the four-headed dragon
Bad boys move in silence.
While Rock doesn’t have the ear-shattering buzz of stablemate Kendrick Lamar, the charisma of Schoolboy Q, or the eclectic aura of Ab-Soul, what he does have is visceral intensity. His gritty vocals sound like the very asphalt you’re standing on is threatening you through your speakers, daring you to make a move. Jay Rock is a throwback MC, the guy who doesn’t speak often, but when he does he commands your attention.
90059, Jay Rock’s second album and area code ode to his home, aims to be a PA system for the streets, with Rock serving as narrator.
Rock peppered the Internet with a handful of singles leading up to the album’s release, with the most potent being “Money Trees Deuce,” birthed from the 2012 Kendrick Lamar track. That song became Rock’s coming out party, and that vibe continues here. Like most sequels not named Terminator 2 or Gremlins 2 (stop hatin), it can’t recapture the magic of the original but as a standalone track, it’s a force. The laid back tempo is the perfect setting for Rock’s aggressive bars:
Oh yeah, got to be that animal
Streets is like a jungle it’ll eat you like its Hannibal
Wigs splitted, cantaloupe, yeah we see that everyday
Candles lit, pour out liquor, hope it take the pain away
I ain’t tryna pay my way, I’m just tryna pave my way
“When you stand still you can witness it all,” Rock spits on “Fly on the Wall,” where he sits back and observes his surroundings, reporting the news like a warzone correspondent. Busta Rhymes shows up too, taking Rock’s lead and restraining his usual energy for a more measured pace. It works well.
Speaking of guests, we also get the highly anticipated Black Hippy reunion on “Vice City.” Their flow takes a minute to get used to (everyone delivers an awkward pause at the end of each bar, with mixed results) but their chemistry is undeniable.
The biggest issue with 90059 is that many of the other tracks simply aren’t as memorable, which is a problem for an album with a scant 11 tracks. Singles “Easy Bake” and “Gumbo” are decent but lack bite — I kept waiting for Rock to cut loose on the latter but it never really happened. “The Ways” has a lot of potential but seemed to end much too soon. And the title track’s hook, featuring Rock doing a knockoff ODB impression, sounds very tacked-on and out of place.
Still, you can’t deny the man’s presence on songs like “Wanna Ride.” When he says “Back to life, I’m standing on my tomb,” you feel ever syllable. In an era of whiny, unimaginative lyricists, his delivery alone raises the bar. And when he brings messages like on, um, “The Message,” they’re delivered with impact:
All that stressing, it taught me lessons
Caught blessings, went back to stressin’
And that moment when death is present
Heavy praying and asking questions
I had no answers so I had to bottle up that aggression
That’s the Rock I wish we got to hear more of.
90059 is a bit of frustrating album — it has the makings of something special but seems too abbreviated to make the most of its potential. It’s like a house under construction: The foundation has been poured and the frame is up but it needs a bit more work. Still, you see the vision and how good it could be with a little more effort.
Personally, I’m just glad that the masses are finally listening to the silent assassin. He’s got a lot to say.
Best tracks: “Money Trees Deuce,” “Fly on the Wall,” “The Message”
3.5 stars out of 5