Redemption (released June 15, 2018)
The homie Jay Rock nailed the title of this album. It’s a fitting description for a career built on unfulfilled potential.
As an original member of the “four headed dragon” known as Black Hippy, Rock has often been overshadowed by his more charismatic compatriots. The eclectic Ab-Soul has quietly dropped some of the best material in the group’s history (Control System still stands as TDE’s best non-Kendrick album); I may have criticized Schoolboy Q over the years for inconsistent LPs but there’s no question that the man knows how to craft a radio hit; and of course there’s no rapper in the known universe touching Kendrick Lamar right now.
That leaves Rock, whose gruff flow has been the highlight of many TDE tracks but when the spotlight is solely on him, he just doesn’t quite shine.
But after a near-death experience in 2016 Jay is no longer taking life – nor his career – for granted. Redemption, his third solo LP and the first since his terrifying motorcycle accident, proves that he’s more than just a 16-bar feature artist.
The album starts with the one-two punch of “The Bloodiest” and “For What It’s Worth,” showcasing his greatest strength – that gritty, menacing flow. “Got these streets and these beats right in front of me,” he muses as he struggles with balancing celebrity and the streets. It’s Jay in his comfort zone – and proof that he could easily hold his own with the gangsta greats of the 90s.
But what makes Redemption a career turning point is Jay’s willingness to step outside that comfort zone and sprint toward the mainstream.
And surprisingly, it works better than you’d expect.
Jay is almost unrecognizable at times on “Rotation 112th” and “Knock It Off,” bouncy tracks with sing-songy flows that seem like they drifted over from a Schoolboy Q mixtape. And while they’re not bad – mostly due to the top-notch production – it’s still not a perfect fit. It just doesn’t FEEL like a Jay Rock track.
“OSOM” with J. Cole, however, works much better, with Rock retaining his trademark edge while rampaging over trendy production. Same goes for “King’s Dead,” which was first featured on the Kendrick Lamar-led Black Panther album and, yes, still features Future sounding like someone superkicked him in the tonsils.
While there are a few misses midway through Redemption – namely Jeremih’s ultra-dry hook on “Tap Out” and the unspectacular “Troopers” – the album finishes in spectacular fashion. After spending a few tracks chasing trends, it’s good to hear Jay go back to basics on the brooding “Broke +-.” K-Dot makes his inevitable appearance on “Wow Freestyle,” with the duo blacking out over a breezy beat that sounds like it was lifted from a Final Fantasy RPG. And after getting introspective on the title track, Rock closes with the triumphant “Win,” a hyperactive fight song that feels totally different than his usual playbook but still embodies his gritty, take-no prisoners attitude.
ESPN’s bout to play this song for the next 400 years, watch and see.
Fans are understandably skeptical when their favorite artists take chances and move in different directions. If you fell in love with an artist due to a specific sound, it’s pretty hard to accept them traveling down a drastically different road. But in Jay Rock’s case, the change of scenery has worked wonders.
Change is good. And change has given Jay Rock his best album.
Best tracks: “The Bloodiest,” “Wow Freestyle,” “King’s Dead”
4 stars out of 5