Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is revered for being a progressive group of bright, likeminded individuals with one key goal in mind: to be the best. With one of the leanest rosters, they’re making one of the biggest footprints on Hip Hop. In a Rap age where focus has started to transfer from lyricism to drug-induced mumbles and groans, TDE is folding up their glasses, tightening their capes and being both the heroes we deserve and need—sorry for mixing two separate super hero clichés.
The Rap supergroup is no longer a West Coast secret—they’ve spread to the masses and show zero signs of retarding. Thanks to strategic moves, adequate personnel, resilience and confidence, they’ve developed a cult-like fanbase with commercial-like success. Talk about living the dream. At the core of TDE lies a group of four lyricists who have put the game on their backs and shouldered the responsibility of reintroducing today’s dumbed down audience to genuine poetry: Black Hippy. But I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. Like I said, TDE and Black Hippy are far from secrets. We all know Kendrick; we all know ScHoolboy Q; we all heavily anticipated Isaiah Rashad’s triumphant return. No, this is about one of Black Hippy’s unsung heroes: Jay Rock.
Despite being the second man signed to TDE after Kendrick (at only 15-years-old, but that’s a conversation for a different day), I always felt like Jay Rock never got his due. When you’re label mates with Kendrick, you have to stand on your tippy toes to peer over his massive shadow. I get that. But ScHoolboy Q has reached superstar status (rightfully so) thanks to his chilling Hoover Crip stories and menacing production. Hell, I think even Ab-Soul gets more praise than Jay. So it’s not absurd to suggest that Jay Rock should be eating like his label mates. I guess that’s the price paid when you’re associated with some of today's most talented rappers. I know it’s slightly anecdotal, but take Spotify numbers for example: Kendrick’s monthly listeners exceed eight-million; Q is banging at the door of five-million; Ab-Soul has reached over 500k; Isaiah Rashad has toppled the one-million milestone! And Jay Rock? Well, he’s still yet to reach that half-million mark.
Good is the enemy of great. In today’s saturated market, unless you’re an André, Chance or Kanye, steadily releasing music is imperative to being competitive. It’s imperative because there are new guys coming out everyday, each hungrier than the last, gunning for your spot. Despite being 31-years-old, Jay Rock has only two official album releases, and isn’t the go to feature or hook guy. So I can wrap my mind around the fact that he isn’t in the same league as those eight-figure monthly consumed Spotify artists. What I can’t wrap my mind around is why he’s not receiving the credit he deserves.
Obviously, I’m naturally biased because I think the 2010 XXL Freshman’s lyrics and production yield great, rugged and intelligent music. But why doesn’t everyone else? The Watts-born artist spits with authority, cares about Rap and pours his blood, sweat and tears into his craft. He speaks from his heart and exposes the world to his world through his nimble 16s and clever wordplay, evidenced by his first verse off “Money Trees Deuce”:
“Uh, imagine Rock up in that field where options ain't so audible / Problems steady fallin', the effects is like some dominoes / Issues chronological, gotta get that money fast / Andale, vamonos, feelin' like Osama, got my llama close / Hope them boys don't come knock at my mama's door / AK-47 out that window, think I'm paranoid / America, another case I can't afford, help me Lord”
Jay Rock’s two official studio releases, Follow Me Home and 90059 (listed at the end of the article), demonstrate his storytelling nature, musical prowess and ability to generate hits. He speaks on a wide range of important topics, from acknowledging his own Achilles' heel and society’s shortcomings, to speaking on issues plaguing areas resembling his hometown. Just like him, both projects are terribly underrated. Let’s not forget whose albums “Vice City” and “All My Life” are on… But “hits” are only the tip of Jay’s music iceberg. “Fly on the Wall” featuring Busta Rhymes and Macy Gray off 90059 was one of 2015’s most profound, introspective and challenging songs that exposes the darkness of America’s ghettos from the perspective of a fly on the wall. And yet, Jay never got the credit he deserved.
“Hold up, the eyes is watchin’ / Gotta be more smart now, devise this option / Watch how the plot thickens / The clock tickin', his weak spot is a thot / Just notice he can't stop trickin', got him / Now this how it starts / He take a bat when he know to go play with his heart / Had his nose wide open while gettin' head at the park / She set the GPS location like this where we park / Now you know what's next / It’s crazy how life can end all through a text / Got us wishin' we was all born with a vest / I know you prolly witnessed it all / But picture the vision from the fly on the walll”—lyrics from “Fly on the Wall.”
Jay Rock is a rapper’s rapper. It’s why Busta loves him; it’s why he’s had Weezy featured on a track; it’s why his esteemed label mates love him; it’s part of the reason Black Hippy and TDE are enjoying their success. What will it take for the music world to catch on? It's time to give the man his due.