“I’m just part of a winning family, call me Marlon Jackson,”Jay Rock raps on “Broke +-,” a track from his new album, Redemption. Comparing himself to the unsung Jackson 5 member—best known for his dance moves—is an appropriate metaphor for the hard-nosed rapper, whose gruff voice and stone-cold persona aren’t quite as marketable as ScHoolboy Q’s goofy gangster or Kendrick Lamar’s poetic prophet. Yet Rock, 33, consistently delivers—on a powerhouse like Top Dawg Entertainment, he’s the grizzled veteran role player. And with Redemption, he puts up a career high.
Redemption is the most cohesive of Jay Rock’s albums. Boi-1da and Vinylz bring blaring horns that add to the massiveness of “Win.” CuBeatz and Cardo chef up a bit of West Coast breeziness for “Troopers.” Meanwhile “ES Tales” features a nightmarish beat that further reflects on the tragedies in Rock’s stories of life in the projects. Lyrically, the album is overflowing with tough bars delivered in Rock’s guttural voice. He describes his rise in the rap game on the booming, confident “The Bloodiest,” rapping, “Gettin’ pounds off, gettin’ rounds off, gettin’ blocks back I facilitated/When I sound off, you a groundhog, that’s a casket and a pillow waiting/Magic in a dope spot, four chickens, that’s Popeye’s/More spinach, that’s Popeye, four women sippin’ Mai Tais.”
The best performance on Redemption is also Rock’s most personal. On the album’s title track, he reflects on the 2016 motorcycle crash that nearly took his life (he also alludes to the incident on the aforementioned “The Bloodiest”). Terrace Martin and Sounwave provide a jazzy backing track while SZA’s soulful vocals add spirituality as Rock imagines his own funeral: “I see some of them showing up just to post a picture/Like they was my nigga, Instagram’s a dead man’s best friend/Everybody lookin’ for likes but wasn’t liking you when/You needed something to hold on dealing with life stress/Glad them angels came in surgery, said I’m not done yet.”
Jay Rock is always good for street raps, though, and Redemption serves those up by the pound. “ES Tales,” “For What It’s Worth” and “Broke+-” all feature bars about trying to cope with poverty and crime in an oppressive system that’s difficult to escape. While most of Rock’s verses might seem par for the course, he switches up his delivery enough to keep things fresh. On the verses for “Rotation 112th,” Rock chooses a higher-pitched cadence. He’s straight-up singing for much of “Troopers.” On “King’s Dead,” the usually cool and collected Jay Rock becomes unhinged and frantic. The Kendrick Lamar verse that closes this track on the Black Panther soundtrack is absent, yet Future’s glorious Three 6 Mafia interpolation remains intact, thank God.
Still, Kendrick offers support without hogging the spotlight or overstaying his welcome. He lays uncredited backing vocals for “Tap Out” and “Redemption,” and plays hype man on the bombastic, triumphant closer “Win” with a series energetic adlibs. “Wow Freestyle” finds the two TDE stars fully tag teaming. Hit-Boy cooks up a floaty, flute-driven beat for two acclaimed spitters to rap their asses off, trading bars like they did on the label’s earliest mixtapes. Elsewhere Jeremih seamlessly meshes with the beat on “Tap Out,” while J. Cole continues his hot year with a killer contribution to “OSOM” in a reunion of two 2010 XXL Freshmen.
In a career defined by his consistency as a rapper, Redemption might be Jay Rock’s most consistent yet. At 44 minutes, the album breezes by without many frills. Rock raps, makes his point, and gets out quickly after, allowing the TDE vet to chalk up his biggest win yet.
See New Music Releases for June 2018