After months of rumored release dates, the hip-hop gods have finally blessed timelines with Jay Rock’s long awaited follow-up to 2011’s criminally underrated debut Follow Me Home. A lot has changed since then for the 2010 XXL Freshman class alumni. He’s no longer with Tech N9ne’s imprint, Strange Music, and he hasn’t put out a proper release since his Black Friday mixtape and From Hood Tales To The Cover Of XXL LP. Music for him has been scarce outside of his guest appearances, as heard on YG’s “I Just Wanna Party” and more notably, fellow Black Hippy mate, Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees” on the 2012 offering, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. If you’ve followed Rock for the past five years, he’s kept busy from the the sidelines, quietly growing and evolving into a better lyricist with improved wordplay, more expansive but focused subject matter, a more distinct flow, and storytelling prowess.
The best way to describe Jay Rock’s 90059 is a warm, scrumptious bowl of gumbo (Rock even has a track titled “Gumbo“) that’s been cooked with time and care. Flavorful and loaded with sustenance, the album calls Rock’s stomping grounds of Watts, Los Angeles home as he provides a passenger’s side view at the trials and tribulations of its residents and his own life. The LP’s opener “Necessary” best sums up the project’s recurring themes of hustling to survive and the street politics that end in violence as he raps, “The struggle is real, the struggle is real, the struggle is real/You gotta do what you got to just to get over the hill/When you live in America, either kill or be killed, yo.” On the other hand, he gets deep on songs like the aforementioned, J. LBS-produced “Gumbo,” a bluesy track that seemingly captures the pain of multiple generations who fled from the South in search of a better life out West, especially felt in guitar twangs and soulful hook by Vic Smitty, Jazzy Bailey, Brian Patterson and Tiffany Gouche.
The darker production provides a different canvas for Rock to paint on. While there aren’t exactly mainstream-esque singles like 2011’s “Hood Gone Love It,” listeners receive a more brooding and dangerously frantic opus that at times, makes you feel like you’re in the wrong part of the Nickerson Projects. The Tae Beast-produced title track “90059” hits the climax of Rock’s hellish adventure through Watts with its haunting production and eery sixteens from Rock, who assumes his alter ego, Lance Skiiiwalker. Rock even channels his inner Ol’ Dirty Bastard without sounding like a cheap knockoff straight outta nowhere.
Still, Rock tackles a wide range of emotions from mellow (“The Ways”) to somber (“Fly On The Wall”) and successfully bringing his zip code to the world stage. Overall, the album is filled with soulful sounds from the chest cavity. He’s in top form, hardly ever missing a step with his vivid storytelling and heavy-handed lyrical dexterity with his signature fiery delivery. On “90059,” Rock goes on a maniacal lyric spree, spitting, “These waters are murky, crocodiles they lurking/Murder rate merging, up and down virgins/Guess you gotta play street versions of a surgeon/Keep beat bursting, closing down all your curtains/When shit don’t go right, gotta question your purpose/Denim with them serpents coming back to surface.” If you’re looking for Rock’s compelling rap narration at its finest, look no further than the Busta Rhymes-assisted “Fly On The Wall.” Rock takes in Watts life as an observer while the Black Hippy collaboration “Vice City” is not only a fun break from the pitch-black soundscape, but it’s also reason number 1,059 why we need an official Black Hippy album A.S.A.P.
Even with a palm print as his album cover, 90059 is Jay Rock’s best effort to date, hands down. Nothing feels out of place on Rock’s love letter to Watts. He can go bar-for-bar with the rap game’s best, proving he’s one of the better technical lyricists at Top Dawg and possibly the most improved of the bunch (not that he was ever whack to begin with). While the tale of surviving in the hood isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory, his life’s synopsis has provided quality street music. And if nothing else convinces you of Rock’s hard-earned talents, here’s Busta’s official stamp of approval as heard on “Fly On The Wall”: ”To tell the truth there’s no problem we can’t solve/So let me tell the truth, again I’m so proud of how you evolved.” 90059 is the product of change that has only made Jay Rock better.——Mark Braboy (@DRD_Poetry17)