Jay Rock’s tale is one we all know. Signed to TDE back in 2005, he was a core part of the label – going through the highs and lows and everything else that comes with a new up-and-coming label. “Everyone knows my story – everyone knows I was the first one to sign… I took all the blows, I took the hits, and I’m still here – strong!”
Meshed within his lyrics of growing up in LA, and tales of wins and losses, Jay Rock has always shared his truths. Fast forward 13 years, and this tale of Jay Rock’s journey has been told countless times, yet his story is still evolving. During his recent trip to London, Nation of Billions broke it down with Jay Rock, to talk about all those truths, wins and losses so far.
Growing up in Watts, California, Jay Rock reflected about life on the projects, and the ups and downs have all helped shape Jay Rock’s career and life in general. Jay Rock is a shining example of TDE’s uniqueness, his 2011 video ‘Say Wassup’, displayed the early TDE members Kendrick, Ab Soul, ScHoolboy Q and Rock, through a fish-eye lens with a fresh and undeniable chemistry – “Them times were dope, so dope man. We was just getting our feet wet, we was just trying to figure it out. We was having fun with it, but still finding ourselves. The main thing from that point has been growth – we was just having fun and enjoying ourselves”.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to remain humble as quick as you get up is as quick as you can fall down.
It was around this time Jay Rock also had his highly anticipated debut album ‘Follow Me Home’ in the works, but it didn’t come out until 2011 – considering the standout track ‘All My Life’ had first been released back in 2008: “Everyone knew it was a hit, I had one of the hottest dudes on it, Lil Wayne, and one of the most dope writers on the hook, Will.i.Am. These dudes, fucked with me, they rated my music, it was all love. Big salute to them. But everyone knows the story, it was a learning experience and it told me to just keep working, stay motivated and go even harder”. By 2010 Jay Rock had a huge buzz, he was on the 2010 XXL Freshman cover, but with the album being delayed, Rock’s buzz slowed down. “One thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to remain humble as quick as you get up is as quick as you can fall down.”
His second studio album ‘90059’ contained ‘Money Trees Deuce’, a sequel to his feature on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Money Trees’, ‘Stay up, wake up, cake up, get paper, and I swear to God things will fall in your favour,’ Jay Rock raps at the end of the track. “I said that because despite all the hardships in life, you need to continue to strive, because in the end it will pay off – I can promise you”. The dream for Rock was to find the shade under the money tree – financial independence away from the danger of the streets in which he grew up. “I been pushing that since day one – you know” Jay Rock explains, clearing his throat. “Coming from where I come from, a lot of guys don’t get to make it out. I’m always trying to put out something positive and motivational… I know how easy it is to lose track and to lose focus and the slightest thing can set you back. I’m always pushing – stay in your lane, stay on your path and just go hard at whatever you wanna do and believe in, go hard, and it will pay off”.
These words of motivation are inspiring – from whatever corner of the globe you live – regardless of your journey, it’s these moments and words of reassurance, that Jay Rock’s core fanbase is founded off. It also warrants his title as “big brother” in the TDE camp. “I’m back like I never left. When I was down and out – but then there were other dudes like ScHoolboy Q , Ab Soul coming up while I was healing up – now look Big Brother’s back” laughs Rock, “it’s all about grinding, learning and continuing”.
Life has a way of taking you on its own twists and turns and in 2016, on the night of the 58th annual Grammy Award Ceremony, the same year in which fellow label mate and friend, Kendrick Lamar galvanised the show with his performances from his politically charged ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, Jay Rock was involved in a near fatal motorbike accident that left him with broken leg and cracked pelvis. After a near death experience, people often struggle to return back to their previous lives – but not Jay Rock. Upon leaving the hospital Jay Rock set himself on a fairly long road to recovery, but he had one mission on his mind: studio. “It was easy to return to making music, when I got out of the hospital, it’s all I wanted to do. I started hitting up everyone. I went straight back in the lab to make records and create a vibe. We had so many laughs, yet made a vibe”.
I can only thank God for getting me back.
Culminating in the release of his latest 13-track album ‘Redemption’, Rock’s healing process also firmly reignited his own love for the music. “I’m just trying to get better everyday.. I’m always trying to work on my craft. My drive has strangely got better since the accident, everyone’s telling me this is one of my best albums – that motivated me and inspired me to do what I need to do. I felt like I was up here – my career was high, then boom, it gets taken. You know setbacks, time is precious.”
‘Redemption’ is heavily planted in the celebration of the human spirit – most notably on the album’s closing song, and personal favourite, ‘Win’. A jubilant track, packed with horns and echoes of Kendrick Lamar’s past as Jay Rock’s hype man with his standout ad-libs.“I was finally close to finishing off the album, and I felt it needed one more track. I had recovered, I was happy… I was in a winning spirit at the time, and most importantly, I’m healthy,” Jay Rock explains with a small smile. “I wanted to sum everything up, what better way to wrap things up is by winning? The horns and everything allowed me to do that, it just boosted it”.
The video for ‘Win’ is ridiculously good too, striking cinematic visuals see Jay Rock, brass bands, vultures and cameos from label mates Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul, SZA, Isaiah Rashad, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker. “Yeah man, Dave Meyers and Dave Free killed the video. They had a dope idea and I just let them run with it man. It was something very different for me, but the result is just right, just right.” Since then, ‘Win’ has featured on a variety of video games such as Madden 19 and NBA 2K19 – continuing that motivational ‘Win’.
The album’s titular track ‘Redemption’ also features labelmate SZA and shows a different side to Jay Rock, here he’s soulful, introspective and reflective. “I looked at it [the accident] as a metaphor, you know, in life you need to go through hardship in order to get to where you’re going. The lady I had at the time, held me down. You know, sometimes ladies might not feel so supported, so on that track I wanted to celebrate them“.
It’s not just ‘Win’ and ‘Redemption’ which are standouts from the album. Jay Rock teamed up again with Kendrick Lamar for another highlight of the Black Panther Movie Soundtrack, ‘Kings Dead’. For Rock, this was another experience of turning a situation into a win. “That track kicked off” Jay Rock chuckles, “after that came out, it made me realise I just had to do something different with the album, I had to go harder”. In the early days of the album, Jay Rock was in the studio when Kendrick asked him if he wanted to be part of the Black Panther Project, “when he asked me that I was thinking huh” reminisces Rock, “I was confused, I thought he [Kendrick] was talking about some revolutionary type stuff, then he explained laughing it was the Marvel Movie… We sat in the studios, listening to beats – shout outs to Mike Will – we came across that beat and I did my thing – the rest is history. Kendrick and I go back for years, we did our thing… Then we go my boy Future on it… I always say Future has the best verse, I want to perform it at shows with him”.
Seeing Jay Rock win is a wonderful thing, he’s on his victory lap, with a renewed and unflappable energy. Undeterred by roadblocks, it’s safe to say Jay Rock is back. “This album is literally my redemption, the devil really tried me, but I aint gona give up that easily – I remained solid… and for anyone going through that in life, you just gotta stay solid”.
Jay Rock will bring ‘The Redemption Tour’ to Europe, with UK dates including London, Birmingham & Manchester from 18-20 Feb 2019.