Johnny Reed McKinzie, Jr. aka Jay Rock grew up in the gritty projects of Watts, Los Angeles, where the temptations of street life created another statistic in his initiation into the notorious blood gang. Fast forward several years and the 19 year old signed a deal with Top Dawg Entertainment in 2005 and left the gang life for good. Ten years later and Jay Rock has released his sophomore album. “90059 be the zip” he was repping in his former gangster days. This album follows his 2011 debut ‘Follow Me Home’ and two musical offerings from super-group Black Hippy featuring label mates Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul.
The album cover depicts the 29-year-old MC’s handprint with light coming from his fingertips. This imagery translates to me an expectation of this LP being an authentic reflection of Jay Rock as a person, a rapper and as a native of Watts, LA. The illuminated fingertips also stands as a nod to his lyrical talents, as everything he touches should, in theory, turn to gold. Despite the positive reviews this album received from the music media, the twitter-verse expressed disappointment, which highlights that the Black Hippy member has some work to do on his next project.
‘90059’ emerges in an attention-grabbing, fast-paced, aggressive way with lead track ‘Necessary’. The song is rooted in the essence of battle rap with its competitive bars – “the struggle is real you gotta do what you gotta…when you live in America either kill or be killed” – and punchy delivery. It makes a statement that Jay Rock is here to stay and is still a prominent member of TDE that refuses to be overshadowed by the success of his label mates.
‘Easy Bake’ features Kendrick and SZA. The first half is all about consumerism and the insatiable thirst to keep up with the Jones’ when it comes to the celebrity lifestyle. The lyrics, entrenched in money, girls, drugs and guns, play into typical rapper stereotypes and evolve into tales of self-growth and a reflection of how far he’s come within the rat race of life. The gangster-rap nature of the first half is reminiscent of early West Coast artists, but then the beat switches up and listeners are hit with the dulcet tones of SZA. The second half of the track contrasts the first with its soulful nature and more honest depiction of the rat race; money is a means to a better life. SZA discusses false perceptions of wealth and the value of quality time, bringing Jay back to what is important. The whole track is symbolic of the crazy outside world being a far cry from the peaceful solace home is supposed to be.
‘Gumbo’ is a pensive recollection of Jay’s thoughts on the industry and the world in general. His cynical outlook on people – “you either coming with the problems or coming for loot” – is telling of his experiences as an artist coming into real money and having to deal with the backlash of people always wanting something from you. Despite his cynicism, the song still has positive undertones of perseverance in the face of adversity – “they want you defeated but yet you still fight” – and wanting to bring the real back into music: “let me put some season in this gumbo”. ‘Wanna Ride’ features Isaiah Rashad and showcases Jay’s more mellow side. He observes how people tend to want to tag along for the ride when you’re doing well in life, but don’t want to put the work in and create their own success. He urges them to “look below your surface, I bet you find that purpose.” The track boasts cinematic imagery through the lens of Jay’s thoughts.
‘The Ways’ features Sir and offers lighter subject matter after the deeper messages of the former tracks. For his party track, he switches his flow into something more choppy, in a nod to the contemporary phenomenon that is the Future sound. The instrumental is more upbeat and fun than his typically darker singles. ‘Telegram (Going Krazy)’ features Lance Skiiiwalker and discusses his frustrations with romantic relationships. Trust issues and the temptation to cheat are the underlying themes with relatable sound bites of “question after fucking question… I’m about the sweetest chemistry.” Angelic melodies are contrasted by a strong bass-line and guitar strums in this vulnerable track.
Title track ‘90059’ takes a harder tone, telling a tale of street violence, hood imagery and his anger at the slow moving process of breaking the industry. The self-imploring theme of the album is shown with this displayed tough exterior and his description of always being alert and ready to fight, which says a lot about the psyche of a lot of young men growing up in poverty who have a lot to prove within society. ‘Vice City’ features his band mates from Black Hippy and explores his vulnerabilities including; women manipulating him with their feminine wiles, the need for materialistic gain, status making you a target in the hood, the difficulty of staying on his spiritual path, personal insecurities and good food. It is all in all an upbeat ode to the talent of the TDE roster.
‘Fly On The Wall’ features quick-spitter Busta Rhymes, who shows off his softer side on this solemn track. The song talks about personal evolution and makes a dig at the authenticity of contemporary songwriters. The contemplative lyrics are complimented well with the simple percussion and melody: “when you stand still you can witness it all, picture the vision from a fly on the wall.” The sequel to ‘Money Trees’ from Kendrick’s ‘good kid m.A.A.d city’ album, ‘Money Trees Deuce’, features Lance Skiiiwalker and serves as a reintroduction to Jay’s natural aptitude for rap. His swift delivery contrasts the soothing instrumental, as he discusses ambition, adversity, adapting in order to survive different situations and motivates listeners to work hard for their dreams. The clapping element of the beat is a recurrent theme throughout the album’s production.
The concluding track of the album, ‘The Message’, preaches the important sentiment of being more than the environment you were raised in and to push past any potential hindrances to your success to secure your future. ‘The Message’ was the perfect endnote to an LP full of thought-provoking introspective musings. Sonically, the album was very cohesive and showcased Jay’s versatility in terms of adapting his flow to the mood of the song. ‘90059’, being the zip of Watts, LA, was well represented with the presence of the TDE roster on the features and the original West Coast sound being honoured; giving the perfect balance of old school versus new school. In conclusion, ‘90059’ is a solid effort for rap fans and a taster for the future Jay Rock albums to come.
Like this review? Check out my review of Troy Ave’s latest album ‘Major Without A Deal’ here.
I also interviewed fellow West Coast artist Eric Bellinger, see what he has to say about the state of R&B here.