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Jay Rock - Redemption Music Album Reviews

Jay Rock - Redemption Music Album Reviews
After a life-threatening motorcycle accident, Jay Rock returns with his strongest album yet, a collection of rap songs that highlight his struggle and journey.

Jay Rock’s music is consumed by his struggles; he wrestles with the granular details of street life and gangbanging. His clear-eyed accounts of surviving in the California ghettos are far from glamorous. “Struggle” is an operative word in the retelling of his story. When asked why he was the first artist to get signed by Top Dawg CEO Anthony Tiffith, he responded, “Me and him, we come from the same neighborhood; we come from the same struggle,” therein lying an unspoken bond. On the opener to his 2015 album, 90059, he rapped, “The struggle is real/You gotta do what you got to just to get over the hill,” over and over. In a bit of irony, Rock is the least heralded member of the Top Dawg crew, despite being the cornerstone upon which the empire was built. He toiled and fought and stumbled so those that followed could win Pulitzers. Redemption, his battle-tested and watchful third album, bears those bruises with pride, the way a soldier might be proud of their service record. All Jay Rock albums champion survival, but after a near-death experience, he finds new power in persistence.

In 2016, Jay Rock was involved in a debilitating, near-fatal motorcycle crash that left him with a broken leg and a cracked pelvis. He was flipped off his bike doing wheelies the same night he was supposed to attend the Grammys with Kendrick Lamar. The experience was humbling for the Watts rapper, who now has screws holding his body together. In the interim, he became uninspired and depressed, trapped in a death spiral. On Redemption’s “The Bloodiest,” he presents the accident as karma for years of robbing and dealing, the universe taking from him just as he took from others: “Flipped off that bitch, milly rockin’ the wheel/Two hundred thousand in the bank, straight to hospital bills.” Redemption, co-executive produced by Kendrick and TDE President Dave Free, is about Rock getting a second chance at life, a new opportunity to show his pedigree, and about seeking a sort of absolution. The album traces his path from hood survivalist to indie darling of modest means to TDE dark horse and crash survivor, in search of even greater heights.

Rock is obsessed with winning at any cost, even if simply by association. “I’m just part of a winning family, call me Marlon Jackson,” he raps on “Broke +-.” Over the course of the album, he comes to recognize something: if cheating death is its own victory, then navigating life’s challenges can present little triumphs, too. In his raps, Jay Rock can come off as a reclusive hard-liner with a remarkable storyteller’s acumen and an internal logic that always feels sound. Few gangsta rappers are better at illustrating just how limited their options were and how undaunted they had to be to overcome them.

On “For What It’s Worth,” Rock runs scenarios through his mind as a small-time rapper still hustling on the side. His decisions are carefully considered and well reasoned for someone stuck in a no-win situation: “I can’t have my babies walkin’ around in projects/While I’m on my bunk stressin’ through the process/I’d rather be a prospect, you know, God-like/But for now, many Tec’s: This is my life.” He surveys the Nickerson Gardens projects he grew up in on “ES Tales” with crisp, cold chronicling. On “OSOM,” J.Cole draws him into an even more introspective place: remembering his rocky rise with marked insight (“This system’ll give it to you when you gettin’ to it”). It took all those wounds to make him this formidable. Rarely has his writing about struggle been this painless in its execution, even as he expands his range. Celebration is a means of surviving, too, and there are a few songs on Redemption that revel in self-medicating as a way to escape, namely “Tap Out” and “Rotation 112th,” in turn producing some of the most ambitious and enjoyable music in his catalog.

Jay Rock’s Redemption was forced to compete with albums from rap legends upon release: a comeback from Nas entirely produced by Kanye West after a six-year hiatus and a surprise project from JAY-Z and Beyoncé. This record could easily be swept away by event albums and the conversations surrounding them. But the Jay Rock story amounts to more than a first-week sales total or a chart slot; his legacy brings to mind a Jay lyric from Everything Is Love: “Over here we measure success by how many people successful next to you.” In the “WIN” video, there’s a scene where the entire TDE roster is at Jay Rock’s back, standing with him. Listening to Redemption, it’s clear Rock knows exactly what he’s accomplished. Their wins were born of his struggle.

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