Review: Jay Rock – 90059

I’ve been a fan of Jay Rock, Top Dawg Entertainment signee and Black Hippy member, since his debut album, Follow Me Home, dropped in 2011. It is a good album with a very gangsta style that had some interesting topics, good features, and great production. Needless to say, Rock has been pretty absent since then, with one major feature (an excellent verse on Kendrick Lamar‘s “Money Trees”), so there was a lot of hype surrounding his long-awaited follow up, 4+ years in the making. 90059 is Rock’s second full-length studio album and was released on September 9th by Top Dawg. Rock released Follow Me Home in conjunction with Tech N9ne‘s Strange Music label, but left that label in 2014.

After such a long period of inactivity, it was a refreshing sight to hear a new Jay Rock single, when he dropped “Money Trees Deuce” (the sequel to the aforementioned Kendrick song) in early June. The next single, “Gumbo”, was released on July 1. Both of these songs really stuck out to me in a good way. The production on “Gumbo” is excellent, with the beat sounding like something that might have come from G-funk, but with a smoother feel to it. It reminded me a lot of “Finest Hour” from Follow Me Home, another smooth Jay Rock instrumental. On “Money Trees Deuce”, the production is, as you may expect, similar to the first song, with a hard, more aggressive beat than on “Gumbo”, but appealing nonetheless.

Unfortunately, both of these singles ended up better than the remainder of the album. Sitting at 11 tracks and just over 45 minutes in length, it seemed like Jay Rock was trying to eliminate filler. Instead, he managed to add several filler songs on such a short album. For starters, the subject matter hasn’t changed much from his previous projects. The title of the album, 90059, is a nod to his hometown of Watts, Los Angeles, a well known city from the 1992 Rodney King riots. It is a city that hosts a lot of crime, and Jay Rock continues to rap about the struggles that he went through and his time as a Blood, and other gang experiences. At some point, the lyrical content starts to get stale, and as good as a rapper as Jay Rock is, a change of pace was needed to spice up the album – it just wasn’t there.

Jay Rock is a very good rapper – he has a hard gangsta style, good flow, and good rhymes. The biggest issue to me on this album was the hooks. Jay Rock is actually singing on several of these tracks, joining in on the wave of many rappers singing. While his singing hooks felt stale, the guest hooks on this album weren’t great either. Sir on the track “The Ways” had a nice smooth hook, but it didn’t seem to fit the style of the song at all, and was definitely not fit for a gangsta rap album. SZA is easily the best singer featured on the album, but her feature on “Easy Bake” wasn’t even a hook, it was a verse – far and away the best guest verse on the album.

The worst of the hooks come on the tracks “Wanna Ride” and on the title track. On “Wanna Ride”, Isaiah Rashad comes in with a ton of reverb and other vocal effects layered on his voice, and combined with the fact that it is completely hidden behind the instrumental (sort of similar with Joe Fox on A$AP Rocky‘s last album), the hook sounds terrible. And on 90059, Jay Rock’s alter ego, Lance Skiiiwalker, delivers one of the worst hooks you’ll hear this year. Even as a tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the yell-rapping/signing that he does on this hook makes it nearly unbearable to listen to. The only person seemingly able to pull off yell-rapping is MC Ride, and he can do it over instrumentals much more meant to fit that style.

The instrumental choices on this album felt lacking as well, especially compared to Follow Me Home. The opening track, “Necessary”, feels very cluttered and too busy to be exciting, with a number of drum and bass sounds mixing together in the background. And on “Vice City”, the hyped-up Black Hippy posse cut, the instrumental is set to match a very peculiar flow that each of the members use, one in which each rapper lowers their inflection after each of their rhymes. It’s a very unorthodox flow that wouldn’t work with most rappers and certainly doesn’t work with Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q. I’m a big fan of both of those artists, but they sounded lazy, and their verses seemed like they were written 10 minutes before recording.

In terms of other guests on the album, SZA‘s previously mentioned verse on the second half of “Easy Bake” was great, but Lamar, used earlier on that track, felt very underutilized, with him starting off slow and uninspired, and then trading hard bars with Rock for about 10-15 seconds. If that lasted longer, it might have been my favorite track on the album. Instead, it ends up a mediocre one. Busta Rhymes drops a nice verse on “Fly On The Wall”, but it’s not an instrumental you’d expect to find Busta rapping over, a very jazzy beat, easily my favorite on the album.

This will easily go down as one of the most disappointing albums of the year for me. Jay Rock is a very good rapper, possibly the most talented pure rapper in Black Hippy, but his lyrical matter, hooks, and instrumental choices helped this album fall flat.

Favorite tracks: Gumbo, Money Trees Deuce

Least favorite track: 90059