Album Review: Jay Rock - '90059' [@jayrock]
4.5Day & A Dream Score


Jay Rock – 90059
2015; Interscope/Top Dawg Entertainment

When Top Dawg Entertainment announced at the top of 2014 that the label planned to drop six releases in a given calendar year, the expectation was that Jay Rock, the first TDE artist to drop an album, would finally see the release of his sophomore LP. Rock, for his part, had spent the years since Follow Me Home dropped (in 2011) scene-stealing on the projects of his labelmates, but had nothing of his own to show for it. So when “Pay For It” arrived at the close of 2014, as Jay Rock’s first single in years, there was a renewed hope that the Watts native and “First Dawg” might see his just due after all.

Instead, Jay Rock was left behind – every other signee on the TDE brand save Kendrick Lamar released a project in 2014. So where was Jay Rock?

Perhaps TDE was saving the best for later.

The label started off 2015 strong, with the “surprise” release of Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly; and then, finally, the rollout of consecutive singles from Jay Rock –“Money Trees Deuce,” “Gumbo,” and “90059”  – hinted to an inevitable album announcement. In September, after nearly half a decade’s wait, Jay Rock’s 90059 LP touched down in stores and online retailers.

For a project that’s under an hour’s runtime, 90059 makes use of all eleven tracks to create a hood symphony through and through. The gritty sound and murky beats on 90059 come courtesy of J. LBS (on the boards for five of the LPs tracks, including a collaboration with Sounwave on stirring outro “The Message”) as well as Tae Beast, Antydote, Cardo & Yung Exclusive (“Vice City”), Black Metaphor, and J Proof, amongst others. There’s a consistency that persists throughout the album so that it sounds like a continuous story yet isn’t repetitive or redundant.

Story, specifically, gives the meat to 90059. Most listeners’ first introduction to Jay Rock was by way of one of his killer features – stunting on the original “Money Trees” with Kendrick Lamar, for example, or dominating “Los Awesome” on ScHoolboy Q’s OXYmoron project. On 90059, Jay Rock blurs the line between a rap artist and a visual one, painting pictures and firmly planting listeners in his shoes. From the very beginning, on “Necessary,” there’s a mix of desperation and scrappiness that sets a tone for what’s come. “You gotta do what you gotta do, to get over the hill,” chants Rock over “Necessary’s” bridge, before detailing the hustling life in the verses. On the title track, Rock describes his neighborhood as the most menacing place on earth, where gang culture is an inevitable way of life. “There’s no Ringling Brothers, no Barnum & Bailey,” Jay Rock sneers almost mockingly at one point, “Clown ass niggas get marked out daily, trucked out daily.”

The hard nature of the majority of 90059 makes the rare occasions when things are a bit more lighthearted (like “Vice City”) hold so much more weight; and even that finds itself denounced two tracks later on “Money Trees Deuce,” completely devoid of the nursery rhyme style of its predecessor and far more sinister.

The features on 90059, while numerous, are all complimentary to the story Jay Rock tells, so it never feels crowded. TDE’s entire roster makes appearances, of course. Isaiah Rashad – last seen on 2014’s Cilvia Demo EP – doesn’t rap on “Wanna Ride,” but instead sings on its hook, infusing a sort of country rap soul that makes the track smooth. Kendrick Lamar, equally limited to hook duty on “Vice City,” is allowed free reign on “Easy Bake,” launching into a melodic flow that soon gives way to SZA’s voice towards the end. Rock introduces the world to his alter-ego, Lance Skiiiwalker, on “Telegram [Goin’ Krazy].” Vic Smitty makes outro “The Message” seem even more haunting with his crooning on the hook. But the most solid assist on 90059 comes on the deeply personal “Fly on the Wall,” on which Busta Rhymes and Macy Gray come out to play. The latter channels a yearning on the hook that will call “I Try” to mind; while the former turns his verse into a conversation with Jay Rock, insisting that “Sometimes niggas don’t listen – I’m hoping this serves its purpose.”

On “The Message,” Jay Rock begins by saying, “This is my Testimony, I got The Recipe now.90059 is exactly that: a testimony peppered with maxims, reflections, and hard lessons. And perhaps the most obvious lesson of them all, is that you can take a man out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of the man. In spite of the bleakness, there’s meaning behind the rugged flow of Johnny Reed McKenzie; he’s just thankful to still be here to tell his tale.