November 9, 2018

Jay Rock - Follow Me Home (July 26, 2011)




There are some albums that I have an emotional connection with. You know what I’m talking about: the soundtrack to special life-altering events that you’ll forever associate with certain songs. It could be a first kiss, or what was playing in the background the moment you met your soulmate, or, to get away from the romantic assumptions here, a specific song that always reminds you of a time when hanging out with your friends was the priority. For similar reasons that I won't be getting in to, Liquid Swords will always resonate with me, even if I’ve stepped away from Wu-Tang projects over the past few years. Dr. Octagonecologyst is another such project, as is Endtroducing… and Depeche Mode’s Violator, to which I added the artist name lest you believe I was suddenly going all-in with my love for Q-Tip’s “Vivrant Thing”.

There are also albums that you have no such significant bond with, such as Jay Rock’s Follow Me Home, a project I came across in a public library, of all places, and which I chose to listen to after flipping through the liner notes and mumbling to myself, “Huh, there sure is a lot of Kendrick Lamar on here”, not having any real idea of who Lamar, Rock, or Top Dawg Entertainment even were at the time.

Obviously today’s post is about Jay Rock’s Follow Me Home.


Johnny “Jay Rock” McKenzie Jr. is a gangsta rapper hailing from Watts, California. He is currently best known for his role in the quartet Black Hippy, a supergroup signed to Top Dawg Entertainment consisting of the label’s flagship artists: ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and himself, all of whom have triggered significant shifts in the sound of our chosen genre. (Ab-Soul not so much, but he’s been standing next to people as they’ve accomplished this, so.) Jay was the second artist signed to TDE (K-Dot was the first, which seems fitting), and the once-independent imprint has since expanded both its roster (acts such as Isiah Rashad and SZA call the label their home now) and its scope (securing joint venture deals with Warner Bros. and Interscope Records). Rock has been signed to the label for, oh, about thirteen years now, and yet when I first came across his debut solo effort, Follow Me Home, I had no fucking clue who he was. But, turns out there was a reason for that.

Jay Rock made his bones on the mixtape circuit, unleashing project after project to keep his name active in these here streets. His Watts upbringing brought with it his observations of the gang lifestyle, which infiltrated his writing process, making him the most “gangsta” rapper TDE has ever signed. Ironically, this very trait may have disrupted his career path, which has only started gaining momentum within the past couple of years: the hip hop coming from the West Coast has shifted from G-Funk in a big way, with up-and-coming artists embracing musical influences from all over the world and from every possible genre, and sometimes winning Pulitzer Prizes for their efforts. I once read online where someone noted that, had TDE’s story begun even just five years prior, Jay Rock would be the biggest name on the label, with Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul racing each other to not be in last place, because his brand of sometimes-anachronistic gangsta rap would have been more readily embraced. That person wasn’t wrong.

Anyway, Follow Me Home is the man’s debut solo effort, released in conjunction with Strange Music. It dropped in 2011, after a lengthy promotional period which saw our host release even more mixtape offerings for his growing fanbase. It turns out that I had no idea who he was because, back in those medieval days, I had no idea who Kendrick Lamar really was, either. I had seen K-Dot’s name thrown around on hip hop blogs, but there were already thousands of rap acts I was struggling to follow the careers of, and adding more names to the mix could have proven fatal. Kendrick also wasn’t yet that popular, his Aftermath Records deal with Dr. Dre still a ways away: he was just a dude chasing his dreams with his own mixtapes and such, but he was, and continues to be, TDE’s champion, offering his support to every single project the label releases in whatever ways he can, whether it be contributing a bunch of hooks, like he does on Follow Me Home, or curating an entire soundtrack to a Marvel blockbuster (Black Panther, in case you two had somehow forgotten).

I took Follow Me Home, er, home that day, my curiosity having been piqued just enough to warrant at least a single listen. My hip hop origin story has grown to be rather complicated and cumbersome, but even though the blog has a distinct East Coast bias (a lot of it being the Wu’s fault), at the beginning I was all about the sound coming out of California in the 1990s and early 2000s, and for whatever reason, just by looking at the album cover and liner notes, I felt that Jay Rock may have been the guy to bring some of that feeling back for me. It certainly wasn’t because I knew his music at the time: again, I had no fucking clue who he was.

Sometimes walking into a project with zero expectations like that can actually help the cause.

1. INTRO (SKIT)
As if to underline the fact that this is a gangsta rap album, Follow Me Home kicks off with a gang shooting, some really terrible voice acting from a “reporter”, and Jay Rock himself, who refuses to snitch or provide any helpful information. So, standard rap album intro bullshit.

2. CODE RED (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
The first actual song on Follow Me Home has to do a lot of heavy lifting: not only does it have to engage Jay Rock’s mixtape audience, it also serves as a proper introduction for listeners who have no clue who he is or how he scored a label deal in the first place (again, like myself), and on top of all that, “Code Red” needs to sound like authentic gangsta rap, lest the intro make no sense, causing TDE to trip all over itself almost immediately. Thankfully, our host manages to pull it off: the Phonix Beats-produced “Code Red” features two matter-of-fact, gutter verses describing the violent side of Watts (where Jay has been “slinging hard rock when the rap game was run by Timberlands”, a statement that could be applied to both the footwear and the producer) over a thumping, melodic instrumental that comes across as Dr. Dre/Death Row-lite. Fellow Black Hippy K-Dot stops by to sing-rap the hook, which is annoying and disruptive at first, but grows on the listener fairly quickly, so good call, Johnny. That terrible “reporter” performance from the intro caps this track, tying up the story and sending us on our way, so at least we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Not bad.

3. BOUT THAT
Serves much the exact same purpose as “Code Red”, except Jay Rock pivots the camera away from his surroundings, aiming it squarely at himself. His boasts-n-bullshit sound entertaining over Focus…’s production, which is a far cry from the G-Funk you two likely were hoping for after the previous song, but it’s still pretty goddamn catchy, and our host figures out how to utilize it best. The hook is decent, nothing special, but the verses are where Rock shines anyway. The only misstep here is on our host’s part and isn’t to the detriment to the song itself: during the final verse, Rock mentions his TDE homey ScHoolboy Q, and then Q pops up to spit a single bar, showing off the effortless charisma that launched him into the hip hop stratosphere, so then switching back to our host triggers an unintentional jarring effect. Remember the Vince Vaughn / Owen Wilson flick Wedding Crashers, and how Will Ferrell briefly shows up toward the end, and now all anyone remembers from that dumbass movie is his line about meatloaf? That. But I still enjoyed “Bout That”, and you probably will, too.

4. NO JOKE (FEAT. AB-SOUL)
Kung Fu Kenny and ScHoolboy Quincy have already lent vocal support, so it’s only fair that Jay Rock allow the remaining Black Hippy, Ab-Soul, to contribute to Follow Me Home. So to do so, our host recycles the opening song from his Black Friday mixtape from a year prior. Over Willie B’s piano-sampling banger of a beat (so far this project is three for three on the instrumentals, even though this song was previously released elsewhere), our host sticks with his bread and butter, boasts and observations of street life in Watts, while Soul’s Danny Brown-esque delivery carries the second half of the chorus. The guest’s voice could potentially confuse listeners who follow Q, Kendrick, and Soul, and yet still have no goddamn clue who Jay Rock is (a description that could fit a lot of people, to be honest, it isn't just me), but he’s only used in small doses, and Rock sounds dope, so “No Joke” well, isn’t a joke, even if our host’s final verse takes a turn for the gimmicky.

5. HOOD GONE LOVE IT (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
I had forgotten how easy it was to believe Young Jeezy was performing the hook on “Hood Gone Love It”, a J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced soul sample-based drive around Watts that was released as a single. (He clearly isn’t, by the way.) It’s certainly the most mainstream-friendly of the tracks in Follow Me Home heard so far, anyway. Jay Rock modifies his gruff flow a tiny bit, acquiescing to the smoother feel of the beat and adjusting his boasts-n-bullshit accordingly. Kendrick Lamar pops up for a full verse this time around, but while it’s easy to see (or hear, really) how he would become so fucking popular in the following years, that doesn’t take away from the fact that K-Dot sounds awkward as hell on “Hood Gone Love It”: these kind of instrumentals aren’t his forte. Ah well, we had a good run.

6. WESTSIDE (FEAT. CHRIS BROWN)
Strange Music was clearlty chasing after… something here. There’s no reason to include violent misogynist Christopher Brown and an obviously radio-baiting Tha Bizness instrumental unless you’re going all-in on mainstream appeal. And, unsurprisingly, “Westside” is fucking awful, and not just because our host wasn’t (and isn’t, depending on how you feel about his later stuff) built for that type of career trajectory. Brown couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a decent hook, choosing instead to recite the phrase, “I can’t wait to get you home to bang bang” not once, but multiple times throughout this piss-filled meringue, and Jay Rock sounds completely out of his depth, even though the presented subject matter (promiscuous sex, undying praise of the west coast) isn’t at all outside the realm of a California-based gangsta rap artist. If “Westside” was on fire, I’d walk across the street and go about my day. Ugh.

7. ELBOWS (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
This Phonix Beats slow, methodical instrumental sounds like something Xzibit may have passed on during his all-too-brief flirtation with Dr. Dre’s camp. Hell, I half expected X to pop up on “Elbows” the first time I listened to it, and Jay Rock’s flow betrays a bit of the former Pimp My Ride host’s voice at times. However, while I dug the shit out of the music, our host doesn’t seem to be the best match for it, as he purposefully and uncomfortably stretches his bars in order for them to fit. It’s almost as though it runs too slowly for Rock to ever get a firm grasp on it. Additional guest hook-rapper Kendrick Duckworth pops up yet again, but his contribution is so forgettable that my one sentence has already moves on, as it has seen a shiny nickel on the sidewalk. Sigh.

8. BOOMERANG
Jay Rock isn’t blind: obviously there are women present in his everyday life, some of whom he’s like to sleep with very much, please. “Boomerang” is a fairly rote sex rap, complete with not-as-vivid-as-the-artist-thinks-they-are descriptions of women dancing at the club and how those moves on the floor could easily translate to sexual positions, but to his credit, our host takes this subject matter as seriously as everything else on Follow Me Home, and J. LBS’s instrumental is much fucking better than this song deserved. Still, there’s no real need for you to actually listen to “Boomerang” ever.

9. ALL I KNOW IS (FEAT. ALORI JOH)
If producer Willie B is sampling Issac Hayes’ “Ike’s Mood I” (uncredited), which seems to be the case, then he’s done so in a far different manner than Marley Marl did for Biz Markie’s “Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz”, which is kind of great. Certainly gives Jay Rock’s street tales on “All I Know Is” a level of gravitas it doesn’t fully earn, as all it’s really about, at least according to the late Alori Joh during the chorus, is “guns, drugs, butches, [and] money.” The instrumental pulls a lot of the wright here, as Rock’s bars are on the more generic end of gangsta shit, but you’ll still enjoy it enough.

10. I’M THUGGIN
The sample on Willie B’s instrumental for “I’m Thuggin” was even more distracting than the one on the previous song, as the use of Jacques Brel’s “Viellier” caused my mind to immediately wander to Onyx’s “Shut ‘Em Down”, which then led me to irrationally hope that DMX would somehow suddenly pop up during this Jay Rock song that was released seven years ago for a brand-new quickie cameo. Actually, X and Rock could be a potent combination on wax. At least the X from the early 2000s, anyway. Oh well. Our host sounds technically fine on “I’m Thuggin”, but, again, the beat is a distraction, so I’ll say this song never entirely clicks, even though there isn’t anything explicitly wrong with it.

11. KILL OR BE KILLED (FEAT. TECH N9NE & KRIZZ KALIKO)
Jay Rock’s label at the time, Strange Music, was co-founded by Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne, so obviously his signing with the imprint would bring about the existence of a collaboration, here entitled “Kill Or Be Killed”. The trouble is that this Willie B production, which also features Krizz Kaliko on the hook, sounds more like Jay Rock caving to the will of his guests (Kaliko Is also signed to Strange) than an equal partnership. N9ne gets his showcase to spit his rapid-fire rhymes, but it never feels earned, while our host’s bars are the auditory equivalent of repeatedly walking into a wall because you’re unfamiliar with the game controls. Pass.

12. JUST LIKE ME (FEAT. J. BLACK)
“Kill Or Be Killed” shifted the tone of Follow Me Home, but I chalked that up to our host being overly generous to his guests (the guitars in the beat of that previous track prove me correct). But Terrace Martin’s instrumental for the jazzy and somber “Just Like Me” signals a demeanor redirect as well, with Jay Rock asking rhetorical questions to the listener regarding just why gang-banging is considered to be cool and why it’s fun to sell drugs. It all seems to boil down to camaraderie, which is the same pro-gang argument my history teacher once made while I was in high school. (This was the only pro-gang argument he made, obviously.) Rock’s serious mode should have either come earlier in the program, or been saved for last, as we still have a lot more to get through here, and as such, there are many opportunities for our host to contradict the shit out of “Just Like Me”. But I liked this one a lot, and crooner J. Black’s hook was pleasing to the ears.

13. SAY WASSUP (FEAT. AB-SOUL, SCHOOLBOY Q, & KENDRICK LAMAR)
If the other three members of Black Hippy are going to float around on Follow Me Home, then they mas as well all connect for a single track, right? Hence, “Say Wassup”, a Dae One-produced effort that… well, isn’t very memorable, save for an early line about Ab-Soul wanting to fuck his mother’s friends (sure, okay bro, put the porn down). Soul and K-Dot share a verse, as do Rock and Q, but all four pass the microphone around during the finale in what may possibly be the most playful thing I’ve heard on a rap album in several goddamn years. It’s just a shame that this song isn’t it, though. Still, if they ever bother releasing a true Black Hippy album, I’d be into it.

14. THEY BE ON IT (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
Kendrick Lamar always sounds almost as cringe-y as Kanye West when it comes to describing women and sex, so hearing him talk about “pussy juice” as an analogue to a fresh paint job on his car is… fucking gross. So let’s forget he’s even on here for a bit. The Keith the Beast-produced “They Be On It” isn’t bad: it could slide onto radio playlists today with some tweaking. K-Dot fucks it up for me, though, and, ironically, his presence is likely what would guarantee this track’s potential success on the playlists of music curators today. Weird how that works, right?

15. M.O.N.E.Y. (FEAT. J. BLACK)
From a writing standpoint, “M.O.N.E.Y.” (an acronym without meaning) is an impressive feat for Jay Rock, who challenged himself to draft bars circling around the root of all evil (read: money) using alliteration and the letters that spell the title as his inspiration. Well, aside from “y” – for that, he subs out the question “why?”, which makes an equal amount of sense. Read through the lyrics and you’ll applaud our host. But the gimmick ends up distracting listeners from the fact that this is a song, and as such, it isn’t a very entertaining one. Terrace Martin’s instrumental is low-key dramatic, so it fits the theme well, as J. Black returns to croon another winning hook. This one literally reads better on paper, folks. But it is quite the feat.

16. FINEST HOUR (FEAT. RICK ROSS & BJ THE CHICAGO KID)
I feel like I’ll never be able to adequately explain how fucking goddamn boring “Finest Hour” was, but I’m going to try. Let’s start with the beat: it’s bland as all hell, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League having rendered it so smooth that there are no nooks or crannies for Jay Rock or his guest, Officer Ricky Rozay, to trap themselves in. The sound is too polished, as well: this song will enter one ear and leave out the other almost instantaneously. It doesn’t help matters that our host sounds uninspired, and Ross was in the phase of his career where he thought his boasts were good enough to double as bars, so he’s a miss as well. The hook, provided by BJ the Chicago Kid, solidifies the attempted radio-friendliness of this garbage, which I guarantee the majority of you two hadn’t even heard of until today, so obviously Strange’s marketing team succeeded here..

17. LIFE’S A GAMBLE (FEAT. AB-SOUL)
The standard mixture of paranoia and “don’t fuck with me” theatrics that we were bound to eventually stumble upon on Follow Me Home. Rob E’s instrumental at least fits the setting, as it was fairly dark and is much bleaker than whatever the fuck we were subjected to on the previous track. The lyrics were a problem, though, and not just because our host threatens to “noodle your ass like a can of Campbell’s”, which is so goddamn silly it disrupts the flow. Jay Rock just seems uninterested in his surroundings, and his apathetic flow reflects that, as does the crappy hook from Ab-Soul. Rock is merely reciting words with no thought to the meaning behind them at this point. I suppose even he realized Follow Me Home was too fucking long.

18. ALL MY LIFE (FEAT. LIL WAYBE & WILL.I.AM)
The final song on Follow Me Home was released almost three full years prior to the album, more than enough time for it to receive two official remixes, one of which is another of those “let’s cram as many rappers on here as humanly possible” takes with a lineup full of West Coast up-and-comers. But the original “All My Life (In The Ghetto)” (it’s known by the above shortened title on the back cover of Follow Me Home) was a bigger deal back in 2008, due to that feature verse from Lil Wayne, who was one of the hottest rappers in the game at the time, so it served as a co-sign not just for Jay Rock, but for TDE as a whole. Rock and Weezy both attack the Cool & Dre instrumental with zeal, although our host tells a tale of his upbringing while Wayne just bullshits, as he tends to do. (I will admit, though, that “I got guns and my guns got kids” is a funny line.) The necessity of a chorus, especially as performed by will.i.am for some reason, is questionable at best, but as far as mainstream rap songs go, “All My Life” is far more successful than that Rick Ross collaboration, and much more fun to listen to. Not a bad way to end things. The tag at the very end announcing the name of the label, however, was a bad way to end things.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Did Follow Me Home successfully resurrect the rotting corpse of late-1990s era Death Row G-Funk? No, not so much, because if it had, you would have heard about it. It didn’t even do all that much for Jay Rock’s own career: none of the tracks on here broke through to the mainstream, and it took him four years to release a sophomore album. (However, said sophomore album was gifted life based on a scene-stealing appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees”, a song that did become a hit single, so there’s more proof of K-Dot consistently looking out for his team.) But, aside from a few glaring errors, a terrible introductory skit that doesn’t add anything, and a run time that could be seen as rather daunting, Follow Me Home is a mostly solid and entertaining slice of, as I wrote before, anachronistic gangsta rap. Rock follows the TDE blueprint here, so most of the tracks presented are far more creative with their musical choices than, say, the Daz Dillingers and Warren Gs of the late 1990s, but his gruff vocals simultaneously pay homage to his forefathers while carving out his own lane for growth. Set aside that asinine introductory skit, and the first four tracks on Follow Me Home are one of the better runs I’ve seen on the blog in recent memory. (He then fucks it all up with a Chris Brown feature, but whatever.) Follow Me Home didn’t set the world on fire, no, but for what it is, it’s engaging and entertaining, and there are more than a few signs that Jay Rock is an artist who hadn’t yet come close to reaching his full potential. I could have personally done without the Tech N9ne feature (although, as I explained before, there was no way around it), and the three-year-old track featuring Lil Wayne wouldn’t have made the cut if TDE were sequencing the album today, but there’s a lot to like on Follow Me Home, even if some of it is too rough around the edges for the mainstream.

BUY OR BURN? You can stream this one first if you want, but I’d recommend you throw some money Jay Rock’s way. The man put in the work, not just in the album, but in the many mixtapes that preceded it. He was hungry, and you can hear it in his voice, and also his stomach growls very audibly during “M.O.N.E.Y.”, you just have to listen carefully or you’ll miss it.

BEST TRACKS: “Code Red”; “No Joke”; “Bout That”; “Just Like Me”;

-Max





8 comments:

  1. Jay Rock is, by far, the most intriguing Black Hippy. Solid review, bud!

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    1. The rest of his discography (which consist of one merely good album [90059] and one mediocre album [Redemption - dude needs to redeem himself for this awkward merging of gangsta and pop rap, Schoolboy Q he ain't]) says otherwise.

      He ain't even that intriguing compared to the other three. Kendrick is Kendrick; Schoolboy Q is the hardnosed gangsta rapper who can do hedonism and swagger and sell pop and gangsta rap simultaneously, and Ab-Soul is the conscious stoner who is way too into 3rd Eye philosophizing. Jay Rock is pretty much just your typical no-nonsense, occasionally conscious gangsta rapper. He's really good at that, but he ain't exactly too unique either, especially not compared to the other three.

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    2. I would argue that the traits you listed actually do make him unique when compared to the other three. Rock's closest analog is Q, and they do not share a similar style. I feel that Black Hippy needs someone like Jay Rock to provide the contrast, as Q acts as the bridge over the gap between Rock and Kendrick, and Ab-Soul is also present.

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  2. Good review Max. Follow Me Home is far from my favorite Jay Rock project, but it's still a solid listen. He's just a talented rapper.

    Also, Rock learned from the horrible intro here. On his next two albums he started out with proper songs, and both of them are really good.

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  3. Very good review Max, this is not my favourite album from Jay Rock but a solid one nonetheless, looking forward to you reviewing his newer joints and possibly Issiah Rashads The Sun's Tirade and Ab Souls masterpiece (the man is yet to better this album)- Control System.

    Keep up the good work!

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    1. I'm just going to say right now that if you really want to see Isaiah Rashad on the blog, it'll have to be in Reader Review form. Jay Rock's here merely as a ScHoolboy Q substitute, and also because I like Jay Rock. As for Ab-Soul... I won't say "never", but he's the Black Hippy member I'm least invested in, let's just say that.

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  4. Redemption is a great album but I think 90059 is just slightly better

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  5. 90059 easily his best. Great to see Rock finally getting some shine on the blog, good looking man

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