By Emmanuel Agyemang
With the release of Jay Rock’s 90059, all four original members of Black Hippy (Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock) have now dropped two albums since forming TDE. After such a phenomenal quartet of debuts (I’m counting Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City as Kendrick’s debut since Section.80 was technically independent), I wondered how they could possibly top them. Schoolboy Q’s Oxymoron was a letdown, as was Ab-Soul’s These Days. I feared TDE might be in a sophomore slump-until, that is, To Pimp a Butterfly dropped and gave me hope again.
What do the numbers say? Oxymoron scored a 78 on Metacritic.com (which compiles reviews from critics all over), the same as Q’s debut, Habits and Contradictions. These Days scored a 70, down a whopping 13 points from Ab-Soul’s debut Control System. To Pimp a Butterfly scored a 96 (!!), up 5 points from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Jay Rock’s debut, Follow Me Home, scored a 73. So how is his follow up?
This album was surprising, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s short. Too short for such a long drought. It’s been five years since Follow Me Home, and except for a few (great) features, we haven’t heard much from Jay Rock.
Then again, I guess I’d rather have a few good tracks than a lot of mediocre ones. Secondly, the bars were a step down from what I’m used to from Rock. Not that much of a step down, and Jay Rock at 80% is better than a lot of rappers at 100%, but I had kind of gotten comfortable with “rap like I haven’t eaten for a week” Rock.
It’s probably hard to do that consistently when you’re a star though. (I wouldn’t know. I can’t rap.) Thirdly, the subject matter is broader on this album. It’s not all about the streets and the struggle. It seems like Jay Rock is having more fun on this album (for better and for worse, but we’ll get to that). All of that being said, the majority of the album still knocks. Let’s go through it track by track.
This album starts out exactly like you would expect-hard. Gritty beat and gritty bars, with the hook painting a stark image of the reality of too many neighborhoods. A solid intro.
2. Easy Bake (feat. Kendrick Lamar and SZA)
This track is a bit more fun. The production is batting 1.000 so far. The hooks are heating up from the field. During Kendrick’s verse he and Rock have a nice little hot-potato thing going. Then the beat switches up, SZA comes in and the track becomes noticeably smoother, a vibe that permeates almost half the album.
My favorite song of the whole album. The production is impeccable, the hook is smoother than a finger roll, and the lyrics are technically sound. The skit at the end is hilarious too.
4. Wanna Ride (feat. Isaiah Rashad)
The smooth vibe continues on this track featuring the TDE rookie on the hook. This is the first somewhat forgettable song on the album due to a pretty dry beat. The bars aren’t bad, but they don’t do the beat any favors either. Next!
5. The Ways (feat. Sir)
This is the first of two consecutive tracks catering to the ladies, which is a mandate on a major-label album. Jay Rock is starting to show some versatility here. However, the bars are still average. The beat and the hook carry this song.
6. Telegram (Going Krazy) (feat. Lance Skiiwalker)
The second (and better) of the two closest things to ballads we’ll probably ever get on a Jay Rock album. That hook is incredibly catchy. I will say this though: relationship problems aren’t a subject I expected on 90059. Jay Rock actually says “Don’t wanna lose my dear”. What?! If he’s comfortable enough to explore broader subjects, however, Kudos to him.
This WOULD be my pick for song of the album….if it wasn’t for that hook. I almost threw my phone when it came in. Why would you do that, Jay Rock? Who told you this was an acceptable idea? You don’t need them in your life. It’s a damn shame too, because Rock absolutely spazzed on these verses. Once you get past the hook, this track is gold.
8. Vice City (featuring Black Hippy)
Ah, yes, the posse cut, one of the pillars of hip-hop. This song is the most fun of all. There’s absolutely nothing serious about it. Just four dudes acting a fool on a dope beat. The whole hesitant flow thing everyone is doing is a nice touch.
9. Fly On the Wall (feat. Busta Rhymes)
Busta Rhymes is still alive? This song is very, very skippable. I think I got through the whole thing all of three times. And that’s only because I knew I was writing about it. It’s a good concept but I think the execution could have been better. I’ve heard cautionary tales from Jay Rock much better than this. The song does have a good message though.
10. Money Trees Deuce (feat. Lance Skiiwalker)
Why isn’t Kendrick on this? The original “Money Trees” was his song to begin with (I know Jay Rock completely hijacked it, but still, he could’ve at least let that man get a verse). That being said, this is the last strong song on the album. I definitely think he should have ended the album on this note.
11. The Message
Not a bad song, just a forgettable one that pales in comparison to “Money Trees Deuce”. The intro and outro are the two most important songs on an album. If nothing else is powerful, those two songs should be. This wasn’t powerful enough for me.
My final verdict? This album is a go. It had less high points than Follow Me Home, but is a more consistent album overall that appeals to a wider audience.
Of course, this is only the opinion of one man. So is TDE getting better with time or more complacent? You judge with your own ears.