Published Jun 28, 2018Jay Rock is back from the brink, and we listeners are blessed to hear the tale. As the Top Dawg MC aptly puts it on the instantly engrossing opening line of Redemption, his first LP since recovering from a motorcycle accident: "The devil thought he had me!"
That line kicks things off on opening track "The Bloodiest," on which Jay Rock spits candidly, and laudably, about steep hospital bills and his mama's prayers over ominous creaks akin to horror film violins. Revealing as that song is, Jay Rock ups the vulnerability ante considerably on the title track, which appears on the album's back end. Amid cushy and hazy synths and a plaintive piano that evokes 2Pac's "I Ain't Mad At Cha," Rock divulges evocative rhymes about the "two machines helpin' me breathe" while he was in the hospital. A melancholic hook sung by R&B diva du jour SZA (who has famously contended with her own health issues) elevates "Redemption" among the top hip-hop tracks of the year.
It's bold, candid stuff. And while he very much lacks the technical skill and overall creativity of many of his peers, none more so than label mate and frequent collaborator Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock viscerally channels the pain of his brush with death on "The Bloodiest" and "Redemption." So it's a shame that more of the tracks on this album don't feature such vivid details about his accident and recovery.
It feels like an especially galling omission on "For What It's Worth," on which Jay Rock squanders a heart-wrenching and elegantly minimalist instrumental (courtesy of Top Dawg in-house star producer Sounwave) by griping about a lady friend who might be out to get his money, making him the umpteenth rapper to rely on this sexist old trope. Ditto the radio-ready, Jeremih-assisted sex jam "Tap Out," which, undeniably catchy and carnal as it may be, amounts to an annoying distraction when listeners want to hear more about Jay Rock's injuries and recuperation.
On the other hand, one can hardly blame him for zeroing in on the joys of life and unspooling euphoric anthems after enduring such a harrowing experience. So even though I was left pining for more of the gripping imagery from the title track, the palpable joie de vivre on both "Knock It Off" (if you needed a textbook definition of "trap banger," this one would be a prime contender), and the anthemic "WIN" make Redemption essential listening for any hip-hop fan.
It's a heartening LP, both because of the top-notch, life-affirming beats throughout, along with the renewed vigour in the voice of a man who clearly takes nothing for granted now that he's on the mend. And while Jay Rock sounds palpably appreciative, we rap fans are every bit as lucky to still have him around. (TDE)