Jay Rock talks about his TDE family, why Redemption is album of the year, and what rapping in the studio with Kendrick Lamar is really like.
On July 26, 2011, Jay Rock released his debut studio album Follow Me Home. The album — lead by the Lil Wayne and will.i.am-featured single “All My Life (In the Ghetto)” — would have been the best rap album to drop that month…if Kendrick Lamar hadn’t released a little project called Section.80 just weeks prior.
That’s sort of always been the story of Jay Rock, the OG of Top Dawg Entertainment. He’s been one of the steadiest rappers in hip-hop, a straight-to-business spitter with a discography of stellar verses and rap songs. But he has never transcended like other flasher members of the TDE collective, like Kendrick, SZA, or ScHoolboy Q.
That’s finally changing. In June he released his third studio album, Redemption. Other than Black Panther: The Album, it was the highest profile TDE album to release in 2018; Jay Rock had the spotlight to himself and he didn’t disappoint. (In comparison to 2015 when Jay Rock released his sophomore album, 90059, under the gigantic shadow of To Pimp a Butterfly.)
On Redemption, which was executive produced by Kendrick, the Watts native showcases both growth in his flows and maturity in his sound. Songs like “OSOM” show a personal side of Jay Rock, one he’s been reticent to reveal before. But you also have mainstream anthems, like the blistering “King’s Dead” — which features a verbose Kendrick performance and a standout Future cameo — and the triumphant WIN.”
I got Tha Album of the Year Don’t Talk 2 Me!!! #TDE
— Jay Rock (@jayrock) August 16, 2018
Jay Rock has readily called Redemption album of the year. And he might not be wrong.
Okayplayer recently caught up with Jay Rock before he was set to perform at The Fonda Theater in Hollywood. We talked to Jay Rock about his TDE family, why Redemption is album of the year, and the best piece of advice TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith gave him.
Bring us back to the days Top Dawg was “driving the Red Dodge Charger.”
Oh man, you already know. Back in those times, that’s when we were just in the studio going hard. We were everywhere. Going to label meetings, studios, just doing what we had to do. We were all piled up in the red Charger.
Does it still exist?
Oh yeah, it’s still around somewhere. [laughs] I mean, you see me in the video in it. It might be parked somewhere outside right now.
“Wow Freestyle” was actually the eighth video to drop from Redemption. What’s the process of making a video like for you?
It’s all about visuals. We’re just trying to be different, and not have the same cliche type of looks. We want to do something a little bit different, outside the box. I’m all for that. Just having fun and giving the people something different to look at.
“King’s Dead” has over 90 million views on YouTube. What is your immediate reaction seeing those numbers?
Aw man, it’s crazy! To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to the numbers like that. I just want to get it out to the people. Whoever listens to it, listens to it. It be shocking to me just seeing how many people are really watching me, and I appreciate it. That’s love right there. It just makes me more dedicated, and motivates me to go even harder than doing what I’m doing.
Your “Road To Redemption” videos on YouTube really showcase your journey in TDE. What made you want to show more of yourself for the cameras?
For those who really know who I am, they know I was always that dude who was always quiet, always to myself, and always in the cut. I just wanted the [fans] to really know who I am a little bit more, and get to understand me more. Just open up more. That’s what this whole Redemption thing is all about, I just laid everything on the line, to get people to really connect with me.
As your career rises, are you becoming less shy?
I’m still shy. [laughs] There’s no question about that, I’m still shy. But once I get out there and do my thing, the shyness is gone.
If your album is album of the year, like you say it is, who is number two?
Aw man, that’s a hard question. Honestly, I feel I’ve got the album of the year. I can battle anyone on it. Whoever’s number two, I can be number one, two, three, and four. I’ve got the album of the year, and I put my stamp on that.
It’s interesting, J. Cole says he’s got album of the year, and he’s actually featured on your album.
Like I said, that’s my boy. Big shout outs to J. Cole. He put out a dope album this year. My boy [Nipsey Hussle] did. YG put out a cool album. I like the Travis Scott album. I was just listening to my boy Tory Lanez, he just dropped a cold album. Man, everybody is doing their thing. Salute to all those dudes. Me personally, I feel I worked hard on it. Even if I don’t get album of the year, everyone is entitled to their opinion. They’re just going to keep me working even more harder.
I know artists sometimes have their favorites on the project that aren’t the singles. What are some of your most personal records on the album?
All of them are personal to me, but the one that stands out is “OSOM” with J. Cole. I laid it on the line. I gave everybody my story.
Best piece of advice Top gave you?
Hustle like you’re broke, baby. Hustle like you motherfuckin’ broke, no question about that.
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Why is it so important for TDE to be on each other’s projects?
Because we’re a family. That’s a difference between a lot of other labels. Sometimes people show up because they have to work for this dude, or they’re just trying to get some money. Over here, we’re a family. We all support each other as one. It’s a family thing, Nobody over here is dealing with egos, or worried about what the next man got. We all out for one goal, and that’s making dope ass music, and staying dedicated to what we going through.
Can you articulate how exactly TDE has been a family to you as opposed to your own family?
We all grew to be family. We all have family members that are like family members. Even before TDE, a couple of my family members were really close to a couple people in the group’s family. It’s just a small world. Everything — the stars aligned and the dots connected right on time. [Laughs]
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Tell me your favorite story of you and Kendrick in the studio?
We got so many memories in the studio, and things of that nature. When we first got together in the studio… I always knew who Kendrick was, but when he first came to the studio, I was just up in there working. I saw him come in, and we started working on the record. I’m sitting right here struggling to write my verse, and he was done with his in like five minutes. He didn’t even write anything down. He wrapped some stuff, freestyled it, and said my name on the record. I was like, “wow.” Right there, from that point, I knew he was something special.
Do you write your lyrics down or in your phone?
Yeah, I write them down. Sometimes I don’t write. Of course with this technology, I write everything in the phone. Back then, I was just writing on a piece of paper. Now, you got smartphones, you can type it in or say it on a voice note.
Where would you rank TDE historically when talking about hip-hop collectives?
Hey man, Top Dawg. We’re the best. We’re the best in the business. [laughs] We’re up there. We there, couple million records sold, what else is there to talk about? Like I said, this is only the beginning for us though. It’s good. we’re still pushing. There’s still got more to get.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Just striving for success. Just keep getting better and better by the day. That’s my focus, just to keep working and getting better at my craft. That’s it.
You linked with Lil Wayne and will.i.am on “All My Life (Ghetto)” ten years ago. Can you take me back to the making of that song? Who was Jay Rock back then?
I was Jay Rock, the dude running around the projects still. When I made that song, that was the turning point in my career. Shout out to Lil Wayne for jumping on that record, that opened up a few little doors for me. I learned a lot from then to now. Big shout outs to Weezy.
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SZA was featured on the title track. Talk about your relationship with her.
That’s my little sister. Big shouts out to the beautiful SZA. I watched her blossom in the game. She’s killing it. Much success for her to keep going hard and doing what she’s doing. That’s my little sister, you already know.
What can we expect in 2019?
Redemption is the album of the year. In 2019, getting ready for the big Redemption Tour. Going to Europe at the start of 2019. Then hopefully, I’m trying to get back in the lab, and give y’all another project.
Was it difficult to adjust to the fame?
I never really focus on fame. I guess it comes with it, but fame wasn’t on my mind. They tell me all the time, “You don’t know how famous you are?” Some of my family, they don’t even like me going out by myself. I still feel like I’m me, I don’t feel I’m famous yet. I don’t think about the fame.