The West Coast has fallen on hard times in recent years, with very few names holding up the scene. Sure, we could count on legends like Ice Cube, Snoop, and Too $hort to hold it down, but let’s face it, the lack of a genre-defining Dr. Dre album over the last decade has left little room for ground-breaking innovation from the once popping region. We have seen some new talent pop up over the last few years in both Blu and Kendrick Lamar, not to mention Watts, CA’s Jay Rock, who has released a steady stream of underground tracks over the last year or so. Joining XXL’s Freshman 10 list in 2010, and as a member of the Black Hippy crew, alongside Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, Jay Rock’s finally sees the release of his debut LP, Follow Me Home.
Inevitably comparisons to The Game’s grovelly voice have been made, but the similarities stop there. Rock’s debut rings with a sense of familiarity that has surrounded many Cali classics, with heavy influence from 80′s/90′s crews like N.W.A. and C.M.W., as well as the more modern post-2001 sound. There are moments here that are straight gangster rap through-and-through, where Jay unapologetically channels the sound of his environment. The gangsters-don’t-dance-we-boogie anthem “Elbows”, treads the line between hitting them with a brick and then dancing, while songs like “Bout That” and “I’m Thuggin’” are decent, but in terms of subject matter have been covered ad nauseum.
Still, Jay has a knack for picking strong production, as found on the more celebratory bar-be-cue joints, “All My Life” and “Hood Gone Love It” (featuring a spotlit verse from Kendrick), as well as the slinky sex rap “Boomerang”. What sets him apart however is his crisp, intelligible delivery and undeniable flow, as shown on “No Joke”, where he takes hold of the hypnotic piano track with a breathless delivery, and again on “Kill Or Be Killed”, a contest of champions with Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko. But the album’s diamond in the rough is buried deep within it on “Just Like Me”. Here, Jay delivers his most poignant verses about the generations of fatherless children that choose gang life over a more positive route. He’s so passionate about the subject, that virtually every bar in the verse is filled right up until the hook. It’s something that needs to be heard, and doesn’t quite hit you until the fourth or fifth listen. Songs like this one will take put him in a category closer to Nas, further from Mack 10.
Follow Me Home is an honest first effort from Jay Rock, but it’s not without fail. It’s 18 song length leaves plenty of room for error, with some filler joints that may have better been saved for his next mixtape. Still, there are moments of brilliance here, things that remind us why West Coast gangster rap was so fascinating in it’s early inception. It may take time, but if Jay Rock can harness his talent correctly, he may have a brighter future ahead of him.
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