Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jay Rock - Redemption Review

For Jay Rock's Redemption, his third album and first since 2015's 90059, signing with Interscope Records this past January should've been writing on the wall. Mass produced record companies have been known to squander art in place of profit, as we've seen a myriad of times in Hip-Hop alone, through artists like Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, and Waka Flocka Flame. Hell, Jay Rock's contemporary and TDE brethren Kendrick Lamar made this concept the crux of his character's origin story on To Pimp A Butterfly. Since DAMN and CTRL, TDE's prospects for wealth accumulation are becoming patently noticeable, preferring the radio to critical acclaim. Redemption embraces that ideology, stripping originality in favor of dated Gangster Rap tropes that lack substance and sheen.

To see Interscope's likely interference firsthand, glance across the tracklist. Instead of TDE affiliates and personal legends like Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne (90059 and Follow Me Home respectively), Redemption finds Jay Rock awkwardly shoehorned in alongside the radio-friendly R&B singer Jeremih, chief Trap connoisseur Future, street-wise woke rapper J. Cole, and the only two TDE artists who matter to the mainstream; Kendrick and SZA. Riding trends in an attempt to maintain relevance has, and always will be, the goal of major record labels. Jay Rock's cash grab isn't unsurprising, nor is it disgraceful. Throughout Redemption, Rock paints a bloody picture of the streets, filled with scheming gangs, conniving gold diggers, and adverse conditions for those sequestered in it. No one should be accosted for attaining wealth to help loved ones in need. Redemption does this through cookie-cutter West Coast Hip-Hop intent on becoming short-lived hits on inner-city stations. Whether it's 'Rotation 112th' or 'Troopers' which utilize generic Trap-influenced hi-hats, 'Knock It Off' or 'Tap Out' that place emphasis on cheap hooks that act as leeches, or 'For What It's Worth' and 'Redemption' that drop blanketed motivational proverbs for mass consumption, Redemption's rife with time-tested cliches that are proven commodities.

Problem being, it's all too obvious. Like Redemption, DAMN was bonafide Pop Rap. However, it was skewered with mutated structures, a loose concept, and occasional bouts of ambition ('FEAR,' 'DUCKWORTH,' 'XXX'). At its heart, you could tell an artist made it. Even some of 90059, like the infamous 'Vice City' flows and 'Easy Bake's' animated beat switch, exhibited much of that same tribulation. What's perhaps most frustrating is Redemption's most elaborative track, 'King's Dead,' gets unnecessarily curtailed with the removal of Kendrick's thrilling final verse and James Blake's hypnotic transition. It's also telling of the album's overall quality in that, without two of its best parts, 'King's Dead' is still top three here, and features Jay Rock's most lively performance to date. Elsewhere, the simplicity and heartfelt dialogue on 'Redemption' counts as a success, even though its celebratory follow-up 'WIN' is a moment to forget. The solemn grooves of 'For What It's Worth' and the Mario-themed banger of 'ES Tales' - the most creative beat on the project - round out Redemption's highlights. Everything else, excluding the aforementioned 'WIN,' 'Troopers,' and the surprisingly unsatisfying 'Wow Freestyle' featuring Kendrick, fester in mediocrity. An apt resting place for Redemption's ineffectual plea for play.

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