Jay Rock is lucky to be alive.
In 2016, at what might have been the pinnacle of any other artist’s career, Rock was thrown from his motorcycle on the night he was to attend the Grammys with Kendrick Lamar. Redemption is the California rapper’s first release since the accident, and it shows him humbled and reflective.
Some artists might reject a personal moment like that as defining their work, but based on Redemption, Rock is mining the incident and its fortunate outcome for personal and creative growth.
“Struggle with who I am and who I want to be,” he raps on “For What It’s Worth.” Later, he plays the Jay-Z to alt-soul singer SZA’s Beyoncé on “Redemption,” rapping: “If you had a second chance, what would you do … peace with your enemies, keep the water under the bridge.”
He speculates about what would have happened if his accident had turned out worse. “Sorry mama, I want to stay, but I gotta leave.”
Rock’s got a deep, chesty voice and an easy natural flow that is at times rat-a-tat-tat and other times conversational and meandering. The album has guest appearances from Lamar, Future, J. Cole and Jeremih, showing Rock is still among hip-hop royalty.
Throughout, Rock draws from his life on the streets of Watts.
And he’s still struggling. “Shoot-outs and abortions,” he blurts on the dark and menacing “ES Tales. “We in the hood, situations look grim … cops get promotions while their families gotta pray.”
Overall, it’s uncommon to find a rapper not on war footing. And Redemption is an engaging testament to survival, with Rock reaching levels of vulnerability uncommon in hip hop. The album, and Rock, are stronger for it.
Rock performs in Eugene with his Top Dawg Entertainment label mate Reason. Reason’s out on the road promoting his own soul-inspired new release There You Have It.
Jay Rock and Reason perform 9 pm Saturday, Oct. 13, at WOW Hall; $20 advance, $25 door, $75 VIP package, all-ages. — Will Kennedy