Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city is the frontrunner for hip-hop album of the year, and one of its most discussed verses comes from his Black Hippy crewmate Jay Rock. Far from new to the game, Jay Rock has put out music both on major labels and independently, he's been in boardrooms and boarded houses, toured internationally and outshone Game and Lil' Wayne on tracks -- all while recording in-house from Carson. So it's not too difficult to imagine him "up in them projects where them niggas pick your pockets" as well as "getting shaded under a money tree" like he raps on Lamar's "Money Trees."
See also: *Our cover story on Kendrick Lamar
The elder statesmen of Black Hippy -- the "it" crew in hip hop, also comprised of Lamar, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q -- Jay Rock first made noise with his Watts Finest series in 2006. After landing a deal at Warner Bros. with some help from mentor Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, Rock released the blistering "All My Life" (ft. Lil' Wayne) in 2008 but soon found himself without radio play or promotion. Thus began a three-year stalemate with Warner Bros. that would eventually result in signing a joint venture with Tech N9ne's Strange Music imprint. But seeing as his crewmates have been taking over the blogosphere, the stars seem to be aligning as he preps the follow-up to his 2011 debut Follow Me Home. Our interview is below.
How and why did the transition from Warner Bros. to Strange Music come about?
We were gaining a lot of spins on ["All My Life"]. But something went wrong with Warner and they put a stop to my record. I don't really know too much about it but my team wasn't happy. And they went in and did what they had to do to get me off Warner Bros. so we could start something new.
And I've always been knowing about Tech. I mean he's one of the biggest underground artists of all time. I got a chance to meet him at a video shoot with Estevan Oriol. Then he started telling me, "Let me know what you're going to do. We'd love to have you on Strange." So we went to one of his shows out in Kansas and it was crazy. And it was all from the underground level. So we did a joint venture with him and I finally got a chance to drop Follow Me Home.
How did you get your start rapping before you dropped an actual tape?
What's crazy is -- I like telling this story to people -- when I was eight or nine years old, my brother and cousin were rapping. But they weren't really serious, they were just doing it. They were like eight years older than me, I was real young, so they never wanted me hanging around them. So I'd just go in and listen to their tapes and rap their shit. I started writing poetry when I was in the fifth grade, just rhyming in class. I wasn't too serious about it until people started telling me, "You got a voice. Man your voice is crazy." But I was whatever about it. I was still running in the streets. When I was about 17 or 18, I would go through my boy's garage and they had a little studio set up. I would just play around there. But they would tell me, "Yo, you're hard man." And I thought they were gassing me cause I thought my shit was weak. But to them, it wasn't. And that really gave me the inspiration to pursue it.
Taking it back further, what music were you listening to as a kid?
In my house, my momma always played oldies. You know how it is: Moms is stressed out. She'd come through, smoke her weed, drink her beer and play her oldies. That's all I used to hear every day. They used to call my mom's house Club M&M, know what I mean, for Mary and Mike. And they used to play the music, have their friends over and dance. And then I'd step outside and my Uncles would be playing the gangster music. Scarface, Geto Boys, Snoop and all that. Growing up in the projects, I've been around music all my life. Marvin Gaye, everything man.
Your spot on Kendrick's "Money Trees" is a huge look, given the success of the album. When did you know you were going to be featured?
I appreciate little bro for even letting me get on the album man. It's his first project dropping in stores like that, so he took it very personally. He didn't want a lot of features, which is understandable. He called me up and said, "I want you on 'Money Trees,'" like two days before the deadline for him to turn everything in. And in the studio, that had been one of my favorite tracks. I kept playing it back with Soul and I knew I had to come my hardest. If you listen to his verse, he's just telling his story and I could relate to that because that was me when I was younger. So I just took my struggle from growing up in the hood man and put that on there.
You've been quiet about your next project, with all your guys' focus on Lamar's album, but sonically what can fans expect? And when?
It's going to be way different man. I just want to come with a whole new sound. Like when I dropped "Yola," no one had ever heard me come off like that. I just let the beat go. It's like a car, I just get in it and drive; no telling where it's going to take me. I'm going to take y'all on a ride. That's my mindset. That's my vibe. I want to go over peoples' heads with this one. They know the typical Jay Rock from Watts project, but I want to go deeper with this. That's what I'm building right now -- a whole new sound.
I might mess around and drop something this week or next. I got songs recorded but it's all about mapping it out and having a vision. The fans have been on me about when I'm dropping. But I just tell 'em: Be patient. Keep your ears open. I got you guys, don't even trip. But for now, go support little bro and get his CD.
See also: *Our cover story on Kendrick Lamar
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