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This or That? Jay Rock vs. J Rock

Kendrick Lamar might be heralded as the poster boy of Top Dawg Entertainment, but Jay Rock is the squad’s silent killer. Down with Anthony ‘Top Dawg’ Tiffith since 2005, Rock was the first member of the crew to sign with a major label (Warner) in ’07 and get his music played on the radio, but when Warner merged with Asylum they left him out to dry, so he jumped ship to Tech N9ne’s independent Strange Music. His 2011 LP ‘Follow Me Home’ was the first TDE studio album to hit stores, but it went Kreayshawn, tanking to 84 on the Billboard 200 and selling a measly 5,300 copies in its first week.

It didn’t seem like Jay Rock had much substantial buzz during his early ascent, despite getting airplay with his Lil’ Wayne-assisted, Cool and Dre-produced single, All My Life [Ghetto].’The album is a pretty straight shot of G s–t, but despite their head nod factor, fluffy faux-Dre beats (like ‘Code Red,’ ‘No Joke’ and ‘Elbows’) make an MC in the vein of Game seem even more derivative. Shaky reaches like ‘Westside’ and ‘They Be On It’ don’t help. The highlights are when Jay breaks free from the beat, spitting at it on songs like ‘I’m Thuggin,’ ‘Kill Or Be Killed’ and ‘M.O.N.E.Y.’

He had a smaller single, ‘Hood Gone Love It,’ with Kendrick, who doesn’t hang too far back on many songs from ‘Follow Me Home.’ Early mixtapes with DJ Envy and DJ Ill Will often functioned as G-Unit Radio-style group projects, jacking for beats and spreading the love amongst TDE members, but Kendrick was the one, starting with his eponymous EP, who got TDE’s name popping in 2010. Yet so far this year, the deadliest rapper in the group isn’t its golden boy — it’s Jay Rock.

His streak began, at least to listeners at large, on ‘Money Trees’ from ‘good kid, m.A.A.d. city,’ though it could be traced back to his verse on the ‘Black Lip Bastard’ remix from 2012. His verse is last on the latter for a reason — “I’m the silent assassin of the four-headed dragon / Black Hippy blastin’ a .50 out the back of the Benz wagon.” Since then, he’s blown the hinges off features for YG (‘I Just Wanna Party’), Schoolboy Q (‘Los Awesome’), and Isaiah Rashad (‘Shot You Down’ Remix’), and with projects from Rashad, Q, and SZA already in the can for 2014 and Ab-Soul’s LP dropping June 24, Jay Rock is next in line.

In 1990, a Newburgh, New York rapper named J Rock sent his demo to The Source Magazine and landed himself a spot in the Unsigned Hype section with “a confident Lord Finesse style of rhyme.” Rakim is another apt comparison, though the God MC was more surgical with syllables than J Rock ends up being on his debut album, ‘Streetwize.’ Still, anyone who’s spun the album even once knows it’s a classic. Besides production help from DJ Premier (four beats) and Easy Mo Bee (one beat), J Rock was behind the boards for the LPs entirety, giving the album a magnetic sense of unity across 19 tracks. ‘Streetwize’ is a heaving, hood-hopping adventure through the acute eyes of a guy who raps better — and sees more — than his peers.

Every song from his seven-track demo made the album, and with every original sample – that’s how good it is. He talks the cleanest shit on the title track; ‘Brutality’ and ‘Shakedown’ are reminders of what black communities face from police every day; ‘Neighborhood Drug Dealer’ kicks how a pusher avoids that bulls–t.  Every single song sports a tale from the block, as if we’re on a tour of Rock’s daily life. Trust us — if you haven’t heard ‘Streetwize’ in full, it’s love at first spin. It’s hard to play one track from the album without playing every other song.

We’d be remiss not to mention the legendary J Rocc in this conversation, though he’s not a rapper. As founding member of the World Famous Beat Junkies and an integral part of Stones Throw’s DJ core, J Rocc has given us classic mixes, remixes, beats, and DJ sets throughout his 20 plus years in the game. Start with his four-part ‘Thank You Jay Dee’ series if you aren’t familiar with his work, and brace yourself as you work your way up to his jaw-dropping repertoire of drum breaks. He can hold his own with the best of them — Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf included.

Right now, Jay Rock has the most potential in TDE to bust heads before Kendrick drops his long-awaited sophomore album. If Jay spits every verse like he did on ‘Money Trees’ or ‘I Just Wanna Party,’ it’ll be hard to turn his music off. Kendrick was supposed to be the guy that ushered in The Return Of Lyrics, but he needs to clean up his own TDE house before he disses outsiders again.

J Rock, on the other hand, is a gold-dusted MC who’s proven his worth not only with his demo, but with the transition to a slamming full-length debut. ‘Streetwize’ still sounds as fresh as it did 22 years ago, and if you find an eggplant Porsche to ride around and bump his LP in, it’ll sound even better. Play it in the whip, at the crib, in your headphones as you walk around; it’s perfect for any host of situations. Just don’t forget The Messiah.

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