Not every album starts off smoothly. For his new album, Jay Rock mixes hip hop sounds of every energy whether it’s coherent or not. Johnny McKinzie’s unique sounds mixed with a determined message makes for music as interesting as his frantic work in Black Hippy. While it really takes a few tracks to pick up the pace, the album becomes a strong hip-hop gem.
Though there’s a light hand to the mix on “The Bloodiest” it sets a more moody tone for the album to start on, and one that is lyrically heavy in place of the music. While it really feels like the mix could pick up a little bit, McKinzie flow is enough to keep the song engaging. This issue flows right into “For What It’s Worth” as the eerie overtones of the main hooks and words vastly overshadow the impact of the overall track. Without a heavy dynamic range in the track, Jay Rock’s music leaves listeners little to pull them in.
“Knock It Off” slips into a slightly generic flow in its main hook, while the creepy stereo effects on the vocals make for an ominous background. The true magic of the track however comes out when McKinzie starts to play around with both his delivery and the actual backing track to make strong and standout moments in the song. The album really picks up on “ES Tales” though as a dense and broody bass riff, mixed with Mario coin sounds, makes a rough energy that’s hard to ignore. This loud and brash style makes all of McKinzie’s quieter moments feel even stronger too.
Even in the all-too familiar grooves of “Rotation 112th” there’s something really unnerving and gripping about the way it’s mixed into the track. Despite a fairly predictable lyrical energy to the track, Jay Rockdoes bring a more excited energy this time around. With Jeremih bringing a much more lively delivery than their Kanye contribution, “Tap Out” is a fun conversational piece that blends McKinzie’s subdued tones with his blown out majesty. As satisfying as the chorus hooks are, it’s really the ramps up in bass that make this track a fun listen over time.
The harmonious bliss of “OSOM” carry it through its trippy production and have a familiar ring next to many of Jay Rock’s Black Hippy partners. J. Cole’s flow also freshens up the latter half of the song to keep it from becoming to samey. As Kendrick delivers catchy hooks with vigor on “King’s Dead” Jay Rock quickly comes in to bring his own frantic energy to the track. Next to many of the stagnant moments of the album, this is a loud and proud banger, even with Future’s meme-ready interjection.
Through its waves of vintage samples, “Troopers” is a dark and sad track about the realities of trying to live the life celebrated in much of the rap world. It doesn’t vary quite enough to warrant constant replays but it’s a much stronger hook than many tracks on the record. “Broke +-” goes for the jugular in its commentary, as McKinzie tries to place himself in a historical context. With Kendrick at his most playful, “Wow Freestyle” is gloriously fun in the back and forth between the two rappers. Along with hearing Kendrick cutting loose, McKinzie is also trying way more with his vocal range on this track.
“Redemption” flies with a classic vintage piano pop while McKinzie tries to imporove himself rather than fall into the pitfalls of his own pride. SZA’s lush vocal takes out the track gloriously and really harkens back to early 2000s pop in all the best ways. As he plays on modern political mindsets, McKinzie blasts out jingoistic American music to make a point on “WIN.” Though it’s not the most musical track, it’s an amazing diss-track to America’s toxic mindset as of late.
Words by Owen Maxwell