For a rapper to command your attention, it all comes down to the voice. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D had millions of fans hanging on to every word of his booming baritone. In the mid-1990s, The Notorious B.I.G.’s steely poise and vocal precision led many critics and fans to proclaim him the best rapper of all time. Now, in 2009, get ready for the next rapper with a magnetic voice, someone whose pristine raps demand attention. His name: Jay Rock.
Born and raised in Watts, California’s notorious Nickerson Gardens Projects, Jay Rock got his first encouragement from his music-making relatives, who noticed the impact his deep, melodic voice made on song after song. “They were like, ‘you’re hard. And you’ve got a voice for it, too,” Jay Rock recalls. “A lot of people started hearing me and they would tell me that my voice catches them. So, I started working it, working on my craft and got more and more confidence.”
Jay Rock’s confidence led to a string of heated appearances on neighborhood mixtapes. The gifted rhymer’s clever phrasing, gritty realism, storytelling swagger and powerful voice grabbed the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment boss Dude Dawg. Once in the studio with an independent company backing him, Jay Rock’s output increased and improved.
After shopping his demo to a number of major labels, Jay Rock and Top Dawg earned a deal with industry powerhouse Warner Bros. Records, also home to E-40, Murs and Talib Kweli, among others. The Warner Bros. executives were impressed with Jay Rock’s distinctive flow, his vivid lyrics and, of course, his “voice”.
On his debut LP Follow Me Home, Jay Rock details the treacherous reality of California’s streets on the title cut “Follow Me Home” feat. The Game. “Game produced the record and he gave it to me. I met him at the studio about a week later and let him hear it…he went crazy! He liked it so much he recorded the hook on the spot.” On the lead single “All My Life” feat. Lil’ Wayne, Jay Rock asserts his status as LA’s next rising star. The video for “All My Life” documents a day in the life in the Nickerson Gardens and helps viewers understand the trials one must take to make their way out of the projects. “It was a struggle to get to where I’m at now,” he says. “I’m talking about going from the bottom to the top, what I was going through starting off. I’m legal now. I’m signed. I started off at the bottom, made something out of nothing and am going to run with it until I get all the way to the top.”
For now, though, Jay Rock is focused on finishing his debut album and ushering in a new era of hard-core West Coast rap. Jay Rock is thankful that Compton’s The Game was able to breakthrough with his multi platinum, The Documentary album. “Game opened up the doors for a lot of people,” Jay Rock says. “Game opened the door and I’m running right through with my people behind me. We’re trying to bring it back home, bring the West back. We’ve been down for a long time, so we’re trying to bring it back home.”
His hard-working mother filled their home with the classic soul and blues music of such icons as the Temptations, Dramatics, Isley Brothers, Johnny Guitar Watson and B.B. King. She also had an affinity for rap, and enjoyed the music of such trendsetters as Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. Her love for music carried over to her house parties. “My mom threw parties damn near every weekend,” Jay Rock recalls. “She’d be stressing during the week, would come home and that’s what they’d do, party all night long.”
Jay Rock soon developed an interest in playing keyboards and, at age 12, writing poems. And, as he grew up in the volatile Watts streets, gangster rap began to take hold. “You couldn’t go up the street without hearing Snoop, Dre or N.W.A,” he says. Much as N.W.A and others reported about their surroundings, Jay Rock’s early poems documented his feelings -- about a person, about Los Angeles, about his experiences.
Jay Rock soon started getting into trouble at school, forcing him to attend a number of different schools including the notorious Locke High School. He also endured a harsh reality when cited and incarcerated for violating his area’s gang injunction. “I was hanging out with dudes I grew up with, dudes I went to school with, played Pop Warner with,” he says. “They saw us out there and took us down…They put me on it...I basically can’t hang out where I live…I can’t help where I stay…They got me again when I was hanging out of my own apartment, my own residence.”
Jay Rock’s legal struggles have made him appreciate what he has already accomplished, turning his childhood talent for writing into a career as a major-label recording artist. “Getting signed and being from what I’m from, that’s a great achievement because nobody’s really been signed from my projects,” Jay Rock says. “That’s a big achievement for me. It’s a blessing. It feels real good. I could be in the jail somewhere or in the grave, but I’m right here doing what I need to do.”