The other week on Twitter, somebody had asked me “how do you feel about Jay Rock?”
When a person asks me for my opinion on specific artists, songs or projects, I try my best to answer so I can share my perspective. In this case, I couldn’t have replied quicker.
There’s no Kendrick without Jay Rock so I’ll always respect the OG. https://t.co/08E63EIH1J
— Collin P. Donovan (@Donziff) April 3, 2016
Some of you might not understand what I meant by that, and that’s okay. Some of you may not agree with me, but a lot of you know how important Jay Rock has actually been to the massive success Top Dawg Entertainment has achieved since being founded in 2004.
Jay Rock was the first artist that signed to the TDE label. Not long after, they signed a young rapper from Compton by the name of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who was known in the local rap streets as K-Dot.
With Jay Rock being the older, more experienced act, he was the guy that was given the original push when TDE was getting launched. After releasing a few mixtapes that got some local and Internet buzz, Jay Rock also got a record deal with Asylum Records and Warner Bros Records in 2007.
This move got Top Dawg and Jay Rock a lot more attention and respect in the underground hip-hop community. Even so much that it caught the eye of arguably the biggest rapper on the planet at that time, Lil Wayne. In 2008, Jay Rock released a single called ‘All My Life (In The Ghetto)’ featuring Lil Wayne and will.i.am. This led to a music video and everything, which also includes appearances from young Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul.
Despite the seemingly-apparent success from Jay Rock, he was unhappy with his label situation. He was going on various tours as an opener for some beloved hip-hop acts (with Kendrick and Ab-Soul as his hype-men may I add), but Asylum/Warner kept delaying his debut album. By the end of 2010, he left those labels and announced that he had signed with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music label.
To those unaware of the Strange Music movement, they are a completely independent record label. Strange Music was founded back in 1999 by rapper Tech N9ne and his manager/business partner Travis O’Guin in a time where being independent in rap “wasn’t sexy”. In a shared business venture with Top Dawg and Strange Music, Jay Rock finally released his debut album ‘Follow Me Home’ in July of 2011.
*Keep in mind… his follow up album ‘90059′ wasn’t released until September 2015.*
In that time period from 2008 to the end of 2010, Lil Kendrick was plotting on the throne. He was going through a K-Dot/Kendrick identity crisis, but Top Dawg knew what he was capable of accomplishing. After being featured in the ‘All My Life’ music video with Jay Rock and Lil Wayne, it was only right Weezy gave Kendrick (still known as K-Dot at the time) the co-sign on his own material. This led to K-Dot’s ‘C4’ mixtape. For the fans who aren’t aware, ‘C4’ is heavily influenced by Lil Wayne, where the intro starts with the Weezy co-sign and then Kendrick proceeds to rap on almost every instrumental from ‘Tha Carter III’.
People beyond the west coast started to take notice of Kendrick’s appeal and rap star potential after this ‘C4’ mixtape dropped. And once ‘Overly Dedicated’ dropped, it was confirmed Kendrick was the next up. Once TDE saw the spark on Kendrick, Jay Rock took the backseat, humbly. Maybe it was something that he saw coming. It was almost as if he passed the TDE torch to Kendrick on his single ‘Hood Gone Love It‘ off ‘Follow Me Home’. When you’re spending days upon days in the studio watching the development of today’s biggest rap star with your own two eyes, how could you not see it coming?
Aftermath/Interscope saw it coming as well, and capitalized as soon as they could. I don’t know exactly when they signed a deal, but I know it was way before people thought they did. The first album officially released through Aftermath/Interscope was ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, but they were in the background well before that. Travis O’Guin explained it in an interview, where he even says that Kendrick and TDE’s independent look had some influence from Tech N9ne and Strange Music. Yes, Top Dawg Entertainment is an independent record label itself, but Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q have major label deals with Interscope as well. Kendrick, with TDE, had the backing and support of Aftermath and Interscope before those two labels publicly endorsed Lil Kendrick. Why? Because being independent was the new cool thing in rap, and they knew it.
What would have happened if Jay Rock never signed with Asylum/Warner? Who knows if they would have gotten the attention of Lil Wayne, amongst other connections they made, to co-sign Jay Rock, Kendrick and the TDE movement.
Also, what about if he never linked up with Strange Music? Would TDE still have that independent influence or would the whole label be an imprint of Interscope?
i thank GOD everyday 4sho. after GOD I thank jay rock, kdot , ab-soul , sbq , sza and zay. then i thank myself lmao https://t.co/N2MuWhXdEc
— dangeroo kipawaa TDE (@dangerookipawaa) April 13, 2016
Notice how the Top Dawg CEO names Jay Rock first in the tweet above. I don’t believe this was unintentional or just a mindless effort of listing the artists on the label. I believe he named Jay Rock first for the reasons I wrote about above. He knows that without Jay Rock, Top Dawg Entertainment would not be the HiiiPoWer force in music that it is as we know it today.
People like myself who were relatively late to the TDE movement might only know Jay Rock for having the hardest verses on the Black Hippy tracks ‘Black Lip Bastard (Remix)’ & ‘U.O.E.N.O. (Remix)’. Or for being the only artist from the label to be a feature on ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’. After doing my research naturally since becoming a TDE fan in 2012, I find it odd and borderline disrespectful to Jay Rock for being the most under appreciated artist on the label when he is arguably the most important to all of their success. I’m guilty too; I’m not here to say I’m the biggest Jay Rock fan because I’m not. Can Rock spit? Hell fucking yeah, with the best of them (literally). I am here to applaud his influence, work ethic and overall rap career for essentially being the guinea pig of hip-hop’s most important music label of this current generation.