Jay Rock, Vice City

Screengrab via Top Dawg Entertainment/YouTube

On ‘Vice City’ and Jay Rock’s unexpected success.

Watts, California, rapper Jay Rock enjoyed a flash of viral success last week when he posted an unexpected album. The Kendrick Lamar associate has been a trending commodity since he stole the show on 2012’s “Money Trees.”

This time, he brought friends.

The new LP, 90059–named for the zip code where he grew up—is Jay’s first high-profile release since 2011, and it’s specifically long-awaited by rap fans who keep up with the esteemed independent rap label Top Dawg Entertainment like its members are the Kardashians.

The album itself is a thin-air upload, as the release date has been in flux since it was announced a month prior. First, the date listed on iTunes was for next August, then next May, then December, and finally its actual Sept. 11 release date—all in under a month. That shuffle was a half-baked attempt to either raise or gauge interest by moving the release date up depending on the number of album pre-orders. More traditionally however, Jay Rock has been releasing songs in anticipation of 90059, including one with Black Hippy on the day the album dropped.

Black Hippy, of course, is the quasi-supergroup of the four main rappers on TDE records: Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Rock. The four have been rapping together for years, but they more-or-less officially formed the band in 2010 when they made a few songs together as bonus tracks from their respective albums. And at the time, the name Black Hippy wasn’t terribly far-fetched, with the foursome loosely rapping over jangly guitars and psych-rock samples about drugs and girls. “Vice City,” the posse track on 90059, shows how much has changed between the members of the group.

Kendrick Lamar leads the way over a dark and sinister beat provided by the usually sunnier producer Cardo, rapping about “big money/booty bitches.” He uses an uneven flow that weaves around and descends to the last couple words of each bar. Jay Rock follows suit but flies even further off the rails and also outperforms Kendrick. The third verse has Ab-Soul straying from the formula and rapping the line, “I’m more spiritual than lyrical,” and Jay Rock adds a couple bridges which are better than the main chorus by Kendrick. Batting cleanup is Schoolboy Q, who leaves the rhythm and comes back to it, gets extra ignorant in luxury cars, and utters the hilarious line, “Like philosophies, man you weird homie.”

Black Hippy will likely never release a full album because the rights to it would be owned by the legendary Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne’s Strange Music imprint. It might benefit the SoCal posse to spend the time it takes to make a full length stuck in the studio together, forced to find the right amalgamation of each member’s more left-field inclinations. Though that theoretical meeting of the minds is hardly necessary these days. 

In the video for “Vice City,” each rapper leaves the screen as soon as another comes into the camera’s view. Compare that with the “Zip That, Chop That” video from 2010, where the youthful quartet starts out alone, moving through the city separately; they meet up and all walk together as the rappers trade lyrics. 

Part of this difference is just artist progression and how videos get made once there’s more money involved, but that’s the point. These four rappers have all evolved into different people than they were five years ago. Besides Kendrick’s dreadlocks, Ab-Soul’s conspiracy theories, and some of Schoolboy Q’s sartorial choices, there’s not much the group has in common with actual hippies. The four of them used to benefit from each other filling the gaps across solo material. But as they’ve become more fully formed artists, the sum of their parts overlaps more and adds up to less.

Screengrab via Top Dawg Entertainment/YouTube