Words by Dinesh Mattu
Photos by Joe Okpako
After releasing one of the most underrated hip hop albums of last year, TDE signee Jay Rock brought his European leg of The Redemption Tour to London in an impressive set marked by swaggering flows and introspective verses.
Following his near-fatal motorcycle accident a few years ago, Jay Rock had vowed to approach life with a newfound sense of humbleness and hunger, writing on a Reddit AMA shortly after, “No procrastinating, all gas. No breaks!” Aptly said, this desire shines through on the Redemption album and is cemented by the spirited live show. Strolling out to hues of red lights, the familiar intro to Knock It Off plays out as Rock counts his blessings before opening up on his struggles.
Followed up by frenzied album opener The Bloodiest and introspective For What It’s Worth, Rock spits cautionary stories from his chequered past, alluding to his darker days and treating the life-threatening accident as karma for the wrongdoing in his youth. The sincerity in his music makes the Watts rapper ever the more likeable, with a maturity to rival that of one of the greats.
His conscious songs are the theme for most of the night but he does leave space for some self-indulgent celebration. Taking a slight turn away from the tales of gangbanging and hustling, Rock switches up the vibe for some classic rap debauchery, with Tap Out and YG collaboration I Just Wanna Party going down well with the sell-out crowd.
For someone attempting to redeem himself, there is a certain level of self-assuredness about Jay Rock’s presence. His journey so far has seen the California rapper overcome a life of street crime, drugs and violence, to being peers with some of the best artists in a generation; none less than the West Coast’s very own poster boy, Kendrick Lamar.
Wow Freestyle and Money Trees are a welcome back to back reminder of how the two compliment each other so well, with the Brixton audience taking up the role of the Compton native, venomously trading bar for bar with the man on stage.
The energy is well suited to the venue’s name; electric. Mosh pits ensue and the energy levels ramp up for the final two songs; recent GRAMMY Award-winning Kings Dead and the triumphant WIN, which is so invigorating the crowd go twice as hard when Rock plays it again in the encore.
There is something remarkably heartwarming to see this man winning on his own terms, as being one of the often overlooked members of TDE, his foundation helped pave the way for stars like Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Schoolboy Q to shine today.
Whilst you might think a close shave with death would bring a sense of wariness to his perspective, the live show is a storming success. The California native has found redemption and he hasn’t lost a thing, be assured; Jay still knows how to Rock the crowd.