Real Name: Johnnie McKenzie
D.O.B.: 1986 Watts, California.
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/Warner Bros.
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 2006, 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. You’ve got a real cool voice to it, 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 Rocks confidence led to a string of heated appearances on neighbourhood mixtapes. The gifted rhymers 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 Rocks 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 Lil Jons BME Recordings, E-40, The Federation and Talib Kweli, among others. The Warner Bros. executives were impressed with Jay Rocks distinctive flow, his vivid lyrics and, of course, voice. Already a star on the Internet, his always-updated myspace.com/jayrock page features three songs that have more than 100,000 plays. One of those cuts is LA Shit, Jay Rocks stellar reworking of Busta Rhymes New York Shit. When I heard that song, I thought it was a hot-ass song, so I wanted to get on my LA shit about what we do out here, says Jay Rock, who has long been a fan of Busta Rhymes phraseology. I was paying respect to Busta and his song, and that’s for the mixtapes right there. I want LA to get an ear for it. LA will also appreciate the energetic California Soul, which details the treacherous reality of California’s streets. 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 smooth, that’s My Word, Jay Rock asserts his status as a man of his word, while To The Top documents his ascent from project resident to his present day successes. 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. As someone who looks toward the past as he pushes toward the future, Jay Rock holds the soulful Back In The Days in high regard. I just went back to when I was 6, 7, growing up listening to the oldies, he explains. That song meant a lot because I always dwell on the past, for some reason. I always think back and wish that I was a kid again. I know that will never happen, but some times I just wish I could go back in the days when I was young.
For now, though, Jay Rock is focused on recording his début 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’ve been down for a long time, so were trying to bring it back home, bring the West back. With production on his forthcoming début album from such A-List producers as KayGee (Jaheim, Naughty By Nature) and L.E.S. (Nas), as well up-and-coming beatsmiths Nephew, 4th Quarter and K-Fam, Soundwave and Aqua (Jay-Z), Jay Rock is set to live out a dream that seemed to be destined to happen.
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. Shed 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 Rocks 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. He also endured a harsh reality when cited and incarcerated for violating his areas 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 cant hang out where I live I cant help where I stay. They got me again when I was hanging out of my own apartment, my own residence. Jay Rocks 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. Its a blessing. It feels real good. I could be in the jail somewhere or in the grave, but Im right here doing what I need to do.
“If it ain’t ruff, it ain’t Jay Rock” January 28, 2009 @ 4:08 pm Jozen Cummings JAY ROCK IS THE LAST OF A DYING BREED. He’s an in-your-face gangster rapper who proudly rocks Blood red. He was born and raised in L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens projects. He recalls Compton heroes like MC Eiht. And he’s not shy about his affiliations. “I represent the ghetto,” says Jay Rock, 23, sitting in a Queensbridge, N.Y., hotel lobby. He’s dipped head to toe in red. “I been there all my life…and I know real dudes gonna be able to relate to it.” After being discovered by Dude Dawg, a neighbourhood acquaintance with music industry ties, Jay Rock, born Johnnie McKenzie, took his rhyming hobby to face-to-face meetings with label executives. One such meeting was with Naim Ali of Warner Bros., who took a liking to Rock’s gritty street tales delivered in raspy, ear-catching baritone.
Rock’s début, Follow Me Home (Warner Bros.), is filled with classically drawn gangster music, with an additional lift from guest appearances by Cali compatriot The Game on the title track and Lil Wayne on the first single, “All My Life.” “I met Wayne back home, and we exchanged phone numbers,” Rock says about his emotional collabo with Weezy. “When I got the track from Cool & Dre, [Wayne] was in Virginia doing a couple of shows. I brought my boys, flew where he was at, and we got some studio time. You can hear we got that real chemistry going, live and direct in the studio.” But Rock has no plans to be as big as Wayne if it means sacrificing his sound. “I’m trying to bring that real music back. Straight to the point, no ‘Lollipop’-type stuff,” he says. “Ain’t no faking or no flukes. That’s what I’m trying to bring back to the game.”
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