Ever since Jay Rock appeared on the XXL‘s 2010 Freshman cover, Top Dawg Entertainment established itself as the next big forte in hip-hop. His little brother Kendrick Lamar shot to the upper echelon of rap supremacy with his near-flawless debut, good kid, m.A.A.d City, and labelmates Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul—two chosen for the 2013 class—have gone from underrated to highly celebrated brand names.
Behind the scenes, Rock plays a pivotal role as the veteran who first gained national attention and paved the way for the rest to succeed. The Watts, Cali. native impacted the streets with “All My Life” (featuring Lil Wayne) in 2008, and his debut, Follow Me Home, detailed his hometown lifestyle the only way he saw it.
With the TDE flag waving higher than ever, XXL caught up with Jay Rock to discuss the camaraderie within the label and why fans should “sit back and enjoy the show.”—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)
Did you just get finished with Paid Dues?
Yeah, it was crazy. It was 25,000 people out there, man. That shit was crazy. It felt real good. Up there with my boys. We used to doing our thing. It felt real good to see. We came a long way and to just see all the people who knew all the songs. All 25,000 people yelling our songs, they all knew. That shit was crazy.
We dropped our Freshman cover a few weeks ago that had Q and Soul on it. What are your thoughts on being the first person to batter up for the label?
It felt real good. I was the first one up. Me through it all, they always had my back. It just felt real good to see we all on the cover. Q said it on one of them songs. “Black Hippy , TDE/Well fuck it nigga let’s 4-peat.” Just to see all my niggas get that cover like that, it just felt real good. I know we are doing something right. I opened the doors and I kept the doors open. We all in there, you feel me? We are all in there together. And that’s what it’s about.
Did you give any of the others career advice back then?
We gave each other career advice. Because you know, we were all in it together, trying to figure it out together. We all gave each other advice, feed off each other’s energy. We give other people’s advice. This is the beginning for us anyway. We still running on the way, you feel me?
Now that all four of you have been on the cover, was that a pretty good stepping stone for you guys?
It’s everyone’s dream to be on a cover of a magazine—you know what I mean? It’s like a dream come true. It feels real good. Times change. Times are changing, but that just let me know right there that we grinding. It’s just the beginning because you got to keep going harder and harder.
Tell me about you being the veteran of the group.
Yeah, I am like the big brother. I am older than them dudes—you feel me? I am a little bit older, so I’m kind of like the big brother of the group. All in all, like I said, it’s not just about me. It’s about all of us. It’s about a team. It is teamwork that makes the dream work.
At one point, Kendrick was once your hype man. Do you have any crazy stories about that?
I mean, we was going on the road. Shout out to Game. He was like the first person who took us on the road with him and shit. Long time ago. I was doing my thing when I was signed to Warner Bros. This has just always been with a nigga. On the road together. Back in New York. I was rapping my heart out—just going hard. I been losing breath, and he’d be right there. He was there for me—nah mean? We was just trying to get it. We young niggas, rapping, trying to get it.
You guys were just young and hungry?
Yeah, exactly. We still got that same hunger. It’s just crazy to see how things took off to how it is today.
Did you know when Kendrick was going to blow?
Yeah, we was all in the studio. We all knew how talented K.Dot is. We knew how dope he was lyrically. Everybody within the camp knew that. It was time for the world to know who Kendrick Lamar was a.k.a. K. Dot.
You dropped your debut album Follow Me Home with big buzz behind you. Did you expect the album to do what it did?
I am kind of happy that I got it out. It’s been a long ride to just put an album out. I know and my team know what kind of album it is. It was one of the dopest albums I have ever made. It is what it is. That’s why I am still going hard. Still going hard in the studio, doing what I gotta do. Just to keep pushing—nah mean? Everybody knows how hard Jay Rock is. It’s just a matter of time.
Were you satisfied with it?
Trust me. I gotta keep going. I can’t be satisfied with just one album. I gotta do one more. That’s my mentality right now. Still hungry. Still going hard with this music shit. Everywhere I go, people still bumping the album in these streets. Everybody keep telling me: ‘You got one of the hardest albums ever.’ That’s what gives me the inspiration and motivation to keep going.
You’ve mentioned that TDE is going hard now. With the focus on Kendrick and Q, what have you learned from them being in the spotlight?
I’m happy. I was the first dude up in the spotlight. They got my back. Now, the spotlight is on them and I got they back. That’s how it works. Whatever it’s Ab-Soul—me and Ab-Soul, we all in it together. It’s never really no egos or anything like that. It’s a family thing. It’s TDE baby. We came from nothing. It’s just feels real good to see what is going on right now.
It’s great that TDE moves in a unit.
Yeah, that’s how we moving. [It] ain’t no egos or none of that bullshit that most people go through. That’s not what we about. We all out here trying to get it together. At the same time, everybody is still trying to plant their own foot down. Everybody is setting their own entity. Like I said, if you have ever been to a Kendrick Lamar show. A Schoolboy Q show. A Ab-Soul show. A Jay Rock show. It’s different people. When we together, it’s one big family.
You have all these different fanbases for everyone, but a lot of newer fans got put on to you after “Money Trees” dropped. How do you feel about the response?
It feel real good. It kind of seemed like I turned non-believers into believers again. [Laughs] That’s where it goes, man. Like I said, we’ve been rapping like this back on my mixtapes. It’s just a matter of time, baby. It’s just the beginning. We still working. good kid, m.A.A.d city, one of the hottest albums out. Number one. Q is finna drop his next record, Oxymoron. It’s big things. Like I said, it’s just the beginning, man. Just keep your ears open. Sit back and enjoy the show.
Was “Money Trees” a good look for you?
Of course it was. No doubt about it. I’ve been off the scene for a minute and nobody hear me drop nothing. And then you know, they hear me on that. They like, ‘Wow, who’s this?’ Oh shit, that’s Rock! It’s all good.
Q said in a recent interview that you were cooking up something special for your next project. Sonically, what can we expect?
Shit, a new and improved Jay Rock. [Laughs] I mean—just some real dope music. It’s gonna be something you ain’t heard on the first album. It’s going be way different. Right now, it’s hard to explain it. I’m just so excited right now and can’t wait to get this shit to the people. I know they gonna love it. Just know that Rock is real excited right now and inspired. I am gonna give the people what they want.
Have you been working with Q, Ab and Kendrick for the project?
They have been busy. I know Kendrick, he’s been on the road like crazy. Soul been on the road. Q been moving. It’s been hard to catch up with your people. Shit, everybody’s working. I’m pretty sure we are gonna get it in real soon though. It’s just a matter of time. Everybody is just moving and busy right now.
Do you think the fans will hear another Wayne and Jay Rock collaboration?
Shit, I don’t know man. You never know. Nah mean? You never know.
Where do you see TDE going in 2013?
I see a lot of big things happening. There’s so many that I can’t really put my finger on it right now. I see a lot of big things. It’s just crazy. At Paid Dues, that showed me a lot too. 25,000 coming to see us. That shit crazy. Just looking at that, I just know it’s going to be big things in the years to come.