Jay Rock could have been another victim. Growing up, he could have become a victim of the violence that plagues his native Watts, California. And just when it seemed like he was poised to make it out of the hood, he nearly became a victim again—this time of major label shelving. But the 2010 XXL Freshman parted ways with Warner Bros. late that year, and signed to Strange Music not long after. Now, after the flame on his name was lit, extinguished, and reignited, Jay Rock has finally dropped his proper debut, Follow Me Home.

Reflecting the Top Dawg Ent. rapper’s lyrics and tone, the album is unapologetic and rugged, but sounds anything but rough. Following the “Intro (Skit)” comes “Code Red,” a quintessentially West Coast sounding beat with light keys and claps setting the backdrop for the first of Rock’s many hood tales. One of a handful of superb Kendrick Lamar sightings comes on “Hood Gone Love It,” which is followed by the mainstream-ready, ladies-dedicated “Westside,” featuring Chris Brown. The attempt seems out of Rock’s comfort zone, but doesn’t sound so. “Elbows,” produced by Phonix, plays like a classic Dr. Dre beat, full of spooky keys and funky basslines.

The organic chemistry of Black Hippy—comprised of Rock, Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Ab Soul—is evident on “Say Wassup,” especially during the cut’s final minute and a half, as the four Cali rhymers flip nouns and verbs off of one another with seamless ease.

It’s this song, and more so “Just Like Me,” that differentiates Follow Me Home from a typical release from a rapper telling tales of life in the streets. Taking a step away from the gruff talk that marks most of the album, the track is a socio-cultural critical analysis of life in the ghetto and within gang culture. The dark key strokes and jazzy, crying horns set the stage for bars like, “It’s just a thought but don’t stress it man/Just know somebody momma out there suffering/Because she lost her baby to a stray bullet/Fell victim from all this gang shootin’.”

Rock’s raspy, violent flow proves a contrastingly harmonic marriage with the choppy keys and West Coast grooves that set the sound for much of the album. Add that to the intent with which Jay Rock delivers his chronicles on the conditions in the hood, it seems he's ready to take the reigns and bring West Coast gangsta rap into a new area. The hood gone love it. —Adam Fleischer

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