Something about the year Jay Rock and Nipsey Hussle had, leading up to their GRAMMY nominations (including a win for Rock), brings their journey full-circle and right where they were destined to be.
Taking it back to 2007, a young Bounty Hunter Blood from Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts had already created a buzz beyond his hometown and into the greater parts of Los Angeles with his Watts Finest mixtape series; Jay Rock landed himself a deal with Asylum Records/Warner Bros. Records.
The 4th Quarter-produced single, “Lift Me Up,” took off early in 2008 on the West Coast as it picked up traction from radio stations. It was only right that this was the track to get the ball rolling; with the keys, buck shots and how could the sound of Jay Rock’s voice not perk up your ears.
So how’re you going to follow up your biggest song to date? By dropping one even bigger. Jay Rock and K.Dot (who many of you now know as Kendrick Lamar; was Jay Rock’s hype man on the road back then) were somehow able to chase down Lil Wayne’s tour bus while on the road and lock in studio time with the biggest rapper in the game at the time. The outcome of all this, the soul-sampled single “All My Life” with Lil Wayne and the rest was history.
About 10 miles from Rock’s neighborhood, a young Rollin’ 60’s Crip from Crenshaw wasn’t too far behind. Nipsey Hussle signed with Johnny Shipes’ Cinematic Music Group and Epic Records and got straight to it as he dropped Bullets Ain’t Got No Names Vol. 1. Nip quickly caught The Game’s attention and even got the co-sign from the man who was the face of the Coast during the time. The two recorded a few tracks together and courtesy of DJ Skee we were given “They Roll” that summer. To cap off 2008, Nip released Vol. 2 which included “Hussle In The House” and Epic Records got behind it as his street single for his forthcoming debut album, South Central State Of Mind.
The future of the West Coast was looking real promising in the hands of Jay Rock and Nipsey Hussle with their respective singles continuing to climb up charts. Many began to look at them as the next generations Game and Snoop, more so the latter for many reasons.
At the top of 2009, The Game was headed on the road for two months on his LAX Tour and brought along Rock and Nip as his opening acts. That was a big look for the two, traveling across the country with a solidified artist like Game and building their individual fan-bases.
Shortly after they wrapped up the tour the two were back to their respective neighborhoods and the reality of the music business was beginning to come down. Warner Bros. Records and Epic Records had begun to make internal staff changes, which meant changes with their artist priorities. Both Jay Rock and Nipsey realized it was up to them on how far they go in this business and got back to releasing music, including remixes of their hit singles and new mixtapes.
Not fully aware of it at the time but the internet had begun to shift the flow of the music business; 2009 had come to an end and still no debut album from either artist. In March of the following year XXL Magazine released their Freshman Class list, which included both Jay Rock (labeled “Most Hood”) and Nipsey Hussle (labeled “Most Determined”).
The detail that nobody knew of during this time, behind the scenes Jay Rock and Top Dawg Entertainment were finalizing the Watts emcees release from his Warner Bros. deal. After leaving Warner Bros., the team sat down with Tech N9ne and officially signed to his Strange Music label that fall.
Nipsey went on to release his official single that summer, “Feelin Myself” featuring Lloyd, but it didn’t move like they hoped for it to. Fast forward to December, Nipsey drops The Marathon and confirms that he’s negotiating with Epic Records on his release from the label.
Jay Rock would finally release his debut album, Follow Me Home, independently via Strange Music/Top Dawg Ent. in 2011. The album peaked at number 83 on the Billboard 200 charts. In the midst of all this Nipsey was beginning to use Twitter to his advantage, releasing a new track for every 1,000 followers he got. This all lead up to Nip releasing The Marathon Continues for free download and purchase on iTunes, the choice was yours.
The All Money In rapper had shelved his South Central State Of Mind album by this point and announced his debut album will be titled Victory Lap, fitting perfectly with his Marathon series. Knowing how business-minded he has always been this decision wasn’t made without having a plan mapped out already. In September of 2013 Nipsey announced his Gangsta Grillz mixtape, Crenshaw, and nobody saw the next announcement coming. Prior to releasing the mixtape Nipsey launched his Proud2Pay campaign and the concept was simple, but the price tag was insane…so people thought. Only 1,000 copies were made and each one was priced for $100; each copy was autographed and numbered by Nipsey and the CD was your ticket in for a secret show. All 1,000 copies were sold on the first day, including 100 copies purchased by JAY-Z. The control in the game had just been shifted in a big way.
Learning from Jay Rock’s trials and tribulations, TDE had took matters into their own hands similar to Nipsey. Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q had built up their own catalog and fan-base to get a joint venture with Interscope Records. TDE had a system put together and in 2014 the focus was on Q and his debut album. Not much was heard from Rock since Follow Me Home outside of a couple of loose tracks and features (including the great “Money Trees” verse); then the news broke of Rock leaving Strange Music and being solely TDE.
Meanwhile, Nipsey was gearing to kick things up a notch with his Proud2Pay movement. To wrap up the year or kick off the new year (however you want to look at it) Nipsey released a new project titled Mailbox Money, but only had 100 physical copies this time. Just like Crenshaw, you could download it for free, purchase it on iTunes or purchase a physical copy for
$100 $1,000! With a price like that he still managed to sell 60 copies, he’s clearly got some ride or die fans. Once again the Crenshaw rapper/entrepreneur knew how to get his product to be talked about.
With Mailbox Money out, next up was the tour and completing his debut album Victory Lap. It was also time for Jay Rock to get back in the mix of things with his sophomore album without any worries of the label or the politics of the business. Once summertime hit Rock began warming fans up with new music and come September 90059 had arrived. Selling over three times as much as his debut album in the opening week and reaching number 16 on the Billboard 200.
The TDE General closed out 2015 on tour with his label-mate Kendrick Lamar, who released To Pimp A Butterfly that year as well. The future was looking bright until February of 2016, Jay Rock got into a pretty bad accident while riding on his motorcycle and ended up with multiple broken bones; luckily his surgery was completed without any complications. Just like that Rock was now facing another mountain of adversity that he had to climb as he began his road to recovery.
Jumping to 2017, Nipsey Hussle announces a partnership deal between his All Money In Label and Atlantic Records. With the catalog Nipsey put together since leaving Epic gave him the control and leverage he was looking for with a major label and now it was time for him to take his Victory Lap. To no surprise, the rollout was well planned and executed; including the plan to release the album the Friday of 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend, which was taking place in Los Angeles. Victory Lap debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 with a total of 53,000 units pushed in the first week. Plenty of business moves, music videos, documentaries, interviews, etc. took place in an effort to promote the album.
At the same time, Top Dawg and Kendrick were named Executive Producers of the Black Panther album and dropped “King’s Dead” as a single. The more interesting news out of the press release was the fact that it stated “also the first official single from Jay Rock’s upcoming album (to be released by Top Dawg Entertainment/Interscope Records).” Just like Nipsey, Rock was back on with a major label but on his terms this time around. To follow up the first single and set the mood for the
summer rest of the year, Jay Rock drops “Win” – his biggest song to date. The album, Redemption, dropped in June 2018 and made plenty of noise as it debuted at number 13 on the Billboard charts.
Both would go on to headline their respective tours and cap off 2018 receiving GRAMMY nominations; Nipsey got the nod for Best Rap Album and Jay Rock was nominated for Best Rap Song (both “Win” and “King’s Dead”) and Best Rap Performance. Out of these four nominations, Rock was able to win the award for Best Rap Performance.
Although Nipsey didn’t win a GRAMMY, no one can look at this moment as a loss. I still believe Jay Rock deserved Best Rap Song and at least a nomination for Best Rap Album but hey, when have I ever agreed with the GRAMMYs? Regardless of the results these two have shown not only their respective neighborhoods but all of those who have been on this journey with them over the past decade that we’re all destined for greatness, the difference is who calls it quits and who perseveres.
TRUST ME, I’m aware a lot of details in between were left out being that over a decade of time was being covered for two individuals. Looking back and writing this made me realize how similar yet different their journeys were and how easily either individual could’ve used the album titles of Redemption or Victory Lap.
I just felt inspired after seeing these two sitting at the GRAMMYs, how far they’ve come and how far I’ve come from being that 16 year old listening to Watts Finest and Bullets Ain’t Got No Name. Keep inspiring and keep pushing greatness.
Hopefully these two get in the studio together for old times sake…