n Los Angeles’ notorious Watts section, Jay Rock is bidding for the spotlight in the West Coast rap revival. This artist might not have the prolific personnel backing of peers like The Game or Ice Cube, or the highbrow affiliations like rookies Bishop Lamont and Glasses Malone. But, Warner Brothers has taken a chance on the potential of a rapper from Nickerson Gardens Projects, known as one of the roughest hoods in all of California.
The 20-year-old talent carries that brooding lifestyle into his music, whether it’s through the highly touted “Watts Finest” mixtapes, or the upcoming, Somebody Help Me soundtrack. During a chance meeting several years ago at a local mall, Jay Rock and The Game battled on the spot, resulting in a mutual handshake and info being exchanged. Now, Compton and Watts will be sure to collide on Jay Rock’s upcoming, yet untitled album. More recently, it was Jay Rock, who brought Spider Loc and Game to a peaceable agreement. In doing so, Rock realized that he is related to G-Unit’s next artist. This olive branch extension would not have been possible from a street spectator. From the tales in his verses, it’s clear that Jay Rock’s life once reflected the ills of his community. Watts’ next rap star intends on bringing the same respected force to the music that seemingly still echoes in the menacing Cali streets.
AllHipHop.com: How did you get the name Jay Rock? It’s kind of got an old school quality to it…
Jay Rock: My name is J.R., I’m a junior. Everybody calls me Jay, but I got this knot-head, it’s kinda big, so everybody used to call me Rockhead. It’s a lil’ nickname. So now, they just call me Jay Rock for short. N***as around my hood call me that.
AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk about that hood for a second. Nickerson Gardens is widely considered one of the toughest, hardest to get into places in Los Angeles.
Jay Rock: It’s the biggest and most notorious projects on the west side of the Mississippi. Watts, California. A lot of things go down in there: drug deals, gangbangin’, so that’s where a lot of this s**t originated from – the projects in Watts.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of people in the East got a glimpse on the Watts projects through the film, Training Day. I know it’s just a film, and that was actually Imperial Courts, but how true is that to your lifestyle in Nickerson?
Jay Rock: Yeah, man. It’s the same thing. Everything you seen on there, from crooked cops, everything, it’s all right here. We’re where everything is at. I’ve seen a lot of s**t like that. That was a real cool movie. They really portrayed what goes down in Watts, that’s how it happens.
AllHipHop.com: Nickerson is also the birthplace of the Bloods. Is that true to your understanding?
Jay Rock: Yeah, the Bounty Hunters. They originated as the Bounty Hunters.
AllHipHop.com: I don’t believe in asking you if you’re in a particular gang. But, hypothetically, could a successful rapper come from Nickerson Gardens on a major level without being part of a gang?
Jay Rock: Yes, it is. It’s possible.
AllHipHop.com: Wouldn’t people in the neighborhood want to get invested in that?
Jay Rock: It’s like this: me personally, I can say from my experience, soon as I stepped out my house, that’s all I seen. I seen drug dealers. I seen gangbangers. Growin’ up as a kid, monkey see, monkey do. You see what that person’s doing, and it catches your eye, that’s what you’re gonna do. The s**t I talk about, I seen it from the time I stepped out the house.
AllHipHop.com: A group that I remember being from your neighborhood was O.F.T.B. [Operation from the Bottom]. They were from Nickerson. Kam is also from Watts. What were your influences in terms of Watts Hip-Hop?
Jay Rock: O.F.T.B., they were doin’ they thang. I don’t know if you’d remember it, but they had a song [“Crack ‘Em”] on the Above the Rim soundtrack. That was a big song. They influenced me a lot to start rappin’, especially comin’ outta my neighborhood. All them influenced me. Not too many dudes from my city are out like that. Compton is big. Dre, Ice Cube, a lot of rappers came out of Compton. Not that many came out of Watts.
AllHipHop.com: Why is that?
Jay Rock: A lot of people is scared to go to through Watts. Watts is gutter, it’s grimy, it’s one of the most gutterest, grimiest cities there is. Watts is the place where crack was at an all time high, homicides was at an all time high, that’s where it goes down at.
AllHipHop.com: As groups like O.F.T.B. were on the street stuff, there were artists like Kam, about political and social issues. Does Watts have enough positive outlets for young people?
Jay Rock: Where I come, my big homies got this company called Kush. It’s this organization helping kids with they school homework, keepin’ ‘em off the streets. They create after-school programs to keep youngsters out of trouble. They get all types of programs – field trips even. When I was growing up, I didn’t have none of that. We had to be in before the streetlights come on. Now it’s getting better.
AllHipHop.com: As your profile rises, how will you dedicate your time back to these kids? It’s been a while since Watts kids had a rapper to look up to. I’m sure you believe you’re gonna be that dude.
Jay Rock: What I wanna do, man, I see myself being successful in this game. I want to make a lot of money and sell a lot of records, but when that time comes, I’m gonna come back, and give back to my hood. I want to make sure these kids won’t have to go through some of the stuff I went through as a child. I just wanna give back – studios for the kids, scholarships, anything that’s gonna benefit them.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of artists will say when they’re on tour, the first thing they do is go straight to the hood. You said you’re from the grimiest. What are some of the out of towners rolling through Nickerson to keep it gutter?
Jay Rock: As far as I can remember… Eazy-E, Hammer, N.W.A., everybody. A lot of the Compton cats. Have you ever heard the song back in the day called “We’re All in the Same Gang”?
AllHipHop.com: Yes sir. I have it on vinyl.
Jay Rock: Yeah, they [the West Coast All-Stars] done that in my hood. I was a young n***a. You probably seen me [in the video] somewhere, ‘cause I was real little. We had The Game come through to play basketball a few times. A lot of cats comes through.
AllHipHop.com: I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Brooklyn, Queens, or the Lower East Side. Gangbangin’, drugs, those are the same. But how do you think the West Coast PJ’s are different?
Jay Rock: I been to New York, man. I was blessed to take a trip out there. They gutter too. They projects is stacked. It’s crazy how they projects is. It’s somehow the same, but things is a lil’ mo’ different too.
AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk music. "That’s My Word" is produced by Aqua. Is that the same Aqua who did “My First Song” for Jay-Z?
Jay Rock: Yeah. That’s right. I hooked up with him through Warner Brothers. He told me he did somethin’ for Jay. Jay a big name in the game. Any track Jay gets is big. I’m like, “I look forward to doin’ somethin’ to this track. I wanna pen somethin’ to it.” That’s how that came about. I got to talk to him a few times over MySpace. I never got a chance to really meet him. But he’s a real cool dude.
AllHipHop.com: There is a perception that’s is hard to survive as a nationally recognized West Coast artist who doesn’t get that track from Dr. Dre. Going into this album, I don’t know if you are or aren’t, but how does that concern you?
Jay Rock: Me personally, I think it’s about who’s backing you up. If Warner Brothers is backin’ me 100%, and puttin’ that money into everything I’m doin’, I can go as far as I wanna. Like you said, with Dre or not, if your team is strong, y’all can do anything. Who gone stop y’all?
AllHipHop.com: Regardless, you need a veteran endorsement. Dre’s endorsed people like Game and Bishop Lamont. 50 endorsed Spider. Snoop always has artists. Who is backing you up?
Jay Rock: I got Game on somethin’. I got Jada[kiss]. I got Mike Jones. I got Jahiem on a track. When I was in Jersey, I did some stuff with Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature. I worked with him. L.E.S. produced some of my tracks. I got it.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me what your label situation and album’s timetable is looking like…
Jay Rock: I’m in the studio as we speak. Hopefully, my album will be out by the end of summer. I’m with Top Dawg Entertainment through my big homie, Dude Dawg. He seen out there slangin’ and bangin’, just f**kin’ up. He seen potential in me. Where he heard me spit a couple times, he said, “Man, you don’t need to be out here doing this dumb s**t.” He took me off the block and put me in the booth. I been here ever since. That’s what I wanna do. I wanna build and come back and take my homeboys off the streets like that, to do somethin’ good.
AllHipHop.com: Between Murs and E-40, the Warner Brothers umbrella seems to be rooted in California for 2006. How does it feel to see a major label shell out support to an area that rap critics have said was stagnant for so long?
Jay Rock: Man! It’s crazy. E-40, he’s a legend. He got a big name for himself. I see that Hyphy movement he doin’, and that s**t is crazy. It feels good. I support the West Coast 100%. Not many labels look at Watts. It’s an honor to be signed.
AllHipHop.com: Now, Sony also looked at Watts, when they signed Glasses Malone. He’s from a rival neighborhood. Musically, do you anticipate releases that spark a head to head rivalry on the mic?
Jay Rock: Yeah. Yeah, man. It ain’t nothin’ wrong with a friendly rivalry. This game is real competitive. It ain’t nothin’ – I can go blows with anybody, man. I can stand toe to toe with anybody. From Game, Spider Loc, whoever – it don’t matter, I’ll go to toes with any of them cats, man.
AllHipHop.com: Cocaine rap is very big in New York right now. From AZ to Ghostface to Cam’ron, everybody’s on it. I remember when Ice-T had “Ziplock” or N.W.A. had “Dopeman.” Your songs are rhyming about slanging, such as "Killa
Do you feel it’s time for the West Coast to retake ownership of it’s origins like that?
Jay Rock: Yeah. Everybody knows Hip-Hop started in the East Coast. A lot of dudes gotta pay they respect to the East, ‘cause they started it. But you know, that real deal G s**t, and sellin’ crack and gangbangin’, the low-low’s, it originated here. Dudes from the East Coast gotta pay respect respects to that. That’s what I’m pushin’ right there.
AllHipHop.com: It’s nothing to brag about. But there aren’t that many crackheads runnin’ around New York anymore. I’m sure that’s different in Watts…
Jay Rock: Crack city late night! Smoker’s city. Fiends be hittin’ hard, especially out there on Skid Row [a notorious part of Los Angeles between 5th and 7th streets and Central Avenue]. The feds are crackin’ down on that s**t, man. It’s tearing my hood up.