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Exclusive: Here’s Why TDE’s ‘Big Brother’ Jay Rock Is Ready To Take Center Stage

TDE President Dave Free breaks it down.

Kendrick Lamar is a hip-hop king and the face of Top Dawg Entertainment, but another rapper was the first to lay a foundation for this rap empire. That MC’s name is Jay Rock.

Often called "the first Dawg off the leash," Rock was the original TDE member to drop an album with 2011's Follow Me Home. It not only laid the groundwork for what would become a hip-hop powerhouse; it also acted as a learning experience for the then-fledgling record label.

"He was the first guy," Top Dawg Entertainment President Dave Free said in an interview with MTV News. "We didn’t know what we were doing....We were just trying to figure it out as we went. So, he took a lot of the hits."

That doesn't mean the Watts MC's first effort -- which featured Black Hippy, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Will.I.Am - should be ignored. "I really urge people to listen to Follow Me Home," Free said. "It was a f--kin’ incredible album. But the timing wasn’t right. Now, the timing is right."

With that in mind, the label's gearing up to release Jay Rock's 90059 LP. Part of that roll out includes the title track's video, where TDE's honorary "big brother" is sporting a Hannibal Lecter mask and a straightjacket. How's that for a reintroduction?

"You haven’t seen Jay Rock in four years," Free said of the video treatment. "You’ve seen him on features and small pieces like that, but you haven’t seen him in four years with his own material...So, the concept was, he’s been gone and he’s insane at this point. Then, SZA metaphorically broke him out, or mentally broke him out."

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As part of this reintroduction, the vid also showcases Rock's different dimensions. "Jay Rock has proven that he’s street and that he’s the man," Free explained. "Now, it's all about him impacting the other side of the spectrum."

In order to achieve this, the camp wanted a "dynamic" clip that showed different aspects of Rock's personality. "He's a quiet guy, mild-mannered, cool, down-to-earth and he's a listener," Free said. "He's very observant. I always think Jay Rock is like the West Coast Nas to me. When you get around him, you see his demeanor, how he operates. So, it was really important for me to give layers of his character."

The multi-faceted approach is part of Rock's music, too. The "90059" video highlights that by incorporating a portion of "Easy Bake," another cut off the upcoming LP. SZA's melodic singing on the selection (which also features Kendrick) is followed by Rock and Lance Skiiiwalker's more aggressive vocals. According to Free, that was done because they "wanted to have that balance" in the audio and the visual components.

This balance should also be expected from 90059. It's a project that fans have been buzzing about for years. Hype surrounding the project grew even more Tuesday night when the tracklist and cover art reached iTunes.

That excitement's not lost on the label. "People want to hear, want to see and want to experience his music," Free explained. "Now, I think we’re full circle. We did it with Kendrick. We did it with [ScHoolboy] Q. Y’all know what we did with Ab[-Soul]. Look what we’ve done with Isaiah [Rashad] and SZA. What else do we have to prove? The only one is Jay Rock. We have to show the world he’s a star -- and he's a star. Nobody can take that away from him."

We don't know exactly when the album will drop. Rock said it might come "unexpectedly like bird sh-t." But what we do know is that TDE feels the timing is finally right for this release. It may have taken four years, but the "first Dawg off the leash" and the crew's "big brother" is once again having his day, something Free is proud of.

"He deserves every moment of this sh-t," he said. "I’m so happy to see that it’s finally Jay Rock’s moment."