Favorite Track: “Gotta Know”
Detroit emcee and part of rap collective Slaughterhouse, Royce da 5’9 dropped his 6th studio album “Layers” today, and boy does it sling you sauce by the spoonful! Royce Da 5’9 has always been known better for his features and side-projects than his solo work. Past studio albums like “Death Is Certain” and “Street Hop” have not produced the numbers Royce would like, or need to push him out of the “featured artist” spotlight and into the “underground artist to stay” category. Well, this album had all the key ingredients(Major production, big name features, major hype leading to the release, etc) lets dive in and see if it produces the dish the ingredients(and fans) call for.
(Note: I always like to listen to an album all the way through, from track one to last. Upon downloading this from Apple Music, only AFTER first listen, did I realize that I just listened to it backwards. After putting the tracks in right order, and re-listening twice, this is the outcome.)
After originally jumping into the last track of the album, I was like “Holy shit, this album came in stronger than most albums peak at.” Royce has always been the super lyrical rapper, not the go-to storyteller. With this album you can tell he was trying to break outside that notion. As you dive into the actual first track “Tabernacle” you can feel the “Im about to be fucked up with some truth” aspect right from the jump. With the Church-like choir “singing in” the album, Royce bites the most notorious battle rap move in hip-hop history, originally cultivated by fellow Detroit native and ther half of the rap collective “Bad Meets Evil,” Eminem; embracing his flaws and throwing them in your face, so you have no weapon to hurt him with. “I promise not to lie in not one of these verses, i started off as a battle rapper…recovering alcoholic, im not a gangster, drug dealer or thug nigga….son of an addict” he spits. He then takes you on a audio-visual journey that is the story of the day he “became a believer in faith,” to which he intensely and on point re-lives the night his grandmother died in the same hospital on the same night his wife was in labor with his son. Its soon noticed that these powerful and deep lyric topics would set the tone for the remainder of the album.As you focus on the seamless transition from the first track to the second song “Pray” Royce digs deeper into topics such as America’s drug war, race and religion, ISIS, police murders etc…Assessing the transition into the 3rd track “Hard” one starts to realize that this is indeed an album, not a bunch of tracks thrown together at random, but rather a single, wholistic record. On this track, Royce actually gives a huge shoutout to the hip-hop inspired Broadway musical “Hamilton.” This is a big deal in the hip-hop community. I don’t want to say “never” and be wrong, but I don’t believe there has ever been such a heavy, in light, Broadway cosign in the hiphop world. He pretty much gives the musical credit as the inspiration behind the track! As a hip-hop nerd and current musical enthusiast, this is awesome, and gives Royce Da 5’9 even wider of a spectrum musically. “This song is inspired by a Broadway play called Hamilton I saw that changed my life right away.”
I will go ahead and say every great rap album is always equipped with a great skit.
The “Lincoln” skit is A1, hilarious, and reminiscent of the DREday era, giving hip-hop heads a nice little dose of nostalgia.
The next story that struck me hard was the track “Misses.” Here, Royce Da 5’9 verbally illustrates a story of a woman whom he purportedly is cheating on his wife with. The two were all gravy at first, then Royce’s one of a kind ways changes her into a crazy, megalomaniac type witch and starts to extort and blackmail him. This “woman gone crazy” narrative is one very popular especially in modern hip-hop music. Royce da 5’9’s take on it is refreshing, spanning this characters existence throughout 3 songs, intertwining into the story line and some extremely crucial lyrics. The last half of this album is the best, hands down. But it has listeners left with the unanswered question: why did he wait till the last 5 songs to really go in and kill shit? Oh yea, the album is called “Layers,” thats right. Peeling back the final layer of this album, it is easily widely agreed as the best section. With tracks like “Dope” playing with the lyrical paradigm, and “America” lyrically breaking down and analyzing the problems Royce sees this country faces perfectly depicts the ending of the album.
Its safe to say Royce Da 5’9 has found the perfect balance of lyricism, storytelling all while staying true to himself and his neighborhood. I don’t expect this album to do the numbers of a mainstream like “2014 Forest Hills Dr” or “To Pimp a Butterfly” but I would be disappointed to hear it gets overlooked and if it doesn’t at least mean more commercial success and future opportunity in the game for Royce Da 5’9.