Nobody ever said hip-hop wasn't brutally fickle. Just ask Detroit's Royce da 5'9". Six years ago he and another rhyme-slinger Eminem were generating much buzz during the Lyricist Lounge tour. Neither had released proper albums, but each had some of the hottest singles in underground hip-hop. Long story short: the singles pop off, Royce's deal with Columbia falls through, a beef between Royce and Shady Records erupts, Eminem's sales soar, and Royce is left trying to keep his good name.
He has enjoyed some success, particularly with 2000's DJ Premier-produced "Boom," but he has yet to achieve the commercial success of his former partner in rhyme Eminem. With his new album, Death is Certain, released by Koch, Royce is trying to do what he was unable to do with his 2002 debut, Rock City: make a name for himself beyond being a one-hit wonder. He's learned a thing or two through all the hip-hop drama, and a lot of it is in the new, highly introspective and refreshingly diss-free album. It's his strongest release to date. He sat down with Prefix to talk about the new album, Eminem, D-12, Kanye West and Willa Ford.
Prefix Magazine: Let's walk through the rap career of Royce Da 5'9" up until today. What was it like growing up in Detroit?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: I don't have some extreme story. Pretty regular for me. I was an athlete and I played basketball. I started rhyming about '95. I always did it as a hobby, just freestyling with my friends, but I actually started writing rhymes in '95. I met Eminem in '97. And he was like, "We should get together and do something." So we got together and recorded Bad Meets Evil [in 2001]. Then he got the deal he wanted to put the joint on his album. So I went out to Cali to re-cut the vocals. That's when we got kind of close. And that's when he introduced me to Dre and started writing for Dre and I ain't never looked back since. PM: You started off really hot but then you went through some label changes and issues. With the last album you faced a bit of backlash from hip-hop fans who said you had started to sound too commercial. You had that one song with Willa Ford that a lot of people talked about. Do you have any regrets?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Nah. I definitely don't regret doing the Willa Ford thing or any of those things. The Willa Ford thing helped me more than anything. PM: Do you think it gave you exposure to a different audience?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: It definitely gave me exposure to a different market, and built me a small relationship with MTV. I did a lot of MTV events with her and I did Jay Leno with her. My face was shown in places that normally it might not have been. PM: What was she like? Was she a cool girl?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Oh yeah, she's cool. Real cool. PM: How did you two even link up?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: When I did a joint on the Lyricist Lounge compilation, she heard it and she wanted a new voice on her song. She didn't want someone who was already on everyone's productions. She wanted an up-and-coming artist for her new song, and she said she liked my voice. So I got in contact with her and I flew out to N.Y. to hear her joint and I actually liked it. So I did it. PM: That's cool. What's up with you and Game Records? Are you still with them in any way?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Nah, nah. I don't even think Game Records exists anymore. PM: When was the last time you and Eminem actually spoke?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Man, it's been so long I can't really pinpoint exactly. Probably when I was at his house and he was having a little party that I went to. That was the last time we actually talked. It was like last summer. PM: What did you think about the tapes that the Source released accusing Eminem of being racist?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: I didn't really have an opinion on it. It was more like any race that goes against any another race, or if you're one race and you say something against another race it's wrong. I really don't personally think he's a racist, but if he has skeletons in his closet or things he said, he needs to clear that up. But that's his business. I'm not here to judge him, but it is what it is. PM: It seems that you've been a lot of drama and beef in the last year or two. Are things now squashed? D-12? Kanye West and his beats? Is all that stuff dead?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Yeah. There never was a situation with Kanye. That was just him expressing how he felt about it to the press as opposed to expressing it to me. But it never was a problem. PM: Why do you think there's always so much drama in hip-hop in general?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: What it is, these artists are going to the booth and to the press as opposed to approaching someone like a man. A lot of times when I was getting into things like the beef with D-12, it was just the popular thing to do at the time. You know? Everyone was beefing with each other, 50 and Ja Rule. Rap was in a state of beef. Now that's all dead. No one is paying attention to it and the deejays are tired of it. So nobody is doing it no more. That's just how it is. PM: Do you like it better now that you're not in all these beefs and things have calmed down?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Yeah, I don't like to be in beefs, especially lame ones. If we're in a position where everybody is just talking about what they're gonna do, nobody can do nothing to nobody. So it's not even a beef no more; it's more like who can sell the first record. That's not something I'm used to. I'm not used to going about things that way. PM: A lot of the beefs in the end were just about getting publicity and selling more records.
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Exactly. PM: Let's talk about the new album. I was watching MTV the other day and they played "Hip-Hop," the song you did with Premier. The song is refreshing to me because it's a real hip-hop song, which is rare to see on MTV these days.
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Yeah. PM: What was making that video like?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: It was exactly what you just said man. It was refreshing. That was my goal, kind of to make something that goes against what everyone else is doing. A lot of the artists, when they get signed, feel like they have to come up with a record that sounds like something that's already out. You know what I'm saying? I got to the point where I felt like I had to start doing music for myself, and not care about other people's opinions. As far as doing the video, it was just that, the whole time, the whole experience. I just felt like it was all for me. And it felt good. PM: It's a great video and I was just excited to see something different. Everything on MTV is the same nowadays. That song was produced by Premier, and your biggest song to date is probably "Boom," which was also produced by Premier.
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Yeah. Well, as far as underground success, a lot of people consider it ("Boom") to be a classic. I would definitely consider it to be my biggest success from that angle. PM: What is it about you and Premier that creates such good chemistry and great songs?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: Because I'm about lyrics and he's about raw production. Raw lyrics and raw production. It clicks automatically. PM: How would you compare this album to your last album? What should people expect from this album?
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: I definitely think it's my best work to date. I'm expressing myself more so than I've ever done. With my last album, it was more like a collage of a bunch of different songs. It didn't really let you know what type of person I was or how I felt. It really just let you know that I could rhyme. With this album I actually give you Royce. I express my views and pour my heart out. PM: The album is really introspective. You see a lot of angles, not just one side of you. You get to hear your thoughts and emotions instead of just hearing one type of song throughout the whole album.
Royce da 5'9": Part 1: That was definitely my aim. You ever notice when somebody uses punch lines that may be real popular at the time, but then they say it two or three years from now you're just like, "That was so corny"? I try to do rhymes that are timeless and rhymes that actually say something. Like real talk, like Biggie and Pac did. That's why they're still around. Even though they're dead, they're still around.