Does Royce Da 5'9" and DJ Premier's anticipated sequel live up to its predecessor?
“Me and Premier, we kind of the same in ways
We both speak with our hands in dangerous ways”
Royce Da 5’9”s introductory album Rock City 2.0 is understood to be the rapper’s official debut, but true aficionados know that’s merely an updated take. The original version, which included underground gems like "We Live (Danger)", "What Would You Do", and “She’s The One,” has since established itself as a lost piece of hip-hop history. Yet one uniting conclusion linked both variations: the DJ Premier produced “Boom” was an undeniable standout. It’s not often that a legacy is forged off the strength of a single song. In many ways, “Boom” started it all.
Even if their collaborations were surprisingly scarce throughout Royce’s extensive discography, you always knew that the chemistry would never falter. Fast forward to 2014, when Royce and Primo finally answered the resounding requests and solidified themselves as a bonafide duo. Comparisons to Gangstarr were immediately evoked; high praise for Royce, who has been nothing but respectful to Guru’s legacy. The nine track project was an immediate fan favorite, with an eclectic mix of the old-soul musicianship from Preem and Adrian Yonge, a contemporary cast of supporting players, and sharp lyricism from Nickel Nine. It didn’t take long for sequel talk to flourish, and last Friday, the long-anticipated PRhyme 2 was bequeathed upon us.
The pair maintained a similar conceit, in which a single musician was utilized for the entirety of the sampling process. The one to hold the prestigious honor was AntMan Wonder, a frequent Preem collaborator and slept-on producer. With the AntMan’s vaults open for the plundering, Primo makes effective work with his ample cache of source material. Admittedly, it occasionally sounds as if Primo is erring on the side of caution. Perhaps there are only so many flavors of “boom-bap” one can stomach in a single sitting, especially on an eighteen-track project.
That’s not to say the production is a low point. There are plenty of dope beats and clever scratches throughout. If you count yourself among those who derive no pleasure from Primo’s aesthetic, PRhyme 2 is simply not meant for you. The fact remains that DJ Premier has pioneered and perfected a production subgenre and deserves respect. Yet the lofty peaks of his iconic hits are seldom explored on this outing. Often, the production feels like it exists primarily as a backdrop over which Royce can recite stream-of consciousness lyrical barrages.
On that note, Royce is more than capable of delivering the bars, as said with a distinctly Funk Flex-esque cadence. Over the course of the fifty-two minute journey, Royce lays down a verbose blend of autobiography and referential humor; with an encyclopedic knowledge of memes, pop culture, and sports, one can imagine that Royce is a formidable force at Trivial Pursuit. And while Royce is a funny dude, sometimes his references to current events can break the immersion of Primo’s nostalgic production. Yet for every dud, there are plenty of brilliant technical displays; even simple lines like “in and out of Ibiza, spendin' power of Visa” reveal a mind designed for rhyming words.
Don’t get it twisted. PRhyme 2 features plenty of dope material to sift through. The triumphant “Black History” is a testament to the chemistry between producer and emcee, as Royce weaves in and out of Primo’s dual-sided beat. Arrangement-wise, “Black History” is a welcome adventure for Primo; the opening half sounds like something from a stressful Majora’s Mask section, while the latter half crescendos into a triumphant and soulful rallying cry. “W.O.W.” finds Primo lacing his most sinister beat since The Lox blessed “None Of Ya’ll Betta,” and both Royce and Yelawolf showcase an admirable display of craftsmanship. “I go bananas, too miraculous to react to mortal mammals, cookin' crack in my new velour pajamas,” raps Royce, flowing like an Eminem freestyle circa 1998.
“Everyday Struggle” finds Royce reflecting on hip-hop’s oft-debated generational gap through the infamous dichotomy of Lil Yachty and Joe Budden. According to Primo, Lil Uzi Vert was originally meant to appear on the track; while the collaboration would have been an interesting statement in theory, it’s hard to imagine the “XO Tour Life” singer acquainting himself over the piano-laden instrumental. Potential highlight “Flirt” features a welcome contribution from the on-fire 2 Chainz, who goes toe to toe with Royce on a playful, seductive analysis of societal norms. If you ever wanted to hear Royce address his infamous “balls-out” moment, now is your chance. Not mention, the smooth instrumental is Primo’s favorite PRhyme 2 beat - for good reason.
In truth, it feels somewhat futile to seek fault in PRhyme 2, as it’s so obviously a labor of love. Neither Royce nor DJ Premier have anything to prove, nor should they ever feel otherwise. The men clearly enjoy making music together, and the fact that we’ve received two installments of their brainchild is a blessing in itself. And while it does fall short of its predecessor, the sequel is a respectable addition to the canon nevertheless. In many ways, PRhyme 2 feels a little bit like the All-Star Game; an abundance of talent, without the driven purpose of a playoff push.