INTERVIEW: Catch up with Royce Da 5'9" before "The Allegory" arrives.
Royce Da 5'9" has been one of hip-hop's most astute lyricists. Whether looking inwardly at his own personal story or observing the antics of the game at large, few can rival the penmanship of the Detroit legend. In 2018, he dropped off Book Of Ryan, which he deemed his most important album yet during our last conversation. A highly personal and occasionally painful reflection of self, lined with detail and beautifully rendered memory fragments, Royce's opus felt like a breakthrough.
Following Book Of Ryan's release, Royce returned to his traditional habitat: the studio. Only this time, he was in the process of developing a new craft. After over two decades of rapping, Nickle was ready to produce, following the tutelage of trusted collaborators Mr. Porter, Six July, and DJ Premier. Though I didn't know it at the time of this conversation, he was already putting in work on The Allegory, a project he'll be producing in entirety.
At the time, however, the focus of our conversation remained on the past; specifically, his involvement in contributing Dr. Dre's 2001, for an extensive deep dive into that album's twentieth anniversary. Naturally, the conversation shifted to his own storied career, and we explored topics like Book Of Ryan's creation process, his relationship with Death Is Certain, and the potential for some new Bad Meets Evil music. Check it out below.
This interview was conducted over the phone in early November 2019, prior to the announcement of Royce’s upcoming album The Allegory. Should you be interested in hearing more from Royce Da 5'9", including his a detailed insight into his experience working with Dr. Dre, click here.
Image via Tremaine Edwards @ Kardiak Films
You recently dropped a phenomenal album in Book Of Ryan. I’ve been listening to your music since the days you were working with Pharrell. Hearing this level of honesty and the fact that it came over a decade down the line...I felt that was very interesting. Did you ever consider writing an actual book?
I had a lot of people ask me that after that album. I was talking to a couple of guys, I didn’t think about it before that. I’m pretty much open to anything as long as I feel it could be good, that it could be a great contribution. It’d have to be at a time I could really concentrate and put all my energy and effort into it. I’m definitely considering it for sure.
I keep circling back to your song “Power.” That song is like a novel in the way it plays out. It must have been an intense one to write, especially with that darker instrumental. Were you nervous to make that track and show it with the people involved in the story itself?
You know what, I put a lot of energy and effort into the whole album thinking about that. I changed things a bunch of times in a bunch of different ways. I didn’t look at it as finished until I felt in my heart-of-hearts that everybody was fairly portrayed. Nobody would take anything as disrespect. My family, we good, man. We all love each other.
People had stuff to say [laughs] but that’s every black family. When you air out other people’s stuff, even though it’s your stuff you’re talking about, it’s going to affect them in some way. The good thing about it is that black people aren’t accustomed to therapy. We never grew up looking at it as an option for us. Horrible at communication. Suppressed feelings are a common thing in our community. This was a good opportunity to open up a narrative that was probably necessary.
LISTEN: Royce Da 5'9" - "Power"
Image via Artist's management
Are you somebody who enjoys revisiting your older music at all?
I’m actually the opposite. When I’m listening to it, it’s hard to enjoy it without busting it down, breaking it down. Damn, I could have done this better. I could have done this different. I’m analyzing all the time. My second time Death Is Certain, I can’t listen to that at all. It takes me back to a dark place and a dark time.
I know a lot of people, myself included, would call that a classic album. Is it frustrating hearing something that came from a place of such pain and darkness become so revered?
Nah, it’s not frustrating. It’s more telling than anything. I like the fact that album happened. It taught me a lot about the creative process. I had no choice but to be honest. I didn’t go into that album the way I go into albums now, where I know exactly what I need to be doing as an artist. I know not to reach for anything, to just be myself. To be honest and be transparent, that’s what I like to do. That’s what I feel will resonate the best.
That’s what I did with Death Is Certain, but I didn’t plan to. It was like I was stuck in that mode. I was going through so much. We actually did that album, me and Six July, we did that album in like two weeks. Six of those songs I did within the first couple of days. That was the first batch of beats he played me. I remember they went to the titty bar, and I was just writing all of them. Knocking them down real quick. It was like, so much on my mind, I don’t even think I was focused on being super lyrical. [laughs] I was just spilling. Just spilling shit. And I was super drunk.
For the album to have that type of reaction, to resonate with people like that...It just gave me an idea-- when we come in the game, everything is trial and error. It’s going to be from making mistakes. Death Is Certain was a situation where I learned from something that was successful. Most of the shit I know now, I learned from making mistakes. Most of my valuable lessons came from making mistakes.
How do you follow up on an album like Book Of Ryan? You’ve opened up so much, told so many chapters of your story. Are there still untold stories?
I never know how my memory is going to work. I’m the type of person to be sitting at a computer and have an odd, bizarre memory pop into my head that I haven’t had since I was a child. If there’s ever anything worthy of writing about or sharing with people, I don’t hesitate. I spend most of my time in the studio anyway. I try not to do too much of that type of thinking, like how do I try to follow up Book Of Ryan. I try not to get in my own head like that.
I like to think I got everything out that I wanted to get out, in terms of myself. The way I was brought up, my whole personal story. You’d hope to nail that if you’re going to go there. Shit, hopefully I won’t even feel the need to get personal no more! Hopefully, you can get everything you need about me from that album if I hit my mark. That was the plan.
I like to move away from the very personal stuff. It’s a good time for me to start being a little bit more informative. Start thinking about the next generation of artists. About things that bother me, things I’m happy about. Things going on in the world. Being a bit more responsible. It’s a time in music, and for anybody with a platform, to be cognisant about being responsible right now.
Our culture-- black people-- we have an information problem. There’s a disconnect. There’s a lot of things we all don’t know, especially coming into the music business. People basically monetize off your ignorance, your lack of knowledge. The cycle will continue to repeat itself if the OGs and the people in the know don’t start sharing information. I feel that’s very important right now. That’s where I’ve been mentally.
I’m looking forward to it. I’m always eager to hear new music from you! On that note, it’s safe to say the people are fiending for some new Bad Meets Evil, just going to throw that out there…
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s always fun to do man. I love working with Marshall. He’s just funny. Cool as hell and we always have a great time. Marshall and Preem, those two dudes, I’ll drop whatever I’m doing within reason to get in there with them. It’s always a good time, and we always come up with something. Everybody can’t collaborate. When you genuinely like somebody, it’s way easier.
Usually, we can come up with something that people really like. I’ve worked with a lot of producers but when I get with Primo, people really seem to like it when I link with him. There’s something about that dynamic. I think the reason why is because the music is a reflection of the vibe, and the vibe is always great.
Especially with you and Em, there’s this mischevious energy. One of my favorite tracks from you guys is “All I Think About.” A great display of your chemistry, hilarious, so many bars.
We was in there cracking up laughing doing that song. We challenge each other with the back and forth shit. He’ll go in, do a certain amount of bars, and stop. We try to finish connecting each other’s syllables to continue the scheme. You know Marshall -- not only is he rhyming the ending syllable of the sentences, he’s rhyming every syllable during the sentence too. Whole lines sound identical to each other.
You’re just as nice though. You said “sit the fuck down and have some babies” on that track.
[Laughs] Aw man, that’s funny. Yeah buddy!