November 13, 2007

Royce Da 5'9" - Rock City



Ryan Montgomery, better known on party lines as Royce Da 5'9", is a rapper that hails from Detroit, home of the Lions, Marshall Mathers, and not much else worth noting. At present, he is probably best known as 'the rapper that could have had a steady career in the music industry, if only Eminem wasn't such a douche bag'. He is also the first artist I would want to sign if I had my own record label, which, given my writing schedule, also won't be happening anytime soon, but I can dream, right?

Ryan met Marshall backstage at a concert, where Em was apparently pimping out copies of his underground releases Infinite (which I really need to listen to again) and The Slim Shady EP, which at this point was garnering attention from sources as diverse as, well, The Source, and Dr. Dre's Aftermath label, mainly due to the race of the artist in question and not so much the overtly violent lyrical content. Royce and Em bonded immediately, and they formed a duo called Bad Meets Evil, with Royce as the Devil and Em, the Devil's own Hitler. A three-track EP found its way to stores (conveniently enough, after the release of Em's major label debut The Slim Shady LP, on which Royce also appeared) through Royce's relationship with Game Recordings, a unit that is now more famous for releasing those Hip Hop Honeys DVDs than for their music distribution arm; the two Em/Royce songs, "Scary Movies" and "Nuttin' To Do", were hailed as instant classics, and the third track, a Royce solo offering called "I'm The King", proved that he could hold his own on the mic, and shouldn't only be seen as a "black Eminem" (which I always thought was a bizarre comparison, because I always thought of Eminem as a white Reggie Noble).

I always questioned why Royce was signed with Game/Columbia Records (after a minor stint on Tommy Boy) while Em had the Aftermath/Interscope hookup; it turns out that Royce may have been signed well before Em. However, I'm sure that Royce also wondered why his boy was leaving him in the dust; it seems their relationship quickly deteriorated after Eminem blew the fuck up, which coincided with the recording of Royce's debut album Rock City. After the album was mastered, Royce took a job ghostwriting for Dr. Dre for his 2001 comeback album, but after running his mouth about his contributions (some of which were already recorded and mastered), Dre kicked him out of the building. Eminem then quietly signed his own band of weed carriers, D-12, to his subsidiary, Shady Records: as Royce was a better rapper than every single person in D-12 (Em excluded, at the time anyway), people were waiting in the wings for news that Royce was jumping ship to be a part of the Shady/Aftermath Experience. Then Em hooked up with Obie Trice, another rapper from Detroit, and the writing was on the wall. At the point where Marshall signed Curtis Jackson, an artist with no Detroit ties whatsoever, Royce had already lashed out at the entire camp, which is a story I'll save for another write-up. (I will say this, though: on a Tommy Boy collection that I can't remember the title of, his track "I Won't Be" contains the following lyric: "What will you equal after the math?"; I'm surprised this was never taken as a dis, considering rappers get angry when other rappers drink the wrong flavor of Kool-Aid on a Thursday.)

To add insult to more insults, Rock City leaked to the Interweb in early 2002, causing Royce to pull a Lupe Fiasco and retool the disc before it's official release later that year. (The re-release often carries the subtitle Version 2.0, but it should be considered the official debut for Royce.) However, the original disc was still made available in Europe, so Royce is in the unique position of having two debut albums with the same title in his back catalog.

I've always considered Royce to be in my top ten lyrically, and have always felt he caught a bad break. Signing with Shady probably would have been a bad choice (since Interscope would have forced him to make some club bangers for the ladies), but there's no reason that he shouldn't have been snatched up by a respected indie outlet, such as Nature Sounds or Death Row (just kidding!). Rock City ultimately sold half of zero copies, resulting in Ryan getting dropped from his major label home. Does that mean this album sucks? What do you think?

1. IT'S TUESDAY (INTRO)
At least Ryan spits a verse on the intro, so I can't really complain about it. However, the singing is truly unnecessary.

2. ROCK CITY (FEAT EMINEM)
This is not a good beat for Royce to spit to, but the real disappointment is Marshall. After years of teasing listeners with the possibility of a Royce/Eminem collabo, instead we get Em singing on a (terrible) hook and ad-libbing like a fucking moron.

3. OFF PAROLE (FEAT TRE LITTLE)
Tre Little offers nothing to the proceedings, even though he contributes more vocally that Pharrell Williams, who ad-libs accordingly on this Neptunes track. Royce's lyrical skill has advanced much farther than "Scary Movies", but the hook is still blah.

4. MY FRIEND
DJ Premier contributes the backing track for Royce's ode to his penis. Hi-larious.

5. YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME
The beat kills this song from the jump. Royce's lyrics are also weaker than usual, although they do pick up during the second verse.

6. MR. BALLER (FEAT PHARRELL WILLIAMS, CLIPSE, & TRE LITTLE)
Sounds like a Clipse track featuring Royce and Tre Little, the guy selling hot dogs outside of the studio. And not a Lord Willin' track either; I'm talking Exclusive Audio Footage Clipse here. Not bad.

7. LET'S GO (FEAT TWISTA)
The problem with including Twista as a guest on your album is that you inevitably use a beat that seems tailor-made for Twista's patented tongue-twisting rhymes, and you, as the host, feel an obligation to try and keep up with your guest. Also, unless your name happens to be Shawn Carter, Twista will murder you on your own shit.

8. D-ELITE
Includes a sample that reminds me of both Killarmy's "Militant" and the music they play in the bumpers of E!'s True Hollywood Stories when they are either going to or returning from commercial. This is pretty good, actually.

9. TAKE HIS LIFE (FEAT TRE LITTLE)
So what Royce chose to do was take some of his stronger mixtape/Interweb tracks and add them on to the retail version of Rock City. "Take His Life" is a good choice (although Tre Little could be deleted from every single song he's ever appeared on and nobody would miss him), but I would have preferred "The Desert", or even Dr. Dre's "The Way I Be Pimpin'" as a bonus track, since Royce wrote that song and all.

10. NICKEL NINE IS...
Another mixtape track. Not that good of a mixtape track, either.

11. BOOM
To date, still the best Primo/Royce effort. This song is just a fucking monster.

12. SOLDIER'S STORY
Not awful, but had been floating around for seemingly years prior to Rock City's release.

13. WHO AM I
I will forever remember this track as "the one where Royce rhymes over 2pac's "Pain" beat", "Pain" being from the Above The Rim soundtrack (as a cassette-only bonus track, for some stupid reason; that song is one of only a handful of Pac tracks I would call 'great'). This track is, alas, not very good. Hey, does anybody remember when Ja Rule decided to shit all over Pac's grave with his "More Pain" cover/tribute song? It made me want to punch Jeffrey's grandfather in the mouth for being half of the reason Ja Rule's mother was born, it was that blasphemous, and I'm not even a Pac fan (I prefer Biggie, personally).

14. LIFE (FEAT AMERIE)
I've always liked Amerie, and only half of the time it's because of her music. That said, this song is only alright.

The following is listed as a bonus track:

15. KING OF KINGS
I understand why this was relegated to the 'bonus track' category; because the sound doesn't actually fit in with the rest of the sequence. Don't read that as "Ryan decided to rhyme over a hot polka beat", though; this song is still pretty fucking good.




The original release, which can still be found online, features a less-polished Royce and more guest appearances. Thematically, it's the same as the real Rock City.

1. IT'S TUESDAY (INTRO)
Same track that appears on the retail.

2. ROCK CITY (FEAT EMINEM)
The original version of this song still doesn't include any Eminem verses, and the same instrumental is utilized, but there were guitars on this version that didn't make the retail. I suppose it doesn't matter either way, though, since this song sucks.

3. GET'CHA PAPER (FEAT TRE LITTLE)
This track features the first attempt Royce made at rhyming over a specific Neptunes beat: the final product ended up being "Off Parole" on the retail, but the beats are exactly the same. Royce's attempt at a club banger is kind of misguided, but enjoyable nonetheless. Fun fact: Tre Little's vocals on this track appear exactly as they do on "Off Parole"; he couldn't even be bothered to contribute new vocals?

4. WE LIVE (DANGER)
Royce gets his interpolation of Hall & Oates's "Maneater" onto an album. Not surprisingly, this sucks, although not because of Hall and/or Oates.

5. YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME
He kept this song for the retail? What the fuck?

6. LET'S GO (FEAT TWISTA)
Same track as appears on the retail.

7. D-ELITE PART 1
Revised to simply "D-Elite" on the retail, probably because Part 2, which follows, was mysteriously "lost" (read: deleted because it's awful).

8. D-ELITE PART 2 (FEAT D-ELITE)
Royce's weed carriers were originally given their time to shine, but since the opportunity was completely wasted on them, Royce deleted it from the retail release. This doesn't even require a punchline: Ryan did it for me. I didn't bother listing the members of the crew because they just don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

9. SHE'S THE ONE (FEAT TRE LITTLE)
Tre Little completely ruins this Neptunes track. However, what most people may not realize is that the original version of this song was an Eminem and Royce duet; Royce's first verse was the same, but Eminem's Slim Shady alias took over the second verse, spitting by far the most ridiculous pick-up line I've heard on a rap record ("Bitch, I've got a dick. Wanna fuck?", which, by the way, reminds me of a story a friend of mine back in high school told me once about some random guy that tried to hit on her with a classy line just as bizarre as Em's: "Wanna get a pizza and fuck? (In response to her 'what the fuck' look) What, you don't like pizza?" Hilarious! ), and then Ryan and Marshall traded back and forth during the last verse. The original track leaked to the Interweb (and is easily found) and teased folks with what could have been, which is very aggravating, given this final product. That said, the outro, where Royce demands that the engineers "fade (him) out" while the song is actually fading out is mildly amusing.

10. BOOM
The version with the awkwardly-layered chorus that was always completely unnecessary. It's obvious that the label added it after the fact in order to somehow get radio airplay, which would never have worked anyway, because the last DJ Premier-produced track you've ever heard on the radio was that Christina Aguilera song, and that was the first mainstream Primo single in, like, seventy years. Ignore the hook (or listen to the version on Rock City 2.0, which is the 'director's cut'), and you'll understand why people are demanding a Royce/Primo collaborative album.

11. WHAT WOULD YOU DO
Very meh. Good thing it was removed from the actual release.

12. WHO AM I
Same track as appears on the retail.

13. LIFE (FEAT AMERIE)
See track number 12.

14. MY FRIEND
Same track as appears on Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. Ha! Now you're paying attention, right?

FINAL THOUGHTS: Rock City is proof that Royce was more than deserving of his record deal, more so than, let's just say, Bizarre. Oddly, the retail release of Rock City (2.0, if you will) is actually much better than the original pressing, so it seems that Royce took the early criticism to heart and did something constructive. I can't believe that the album didn't do as well as it should have: considering at the time, his main homey was Slim Shady, could race have been a factor? Without question, yes. Well, that, and Eminem has Andre Young and Interscope's budget in his pocket (not literally, you weirdos).

BUY OR BURN? It's not like you'd be able to buy the original version anyway, but the retail should be purchased, without a doubt. Support one of the better quote-unquote underground rappers out there today, and in return, you're rewarded with an entertaining listen. (Fuck, this write-up was long, wasn't it?)

BEST TRACKS: "Boom"; "My Friend"; "Getcha Paper" (from the original pressing); "King of Kings"
-Max

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8 comments:

  1. I really like how you reviewed both.
    Doesn't sound like there's that much difference though.
    Wonder if there's the original sequencing of Nas' "I Am..." before the bootleggers made him split it into three albums.

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  2. I don't know jack or shit about this dude. He was totally off my radar. I'mma check it. If you like it, I have to at least listen. Except, I forgot. You don't keep it real. And you also made me listen to that "In Tha Beginning..." at gunpoint.

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  3. Look, you told me you would drop the 'In The Beginning' fiasco if I brought you those cupcakes.

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  4. holy hell... BOOM is just ridiculous...

    "i get tragic like the havoc of a nuclear bomb".

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  5. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessNovember 30, 2007

    It should be noted that there is a CD of Royce rhyming over Primo beats. I can't think of the name right now, but it is a wonderful showcase for his talents. Anyone with decent taste in music should download it immediately. If it was available for retail sale, I would advise you to buy it but it's a mixtape. The track "Hit 'Em" rates just behind "Boom" on the ass kicking scale.

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  6. I actually have that mixtape somewhere - I think it's called "The Bar Exam" or something. And it is very good. "Hit 'Em" didn't really do it for me when I first heard it, though, but I'm holding out hope for the Primo contributions on one of the next two albums he's exec-producing for Ryan.

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  7. You wrote bad things about it the whole time and at the end you recommended buying it lol.
    I listened to it and loved it though.

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  8. AnonymousJune 14, 2013

    The name of that Tommy Boy comp is "Hip-Hop 101." It's a great comp.

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