Artist: Royce da 5'9" featuring Marv Won
Title: "Happy Bar Exam 2"
Producer: Jake One
Album: The Bar Exam 2 (mixtape) (2008)
It's no secret that I hold Detroit rapper Royce da 5'9" in high regard. If I had a list made up of my favorite rappers' names placed with no specific attention paid to order, Royce's name would be on it somewhere. Ever since his mainstream debut, appearing on his buddy Eminem's Aftermath debut The Slim Shady LP, I've found myself tracking his shit down, from his early days with Game Recordings (you may not remember the indie label, but you would remember their album artwork) to his work with Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, and now PRhyme, and that's not even counting his solo work. He could have easily been dismissed as a black Eminem back in the late 1990s, and I have no doubt that many folks did exactly that. Hell, some of you two may feel that way about him to this day. You would be wrong, though. Ryan Montgomery traffics mostly in swagger and boasts about his dick and sexual prowess, but that's a faucet he can turn off whenever necessary, and, as proven by his many affiliations, he plays well with groups.
I'm fairly confident that I've reviewed pretty much every single Royce da 5'9" solo album that's been released thus far, except for Success Is Certain (which I'll get to when I get to) and maybe the odd compilation here and there. But I haven't touched his mixtapes, and odds are I probably won't: it's difficult to have an endgame for your ongoing blog project when you keep throwing in exceptions. I didn't have to make my peace with the decision or anything: that's less writing for me to do, so huzzah! But under normal circumstances, that means I would never get the chance to write about "Happy Bar Exam 2", a banger that heads predisposed to paying attention to only official albums might have completely missed otherwise.
Now this is absolutely true: up until six months ago, I had no fucking idea that the Jake One beat that serves as the backing for "Happy Bar Exam 2" was swiped from a Lil' Scrappy song entitled "N---a What's Up". I listen to a lot of hip hop, most of which I don't think I'll ever write about, but you can imagine why someone who has the preferences I do would overlook something called a Lil' Scrappy entirely. (The song featured 50 Cent, which probably didn't help matters.) In the interest of fairness, I listened to the Scrappy-Doo song while I was writing this paragraph, and honestly, the best thing about it was the beat. It's not awful, and I probably wouldn't jump through flaming hoops just to switch the channel or anything, but I also would never recommend it to anyone. Royce certainly did Jake One a solid by rescuing the instrumental, as it has done and will continue to do more good in this world during its second life.
About that song title: yeah, it's fucking ridiculous. It's intended to celebrate the release of the second mixtape in the Bar Exam series, conveniently titled The Bar Exam 2, and Royce and his friends went around announcing the titular phrase as though banks and government offices should have been closed down for a national holiday. It's silly, but not so much that it detracts from the song itself. (One of those friends, DJ Green Lantern, also hosted and mixed the project, and you have no fucking idea how happy I was when Royce released a No-DJ version of The Bar Exam 2 shortly afterward.) Weirdly, though, "Happy Bar Exam 2" (there is no "Happy Bar Exam" on the preceding volume) is not the introductory track on the project: Ryan buried it in the middle of the proceedings, almost as an afterthought.
This is far from being a throwaway, though. "Happy Bar Exam 2"'s crushing beat and militant drum work kick in immediately, with the first voice you hear (if you're listening to the No-DJ version, anyway) is fellow Detroit emcee Marv Won, who destroys his verse with a flow that's "cockier than the n---a that made 'Flashing Lights'". He could have kept the instrumental to himself and I still would have liked this shit, but once Royce steps into the booth, he dominates the track in a matter-of-fact way that younger hip hop heads who are only sort-of familiar with Slaughterhouse wouldn't be aware he could easily do. His work on here is effortless, like Jay-Z's early conversational flow, but with much more menace hidden between the punchlines. It only lasts for those two verses before Royce's attention moves elsewhere, but he successfully gets his shit-talking across over a track that knocks.
I hope this post answers a question someone posed to me a while back about why I continue to write about Slaughterhouse when I have stopped giving a fuck about Lupe Fiasco (I believe my exact phrasing was, "He had his chance"). Should be kind of obvious, right? Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
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