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Monday, October 19, 2009

Royce da 5’9”: Street Hop

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

It’s been four and a half years since Royce da 5’9” has released an LP.

During that span he spent a year in prison following a DUI conviction, he’s rekindled his relationship with rapper Eminem sparking rumors of the Detroit emcee joining the hip-hop icon’s record label, released several successful mixtapes and became one-fourth of the genre’s newest critically acclaimed group, Slaughterhouse.

It’s been an up and down career for Royce, who half a decade ago, was basically left for dead after falling out with Eminem and Dr. Dre, but with the release of Street Hop, in stores Tuesday, the rapper’s career has never looked so promising.

It’s been five years since Royce released, what I believe to be a hip-hop classic Death is Certain, which is one of the darkest, most self-loathing and depressing albums I’ve ever heard, as every song deals with his battle with alcoholism, self doubt and how he went from an up and coming rapper associated with Eminem and Dr. Dre to falling completely out of favor with the two legends as well as the general public.

Independent’s Day, released in 2005, was shipped with no promotion and very little fanfare. The album was mostly produced by no-names and featured guest appearances from local underground hip hop artists who haven’t seen the light of day since.

After his release from prison in 2007, Royce started to make waves with the mixtape series, The Bar Exam.

His flow had changed significantly into a more faster, aggressive style, more similar to Eminem’s. His way to narrate a story through song was becoming stronger and his confidence level was rising with each and every song that was released online.

In 2008, he joined forces with three other rappers who were all but forgotten about, Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz to form Slaughterhouse. The four released their debut album in August, with Royce far and away outshining the other three rappers song after song. And that isn’t to take anything away from the other three. Royce was simply that good.

Now comes Street Hop, although being released independently, it features top notch producing and bigger name guest appearances such as Busta Rhymes, Bun B and the members of Slaughterhouse. The album is executive produced by DJ Premier, one of the greatest producers in hip hop history, which aren’t my words, but rather Source Magazine’s.

Premier actually only produces two of the tracks, including “Shake This,” which is one of the better tracks on the album where Royce explains his four and a half year absence, his battle with alcohol and losing his friendship with Eminem.

“Now picture me falling, all the way to the bottom
and I’m laying and calling, somebody come help me
find my strength to stop drinking this poison
Before I drown my gift, and yeah it’s probably unhealthy
Cause I went so hard and woke up sober
I lost my good friend and broke up soldiers
I’m going hard as a locomotive
Self-loathing, like I ain’t chosen
Chose to bless souls, get exposed
Just know that I ain’t folding,
No, I gotta shake this”

The song, which is by far the most personal track on the record, also deals with his one year stint in prison.

“September 18th, 2006
I roll up to court thinking ‘This should go quick’
...But I witness my world tumble down like bricks
Two words she slurred, and it sounded like this
‘One year’ travel through the room like moonlight
through the darkness, oh it’s heartless
How could I beat two felonies then
turn around and lose like like this?”

The album has 19 tracks and comes in around 70 minutes.

Just like Royce’s career, this album has its highs and its lows.

Upon first listen, I was disappointed as a whole with the album just because 1.) I had anticipated this album for more than four years, so anything short of a classic and I would have naturally been disappointed. 2.) Many tracks released online throughout the past two years showed so much promise and to not hear equal production is a bit frustrating. Most of his versus on the Slaughterhouse record are equal or better than many of the versus on Street Hop.

(*Note* To be fair, I’m almost always disappointed with every single album I hear on first listen. Takes time to grow on me.)

Tracks like “Solider,” “For your Girlfriend,” and “Hood Love” could have easily been omitted from this album and I doubt anyone would have complained.

However, there are plenty of standout tracks that allow Royce to showcase his new style, “toe-tag beats,” cite dozens of metaphors and tell stories.

On back to back tracks, “On the Run,” and “Murder,” Royce tells a story Tarantino style with “On the Run” telling the end of the story and on the following track “Murder,” you hear the beginning of it about a suspect literally on the run.

“Part of Me,” released online almost a year ago was then, and still may be now, one of the better hip hop songs I’ve heard in the past year, which tells the story of a man being roofied and well, I’ll say assaulted, by another woman during a one-night stand. (Think, Lorena Bobbitt)

It's creative and the brilliance of this song is, the chorus at the beginning of the song, while cited word for word at the beginning and at the end, has a totally different meaning at the conclusion of it.

“Last night we had a one night stand but when I woke up in the morning I missed you.
You see, all I’m saying is can I see you again because when you left you took a part of me with you.
A part of me with you.”

I haven't been this impressed with a narrative through a hip hop song since Nas' "Undying Love" and Ice Cube's "Ghetto Vet."

The album also showcases Royce's range from rapping in various styles over old-school beats to piano laced beats.

The release of Street Hop won’t immediately bring Royce back into the spotlight, but it will inch him closer. And if rumors turn out to be true and Royce does end up signing with Eminem’s Shady Records, the rapper will finally get the recognition and the fanfare that he has deserved for so long.


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