Once the hottest prospect in Hip Hop, that is until his highly anticipated Rock City album suffered a major setback at the hands of bootleggers back in 2002, Royce Da 5’9 has been to hell and back twice over. Things that have stalled the emcee’s progress include a much publicized falling out with close friend and confidante Eminem, a small stint in prison for a DUI, and label politics resulting in him, much to his disliking, landing on Koch Records.
Back on the straight and narrow, Royce has not only repaired his friendship with the real Slim Shady, the pair also rekindled their Rap alter-egos, Bad Meets Evil, for Hell: The Sequel. Besides this, Royce is also flying high off of the success of the famous foursome, Slaughterhouse, where alongside Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, and Crooked I, he has helped create one of the most talked about collectives of recent years. With new album, Success Is Certain, out this week, HipHopDX catches up with the wordsmith to discuss the new and old...
HipHopDX: How did you and Eminem rekindle your friendship?
Royce Da 5’9: He just called me one day. He called me one day out of the blue. I think we were both at that point in our lives. I guess it was just a conscious decision that he made. He felt like he was gonna call me. We lost Proof and we realized that the [beef] was stupid. He called me and we just took it from there. It was a slow process. There were a lot of long gaps in time where we didn’t speak, and then we’d get back on the phone and things just happened from there.
DX: You’ve recently come off of some serious success, courtesy of Hell: The Sequel with Eminem. Did you ever think you would be riding the top of the charts with your longtime friend doing tracks with massive Pop stars such as Bruno Mars?
Royce Da 5’9: Never, and that’s one of the greatest rewards. For something like that to come as a surprise makes it even greater. It’s nothing I could have ever predicted. It just happened how it happened. That’s just how it is when things happen naturally and organically. Just allow things to happen and let nature run its course. Remain a good person; make the right decisions, and good things come out of it. I never would have predicted it.
DX: Break down the new album, Success Is Certain, for us…
Royce Da 5’9: It’s just as introspective as Death Is Certain, but it’s not angry by any means. It’s speaking about a lot of things that I’ve been through. I obviously didn’t have the same amount of time to put in to it as I did with Death Is Certain, or [my other previous albums], because I was working on that as well as Slaughterhouse's [sophomore album], as well as [Hell: The Sequel] with Em, all at the same time. I tried to maintain the same darkness, and there’s some great production on there, and the lyrics are always gonna be on a certain level. If anything, it’s one of my most cohesive albums. All the songs really blend well together. I think people are really gonna be surprised. They’re really gonna like it. It’s my last indie album, as a solo artist. It’s with Gracie Productions. It’s my last solo obligation as an independent artist.
DX: You mentioned Death Is Certain. Many say it’s your best album to date. You were in a dark place, unhappy at Koch Records, and upset with life in general. Your new album concentrates on success as opposed to death, so what’s changed?
Royce Da 5’9: I think the career path is just different. I’m keeping mistakes to a minimum. Things just started working out for me in terms of my career. I was able to make myself a lot more visible. I was blessed enough, and fortunate enough, to start a group and start a trend [of making super-groups] in Hip Hop. I actually feel like we started two trends in Hip Hop. I think the whole two people doing an album together is really catching on, and the whole four-man group thing is catching on too. It’s really contributing something to Hip Hop, which is what I always wanted to do, what Joe Budden has always wanted to do, what Crooked I has always wanted to do, and what Joell Ortiz has always wanted to do. It’s something Eminem has always done, and is continuing to do. So I’m just glad to be a part of something positive in Hip Hop, which is something I have not always been.
Thinking about it, Death Is Certain probably is my best work to date, album-wise anyway. For some reason I’m good at angry-Rap. I’m very good at rapping about things when I’m angry. It’s really easy to get things off of your chest when they’re right there, when they’re right there on top of your heart. You know what I’m saying? You don’t have to dig too deep because it’s right there. I wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s probably why that album came out sounding how it sounded. I can’t do another one of those albums because I’m not angry anymore.
DX: Your debut album, Rock City, was released twice. You were tipped to be the next big thing but your album was heavily bootlegged and so you had to release it again with some new material on it as well as some big league production credits, courtesy of The Neptunes. Would you say the bootlegging stalled your attack on the industry and would you say that if it had never happened then you would have been a huge commercial success earlier?
Royce Da 5’9: I'm not so sure of that. It's hard to call. Obviously it was a different climate as far as Hip Hop goes back then. The bootlegging really affected album sales back then, whereas now it's a little bit different. Albums leaking a week or two before the release date can actually help now because it gives people the chance to preview the goods. It helps them want to make the decision whether or not to go and buy the album. Back then, I don't know. If I go back and listen to that stuff I go back retrospectively and give my personal opinion of it. I don't like any of it. I'm my own worst critic. I can listen to it and pick it apart and hear where I sound young… you know what I'm saying? I'd just go crazy. It's hard for me, especially being my own worst critic, to determine whether it would have been a huge success or not. There are a lot of variables thinking that way. What would the record label have done with it? I really have no way of knowing at all.
DX: Briefly touching upon your time in prison, would you say your small stint opened your eyes to your true potential?
Royce Da 5’9: You know what? I wouldn’t say it opened my eyes to my true potential. The only thing me going to jail did was open my eyes to how easily things can be taken away from you, how hard other people work to take things away from you, and how much of your downfall people pray for. It became a reality. You hear it on other peoples' records, you hear them going through it, and then you listen to your own parents and you listen to certain people that care about you tell you these things but you don’t really get it until you have to go through it. That was a time in my life where it became a reality check for me. My potential in my eyes has never really been in question. I never questioned whether or not I had the potential to be successful in Hip Hop. I always felt like I had the potential to be successful but there are things contained in my personality and things going on in the universe that can prevent me from achieving it, and jail was one of those things. It really made me realize that. I’m glad it was just a year because it gave me enough time to reflect and come back with a new game plan.
DX: Do you ever look back and regret any of the paths you have taken, or do you think that it has made you a stronger emcee?
Royce Da 5’9: It just made me stronger. There were times in my life where I looked back and felt like, "Damn, I wish I hadn't have done that," and, "I wish I had done this differently." However, now that things are the way that they are I'm pretty happy with where I am and where things are going, as well as the possibility of where things can go. So it kinda makes me feel like all of those things happened for a reason. If I had taken any of those things off of the table things might be different now. It makes me now a firm believer that things do in fact happen for a reason. It's just about bouncing back from mistakes, you know? I pride myself on the way I bounce back from mistakes.
DX: We briefly mentioned that The Neptunes had a lot to do with Rock City 2.0. What's your relationship like with Pharrell these days being that you haven't really worked together since then, and that was 2002?
Royce Da 5’9: You know what? I bump in to Pharrell every now and then. There have been a couple festival shows that I did with Em where I bumped in to him. We spoke about working together. The relationship is the same. I'm the type of person where if we have a tight relationship but then for whatever reason both get busy, if you bump in to me two, three, or even 10 years later, our relationship in my mind is gonna be exactly the same as it was the last time I saw you. Nothing changes in my mind as long as we part ways on good terms. Me and Pharrell have always been cool. So I guess I can say our relationship is pretty much the same as it was.
DX: Another producer who you have formed a great friendship with over the years is DJ Premier. He's not only given you some of your biggest underground hits – “Boom” and “Hip Hop”, he also stood by you while you were in prison and has since continued to work with you. How did you guys form the relationship and what's it like being a part of the Premier family which also consists of the likes of Skyzoo, Termanology, and REKS?
Royce Da 5’9: It's definitely an honor to be a part of the [DJ] Premier circle. It's an honor to be his friend. I definitely love and appreciate him. We met… shit; I don't even remember what year it was. We met a long time ago. If you've been in Hip Hop 10, 11, or even 12 years then you've been in the studio with a lot of producers. So what happens is that you get in there with them, you do work with them, you meet them, some of them you end up being friends with, some of them you remain associates, some of them you don't care where they are. It's just the art of meeting people. Premo just happened to be one of those people who ended up being one of my friends. When you can work with somebody, make great music, and end up gaining a friend at the same time it's just a plus. He's a real nigga. I'm a real nigga. We just connected like that.
DX: Over the years it's fair to say that you've had your fair share of lyrical beefs - D12, Mistah F.A.B, Joe Budden, and more recently Canibus, why do you think these guys come after you, and do you think trouble follows you?
Royce Da 5’9: I don't think trouble follows me anymore. There might have been a point in my career where it felt like it did, but I think Canibus is trouble. He has his own problems and he's angry. He's more angry with me than I am with him. He does these things out of nowhere. For the record, I never went back and forth on a record with Canibus. I said what I wanted to say about him, and then there was a long gap in time. Now here he comes with all these records consecutively expecting me to respond to them, but I didn't respond to any of them. I'd roast him if I felt like it. It would only take 50-100 bars to wreck his whole movement. I'm trying to keep away from doing that. When I ignore Canibus, I'm just trying to treat him with the respect that he deserves for being a legend in the game. If I had to give him any advice it would be to just stay away from me. This is not what he wants.
DX: Many fans claim that your style is one that inspires confidence, and maybe the way you spit sometimes confuses people in to thinking that you're dissin' them. You even cleared up the fact you weren't dissin' Drake on your “Forever” freestyle on the Bar Exam 3 mixtape. Would you agree?
Royce Da 5’9: Yeah, I think that people think everything that comes out of my mouth is some type of subliminal or diss to somebody. I've never been subliminal. It's hard for me to be subliminal. I've never been much of a subliminal dude. I've always been a blunt and direct brut force say-your-name kinda guy. I shoot straight from the hip. When people accuse me of sneak dissin' it's rather offensive to me because why do I have to sneak and diss you when if I want to diss you then I'm gonna diss you? But if I'm not dissin' you and I respect you, in the same token I'm gonna make that bluntly known – “I respect this person and I would never diss this person,” exactly like I did with Drake. There are a lot of bitter emcees out there who sit around hating on the younger guys. I've never been one of those guys. I love to see these younger guys coming up and doing their thing. I still have my same movement. I have nothing to be bitter about. So when people accuse me of that, they're thinking of the Canibuses of the world, the guys that are sat around mad at everybody because shit didn't go how they wanted it to go for themselves.
DX: As a part of Slaughterhouse, you guys are now being considered the realest rap group of today’s music listening generation, which in turn has personally allowed you to feature on a load of tracks as guest emcee – Elzhi, Pharoahe Monch, and Travis Barker to name just a few. How’s the spotlight treating you?
Royce Da 5’9: You know what? So far so good. I’m real busy, which is what I always aspired to be. When I’m busy I stay out of trouble. In terms of the spotlight, it’s good. It has its pros and its cons just like anything else. I just deal with it accordingly. I look at it as a blessing and I’ll worry about it when it stops.
DX: During your career you’ve done everything from ghost writing for P. Diddy and Dr. Dre to having a track – “Renegade,” taken by Jay-Z and used for his own album, so some believe there’s no question you deserve your success. What does the future hold for Royce Da 5’9?
Royce Da 5’9: A lot of great things hopefully, and a lot of positive things. I’m going to stay on my positive path, keep doing what I’ve been doing, and not let any negativity sway me from what I’m supposed to be doing. I got the Slaughterhouse album in the pipeline; it’s coming along very well. The guys are in great shape. Morale is high, they’re at the top of their game. They’re pushing me and inspiring me to be at the top of my game. Em is very excited about it. I’ve got my next solo album, which I don’t know where it’s gonna be, but the fact that I’m a free agent after the release of Success Is Certain is exciting. It’s like a whole new career for me. Sky is the limit right now.