A little over a month before Slaughterhouse released their debut, I caught up with Royce da 5’9 to review his own projects, including the Street Hop LP and the 3rd installment of his Bar Exam mixtape series. From Royce’s comments it appeared the tension that sparked with Wu Tang Clan due to Joe Budden’s Method Man comments had been resolved. However not long after this interview Budden was assaulted in his dressing room by Raekwon and members of his entourage. In addition, Royce gives me his thoughts on Detroit’s economic woes, his “beef” with Charles Hamilton, and Eminem’s lyrical standing.
Lyrical warfare alone rarely captures the public’s imagination. It’s a cold fact that many talented albeit one-dimensional lyricists have had to learn over the course of their careers. But destiny may have a different fate for Royce da 5’9. Instead of regressing, the Detroit native’s work has continuously improved since making his major label debut with 2002’s Rock City. Now with the buzz-heavy Slaughterhouse project dropping next month, and long-anticipated DJ Premier executive-produced LP (Street Hop) coming in September, Royce da 5’9 is primed to make his most concerted effort towards mainstream acceptance.
Ismael AbduSalaam: Congratulations on getting the Street Hop album ready, I know you’ve been working on it for the last few years. It’s been about 4 years since your last full length LP, Independent’s Day. How has your mentality differed in approaching this album as opposed to the last 3?
Royce da 5’9
: I just stepped it up. I’m proud to say I’ve actually gotten better over the last 4 years. It’s scary the shit I’m coming up with, because I hope I’m not peaking out at this age. But I’m not that old, and I’m looking at what Jay-Z
is doing [and] I’m thinking I have a lot of good years left. But I’m definitely at the top of my game right now; I can compete with the best of them.
Ismael: You’re working with DJ Premier again, and you guys have been collaborating heavily over the last couple years. When you work with someone regularly you pick up a lot of their quirks and routines which enables you to work together better. Talk about the chemistry you have with Premier in relation to the other producers you’ve been working with.
Royce: You know what? I have the same chemistry with a lot of producers that I have with Premier. It’s just something about when me and Preme finish something. Because of his legendary status, and what I’m doing to his beats, fans just want to hear more. We got chemistry as friends, so when we get in the studio it’s really simple and nothing extra that we have to do. It happens to just work out every time. It’s us being really comfortable around each other in the studio because we’re cool.
Sometimes you’ll meet a producer, y’all are working that day, and you may not really like him. You might think he’s the most talented motherfucker in the world, but also think he’s a jackass. It’s about vibing with the person for me. Unless it’s somebody just giving you some many ideas, but I don’t think I really need that. The last person I got in the studio with producer-wise that was like “yo, you should rhyme it like this, this is the hook,” was Pharrell. And I liked him as a person as well. It was a good chemistry with us and I trusted his judgment and we came up with a lot of good records. But I was a kid back then. If I got in with him now, we’d do some monumental shit.
Ismael: I remember you originally announcing Street Hop a little over 2 year ago, with the lead-off track of the same name with the Nas “Made You Look” sample. Is all the material for the album new or did you include some of the older tracks from previous years?
Royce: That’s another thing that prolonged it. The body of work that I had for those years was leaked out. So I was forced to go back in and start from scratch. I kept the same album title but did all new records. I don’t have anything old.
Ismael: All the Slaughterhouse members are expected to drop EPs this month, with yours being the first. This is extensive promotion for just one album, so would you say this is the biggest media campaign you’ve personally ever been a part of?
Royce: Yes it is, and that because it’s the one I’ve been most involved in. Normally in the past I would do a project and hand it over to the label and say “ok, y’all do your thing.” I’m very involved with the media campaign of it, and also getting together with the guys and trying to make this work for our solo careers as well as the group. The beauty of it is we all have our respective careers. We don’t want to get in a group and just be looked at as group members. We’re all sitting on monster shit as solo artists. We want to strategically put ‘em up out to where we’re controlling a part of the music business for a certain amount of time… It’s very possible. We’re all sitting on a lot of material, and have the outlets to put it out. It’s a powerful movement.
Ismael: From the outside a lot of people would assume Joe Budden is the de-facto leader of the group. But in the studio I’m sure it’s a lot different from the public perception. So when you guys are working and throwing ideas back and forth, is there anyone is particular that takes the lead as far as selecting rhyme order, or does everyone maintain equal input?
Royce: As far as the order, it’s never an issue. We never say “yo, you should go first.” Normally whoever finishes writing first goes in the booth. The guys trust my judgment creatively. Where we are in our careers, I probably have the most history in terms of experience in making albums. So I think they look to me since I’m a big brother to Joell and Joey, and me and Crooked are so much alike it doesn’t matter if it’s me or him that takes the lead. Rhyme for rhyme he’s going to do him, and no one can fuck with that. I think one of my strengths is making albums and songs, and we were really focused on making songs. Verse for verse we’re always going to have that. But in terms of putting songs together I think they look to me for that. And I’m never going to let them down. And two, with me taking the lead we just came up with a crazy album.
Ismael: People are assuming this will be a straight lyrical, battle record. But I’m sure you guys are not going to do that. Take about the surprises you have in store for people who are expecting just a battle album.
Royce: Man we got real records. The album sounds like one of our solo albums with all of us on it. Just because we’re a group doesn’t mean we’re going to go in and sway away from the regular formula any of us would use on our own albums. All of us came to the table with songs. Like Joell straight up donated a song from his album. With that said, we were more concerned about making records than doing 13 onslaught Slaughterhouse records, because people already know we can do that. I’m telling you man, everyone is going to be surprised when they hear it. Its classic and all 4 of us think so. It’s the best project that any of us have been a part of. We’re real proud of what we’ve come with.
Ismael: Everyone knows Joey has always been real outspoken about everything. He’ll speak his mind about any and everybody in Hip-Hop. Sometimes that will get him into issues with other artists. Did you guys have any reservations about this, or is everyone comfortable with whatever comes his way and will hold him down no matter what?
Royce: Well it’s both; I’m going to hold him down even if I’m uncomfortable. But if I’m uncomfortable with something he’s saying, I’ll go to him and not disagree with Joe in the media. I’m like his big brother so he’s going to listen to me. He respects me like I respect him. Two, he’s not an idiot. Joey just don’t say shit and not realize it’s something he shouldn’t have said. 10 times out of 10 if Joey says some shit, he may think about it later and say “damn, I shouldn’t have said that.” We all as human beings do that. His personality is just a little stronger than the average persons. That’s what makes him special and that character in the group. For all of us, we let him be who he is. We just keep a close eye on him and let him know “yo, you probably shouldn’t have said that, but don’t worry about we’re going to straighten it out,” because he’s never said nothing too crazy where someone would want to kill him or some shit like that. It’s just minor and a lack of communication.
So he says something about Method Man, and I know I’m going to bump into Raekwon, I’m going to go to Raekwon with all the respect in the world and let him know that we feel they are legends. I’m going to put Raekwon and Joey in front of each other, Joey is going to apologize but he honestly feels like it was a lack of class. They’re going to shake hands, and Raekwon says “I’m going to put you on the phone with Meth.” And once him and Meth talk, that’s it! No more beef and nothing else to talk about.
Now as far as the Ransoms and niggas like that we don’t care about them. Them niggas is lame. They’re going to say what they say. But the real niggas? We’re going to always squash it. And I’m a real nigga, and I have niggas in the streets everywhere. So it should never be a problem with nothing being squashed, because real niggas never look for beef. Real niggas never want beef. Real niggas always want to find the resolve.
Ismael: Bar Exam 2 was the top mixtape of 2008.On a few songs you’ve already talked about Bar Exam 3 coming. Will you keep the same format with that one?
Royce: I’m looking to step it up lyrically, always. I want to put a classic mixtape together and go with a different DJ every time. The last 2 did really well, so I’m looking for nothing but critical acclaim. If I can keep putting in people’s heads that I can rhyme on that level, that drives me. I do this with my own money. But right now sh*t is so hectic with the Slaughterhouse project it’s going to be harder to squeeze it in. Like the “DOA Freestyle;” Joey and everyone just happened to want to go to a strip club in New York, and I said nah I’m going to sit back and chill. That’s how I got the time to do that freestyle. It’s going to take for those types of moments for me to stockpile enough material for me to work Bar Exam 3.
Ismael: Is there a DJ you already have in mind for the project?
Royce: I got a few people in mind, but it’s a little too up in the air for me to start saying names. It will always be the people that I know can take it to the next level. I’ll be ready to starting naming names in a couple weeks.
Ismael: You mentioned the “DOA Freestyle,” which stood out to me in terms of what happened with Charles Hamilton. Back in about mid-June, you excused his Dilla comments by saying he was a young kid who was running his mouth, and that you would take care of it so he wouldn’t be in any danger in Detroit. But in the freestyle it sounds like you washed your hands of him. Did something happen in the last couple weeks to make you change your opinion of him?
Royce: Yes. When I spoke with Charles, I explained to him the dynamic of Detroit. I told him we’re all one team; we don’t ride against each other or stay neutral. It’s not what we do. We don’t like the names of our legends just being thrown around in particular ways whether you’re trying to show admiration or not. If someone takes offense to it, and it’s the wrong person, I’m telling you that you’re bickering back and forth with the wrong people. This is a battle you can’t win. I told him to apologize for whatever he was saying on Twitter once we get off phone. And after that don’t speak on it no more and I’ll talk to those people and just end the shit. He said “good looking and I appreciate it and I’m going to do that.”
I wasn’t asking him to do that for me, but for him. Because I could have easily said “let’s just jump right on him, he disrespected the D!” But I didn’t because I’ve been at an age where I didn’t have any regards for what I said. I grew out of that sh*t and I think Charles will too. He’s a smart dude. So he typed some half-ass response that nobody took as an apology. I didn’t trip but thought maybe he just don’ get it.
So the next day I go on Twitter and read this with my own eyes: “Detroit is mad because they lost J Dilla, and Harlem is mad because we lost Max B. I guess we’re even.” Now that made me mad. Number one, you’re disrespecting me. We just had a conversation where I stepped out of my regular character and played the mature role for the simple fact that I like him. Second, I felt like I was going away from my city for a minute. So I had to throw him a couple lines to put everything back in perspective and let him know what it could be.
[It’s] not that I’m beefing with him or even that I’ve washed my hands of him. It was just a warning shot. I’m sure he didn’t take it as nothing but that. But if you fire back I’m going all the way at you. He hasn’t said anything since then so it’s all good with me.
Ismael: Detroit right now is hurting more so than the rest of the country economically. Do you see things turning around soon or do you expect conditions to remain in dire straits over the next few years?
Royce: Man, in Detroit I can’t really say. It doesn’t feel like things will turn around no time soon. It’s just a dark cloud over the city. With the plants closing I think we’ll need a minute to rebuild. We need this economy stimulated in some type of way. I just hung out when Slaughterhouse was in town. I took them out and man, it looked like no one had any money. They got off the plane and there was a dude begging. It didn’t use to look like this but we’re going through a lot. It’s nothing that’s going to be repaired in one year, but over time it’ll turn around, like Hip-Hop.
Hip-Hop went through a dark period where everybody sucked. Now it’s looking up again. We got Slaughterhouse; Drake can rhyme and is getting a lot of notoriety, Wayne, Fab coming back out, and Kiss doing numbers. And also with Jay-Z coming back out, so it’s looking ok for the coming year.
Ismael: Since you’re good friends with Eminem, I know you were anticipating Relapse after such a long sabbatical. What did you think of his comeback effort?
Royce: It was my first time hearing him rhyme in a long time. I thought the shit was good. I think he set the bar so high with things before, I don’t think there’s anything he can say anymore that can make me go crazy. He set the bar where no one else can go and I feel the same way about Jay-Z. I’ll get the Blueprint 3 but I don’t see myself flipping my wig over anything on it. I expect a great album but not for it to make me feel the way the original Blueprint or the Marshall Mathers LP made me feel. What Em is doing is still better than what everyone else has, but because the game is so f**ked up now it makes it hard for me to listen with my biased ears and call anything classic.
Ismael: To end on somewhat of a light note, with MJ’s passing, which album would you rank higher, Off the Wall or Thriller?
Royce: I’d say Thriller, but it’s close, though. Thriller is my personal favorite. Thriller is the best album in any genre of music, ever. That’s my personal opinion but I love Off the Wall. I think it’s one of the best albums, too. But Thriller is still my favorite.
Ismael: Any other final thoughts?
Royce: Slaughterhouse self-titled LP August 11, my digital EP The Revival is in stores now, and September 22 my full length LP Street Hop, executive-produced by DJ Premier. Be on the lookout for all the Slaughterhouse projects that will be coming for the remainder of the year. For Street Hop I have Busta Rhymes, Slaughterhouse, my little brother Kid Vishis, and Phonte from Little Brother.