Royce da 5’9 – Layers – The STiXXclusive Review

1/4th of the collective, Slaughterhouse, has been on his game for quite some time, but when you’re heavily lyrical with no real mainstream punch, that gets lost in the shuffle. There’s a reason why people still (13 years later) reference Joe Budden’s Pump It Up, because that was legit his only mainstream hit, but has put out a full body of work on the underground scene. Royce Da 5’9, product of Detroit, has also put out a good catalog, including the commercially successful Bad Meets Evil album with Eminem. Okay, obviously with Eminem attached, it’s going to do numbers regardless, but regardless of the fact, it’s still a win for Royce. Detroit as a whole, outside of Eminem & Big Sean, has constantly been overlooked in the Post-Motown & Post-Dilla days of music, because its reputation of being such a decrepit city overshadows everything else. Things are in a slow, yet gradual upswing, but there’s still time to add onto the process of getting to a progressive point. Elzhi, Slum Village, Black Milk, Danny Brown & Dej Loaf are some names that have come out of Detroit with variations to their artistry, and there’s hope that Detroit can be looked at a prominent city when it comes to their music, as they once were.

It was Shrek who once said that “Ogres are like Onions…we both have layers,” and with regards to human beings as a whole, we have different layers that make us who were are that determine our mental & emotional states of being. They shape us into determining if we have (metaphorical) thick or thin skin. Some people can handle multiple trials and tribulations and bounce back, and for many others, it doesn’t work out that way. It’s life, and it’s something that should never be shamed. Royce Da 5’9 has definitely had his battles with his demons, and as gifted of a storyteller that he is, you absolutely knew that he was going to peel away the fabrics of his own layers to allow us, the audience, a glimpse into just what makes him tick. That was evident right in the beginning with Tabernacle, which is one of the strongest debuts on an album I’ve heard in quite some time. If you listened to the mixtape prior to the album release, Trust the Shooter, or if you saw the video, then you heard it ahead of time, as I did. It still didn’t take away the fact that it’s such a compelling story from start to finish about just one day in his life that changed everything, and that faith & spirituality are very real things that people may or may not have a beliefs in. Epiphanies & moments of clarity happen in the oddest places. For example, walking in a cemetery unbeknown to a partner, which ended up in a break up afterwards. There are many things that test your faith and as to whether or not you should have some or not. With the day in the life chronicle regarding life & death, which mixed in with his career path, it was amazingly strung out through a seemingly visual presentation that gave the song life, and for it to be the first song, it was truly a statement, because it has a last song vibe that certainly would be endearing. I’m just not sure many people will make it out of the first song, because it hits that hard.

Transitions are a vital element in an album because it’s the difference between good & great. Depending on the structure of the album, how it flows together like you’re reading a book, that’s something that I care about. I know that not every album is going to be strung out in that way, because different artists have their own ways of presenting their work, but I enjoy how songs flow into each other, like editing scenes in a movie. Throughout this album, there are plenty of skits that move the album forward and make it an enjoyable listen.

Messaging is also an important asset when you’re in an artist in any aspect – well to some degree, because there’s a time & place for entertainment & enlightenment. Royce is an artist that contributes to the latter more than the former. Pray is just one of those songs that can attest to that statement, because whether or not you’re religious, there’s a spiritual element to every person in which we want better for ourselves and the world around us. We’re all human, and we’re connected to some degree. Sometimes you just need a bit of resounding faith to instill that goodness does exist despite all the bad that we’re exposed to.

Don’t pray for me, pray for Paris
Pray for Nigeria, pray for peace
Pray for your marriage
Pray your horse don’t sway far away from your carriage
Why you put all your eggs in one basket?
Blowin’ dumb cash on Wraiths and karats”

There are very different mentalities that approach individuals. There’s the ‘save for your future’ crowd, and there’s the ‘spend it while you got it’ crowd, and there’s not enough balance to highlight that you can do both. It’s just reckless spending that the every day person aspires to do, especially when you have so little, but also in the rap game where it’s all flash, and no substance. What else you got for us? That’s essentially what Royce is saying, and I feel it.

It’s funny how the sequencing of the album is set up because usually it’s backwards, and when things get Hard, that’s when you pray. It might not seem like a big thing, but I just found that interesting on the sequencing. Maybe listen to it from bottom to top to get a different perspective? Who knows? But looking at it from Royce’s adolescence and relating the message that’s been spread in every childhood classroom & household, life is hard – but is it? Life changes when success comes towards you. No question that you have to work hard in order to get the things you want, and in various circumstances, life is actually trash sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make a living doing something. It’s all about common sense, instinct, a little luck, and taking some risks. I don’t have the blueprint (as matter of fact, no one does), but it’s something to consider. Keep it simple; it’s not all complex.

There is hard-hitting production throughout the album, and the bars are far from absent, because if you’ve been listening to Royce for a while, you understand that’s his ammo and he’ll always hit his targets – that’s a given. This album also shows that this is not only a testament to his ups & downs, but bringing them to life in a way that most fans (definitely the casual fans) hadn’t heard from him. The first third of the album is what Kevin Hart would call “real rap raw” in terms of straight up rap songs that look at a more adolescent Royce, but still bridge it to his current adulthood, being a father, and a husband vowing to do better by his wife. The first Lincoln skit is where the narrative changes up, as he serves as character that gets more into the player’s groove, but Royce gets into the stage of his life that was pretty tumultuous with his mistress and whatnot. Flesh & Misses have definitely two of my favourite beats on the album, and I think they’re also a couple of the best songs overall. It also gave me more reason why having a woman on the side (side ting, side piece, side bitch, etc.) isn’t worth the drama, and for the guys & gals who go through all that, God speed, man.

“Ain’t nothing like side pussy on my dick
Word to that motherfucking DJ Quik
Bunch of girls wanna have a bunch of relations
Even when the nigga wanna be they friend
I learned that faithful women need they men
They don’t really wanna leave they men
They just don’t wanna get a phone call
From another chick saying where he done been”
 

The Hello skit is probably every woman’s worst nightmare when they’re in a committed relationship (read: marriage). It was dope as to how it was presented and when that act of desperation kicks in, that’s when things go array, and then Misses happens. There’s only so much that you control, but I’m also a firm believer in the fact that you live with the consequences of the decisions you make, whether good or bad – you’ve got to go through it, and this is it in audio form, when things twist out of shape and spiral out of control. I thoroughly enjoy this sequence of events. My mother has two rules: “Stay away from crazy & stupid – hopefully you got crazy out of the way.” This is an example of what happens when you don’t leave crazy alone.

More messaging – survival. What people to do survive in life is fascinating, because there’s no one way to live, because every day can appear to be a battle just to make it to the clock reset @ Midnight. Dope & America are two tracks that emphasize how in a way, Royce is still a dealer of sorts whether it’s selling dope (as in drugs) or selling (dope) music. Everyone is a hustler; it’s just a matter of what you do for your hustle. We all have our ‘dope’ to sell, so it’s just a matter of steadily being on it, even when there are other obligations in life. It’s great that it transitions into what the mentality of an American is.

Now, being a Canadian, although we share a border with the States, they look at us as these foreign creatures that have some other world values & beliefs, although we’re not that much different, besides history (and even then). America is a highlight of how the average citizen in that country operates, and although it’s different from Black, White, and Latino experiences, there is a shared mindset that I think Royce portrayed.

What the fuck does humble mean?
Call me good at something I’ll say I’m good at a bunch of things
I feel my whole life my fire should be lit
I feel my wife’s pussy wet each time she sees my dick”

Humility is something that is often associated when you describe how to feel about American citizens. Some call them arrogant (which Royce raps on), and most call them confident. When you live in a country that is self-proclaimed as the greatest in the world, with the land of opportunity for all, and then you see the bigger picture of what goes on inside of it, thing don’t add up, but they are fascinating people because no matter how crap their society is, they will still be as brash, loud, and patriotic to their country. ‘Only in America’ is not just a phrase, but it’s a real lifestyle. Certain things really only can happen within those borders.

“America the beautiful
Land of free, home of brave
Everyone is born and raised to think like a dead man”

The title track, Layers, takes the combination of the prior tracks to bring them out from the perspectives of making it in America with features from Pusha T & Rick Ross. This continues the survival theme and dictates that while in America, you can do great things (like make millions off of rapping), within those spoils of war are hidden schemes & agendas which make the effort still feel like slavery (as the audio excerpts ring throughout).

“Paranoid of poverty, hustle was the philosophy
I seen a kilo, I swear it became a part of me
Lie, cheat and steal, I had it mastered by my teens
Started hands on, a nigga still pulling strings” – Rick Ross 

This is also one of the best songs on the album, and Rick Ross’ verse stood out the most amongst a strong group of rappers to be on it. The coming-of-age storyline seems to be one that is played out, but for the sake of the album’s purpose to break down the layers of why that is even a common practice for most Black Americans, it’s necessary to shed light. This is a reality for most people who don’t have the gift or ability to share their stories. That’s why those who do make it in America to reflect the atmospheres of the upbringings that they came from, it just puts this song in particular into perspective.

The last standout on this impressive album is Off, which is Royce’s farewell that just lets it all out about where his mind is at, in this particular time in his life. It’s just bars – a lot of them. One verse that just goes on and on, but really embodies the theme, yet again. There are layers to this, and it’s impossible to figure that it’s just one thing that makes up a person. What I enjoy about life are the experiences that shape a person into what they have become and what they’ve learned from past events to make them into a better person in the future, while they still hold that ability to do so (although like I said, there’s only so much that you can control). Royce is a testament of overcoming major hurdles to get his life back, although he didn’t address his alcoholism in depth this time around. There were other stories to be discussed, and that’s what I also appreciate about rappers & artists as a whole. What more can you talk about, what else is buried in your life that you can bring to life? No one wants to hear the same stories over and over throughout different projects to get the same results (I’ll get more into that on another review in the works).

Overall, I didn’t know what to expect from this album, rapping ability aside, but I’m glad that I found myself to enjoy it as much as I currently do. Royce isn’t going to get the accolades of other rappers who probably aren’t as deserving, but as he stated in Off about the labels trying to make him into another version of Nas, it’s best to just go with what works within your own right and add some flavour to grow the way you see fit. It’s benefitted him thus far, so I don’t see that changing any time soon. This is one you’ll definitely want for the collection. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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