Royce Da 5’9” Interview: Reppin’ Detroit’s Underground

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by Alex Shtaerman

In the late ’90’s Royce Da 5’9″ was tearing through Detroit’s underground rap circuit as one half of the dynamic duo known as Bad Meets Evil. Royce was Bad. His partner in crime was Evil aka Slim Shady aka Eminem aka today’s pop icon and teen idol to millions and according to Royce himself, a talent to be reckoned with. While Em shot to super pop stardom, Royce has taken a more traditional approach with his career. Scoring numerous street anthems including the DJ Premier produced Boom, Royce Da 5’9″ has continued to garner respect among “in the know” Hip-Hop fans around the world.

As the broad rap music fanbase in the United States continues to consolidate behind a shrinking minority of forcefully marketed crossover artists, underground gems such as Royce have found it increasingly difficult to break through to the heavily guarded, corporate controlled mass market of white suburban teenagers who play varsity sports and watch MTV on a daily basis. Having endured multiple label setbacks as well as a feud with Slim Shady’s adopted D12 crew, Royce has returned to the streets hungry as ever. With the founding of his M.I.C. (Make It Count) Records imprint Royce hopes to capitalize on the growing trend of burgeoning independents. While his sophomore LP Death Is Certain earned many outstanding reviews, including four mics in The Source, the poorly marketed album sold only 50,000 copies for Koch Records. As Royce puts it: “I feel like the way that album was promoted, all the promotion we did ourselves. We could have put that album out ourselves and sold 50,000 on our own”.

Set to drop his 3rd full length effort in 2005, Royce feels strongly that in the end his talent will be the driving force enabling him to bridge the gap between Hip-Hop and Hip-Pop. “The ultimate goal with me is to sell records. That’s the ultimate goal. There is no use of getting in this game if you not selling records. Because the people who are winning, that’s why they’re winning, because they’re selling records”.

RIOTSOUND.COM: The new M.I.C. CD that is dropping October 26th, is this something that is going to be strictly for the streets?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Yea, definitely for the streets, it’s a mixtape. It’s called The M.I.C. Volume 2. This is just something to bridge the gap in between albums. I’ma do one more mixtape before I put out another album. Just so I am not leaning on a DJ to do my mixtapes, I kind of want to do it myself and put it in their hands to keep my buzz going. So, you know, I just keep putting out material in between my albums.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I remember you from your Bad Meets Evil days. Since then how have you grown and expanded your horizons as an MC and an artist? Also, what can fans expect on this new M.I.C. mixtape?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Well, they can expect what Royce does on the day to day as far as just going in the studio and exercising, just doing songs; just so I am in the studio and not just sitting around not doing anything. So there are definitely a lot of workout songs on my mixtape. As far as how I have expanded as an artist, I’ve grown to doing things myself; the M.I.C. is my own label which I am putting out. Also, I’ve learned how to write records instead of just going verse for verse. Everybody knows that I can MC, so right now I am really trying to get in the spirit of writing records; number one that radio will play and number two that MCs still respect. So that’s where I’m at right now as an artist.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Your beef with members of D12 and the Shady camp has been widely publicized. Do you feel it may have helped you in a way? For example, a lot of people say the beef between Nas and Jay-Z actually helped motivate Nas to come out with better material. Can you see a similar logic applying in your case?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: The only way that I feel that its helped me is that its kept my name out there in some way. Rather than it be negative or positive, I guess you can look at it as any press is good press. As far as how I create – that situation spun off the Death Is Certain album – a lot of things that went down in that situation pissed me off and it had a darker side of me out every day. So that darker side of me is who recorded that album. So I guess in a way it’s a positive thing because I got a lot of positive feedback and a lot of respect off that album. I guess the whole thing kind of helped me in a way but at the same time it also helped me realize how to deal with people and it matured me a lot.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Where does the situation with the Shady camp stand as of right now?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: It doesn’t stand anywhere. I don’t deal with the Shady camp. I don’t have any kind of problem with them whatsoever. Everybody is moving on with their career. Hopefully sometime in the future the actual relationship outside the music can be patched up between me and Slim. But, you know, right now there’s definitely nothing there; it’s all good I guess.

RIOTSOUND.COM: On the M.I.C. mixtape, you worked with Nottz on two of the tracks, Nickel and Jump. The beats on both those cuts sound like something for the club but the lyrics are more street. Can you talk about the creative process there as well as the ongoing collaboration between the two of you; what kind of material can we expect from Royce and Nottz in the future?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Nottz is somebody who I have been dealing with for a while, that’s my man. So right now he is just sending me beats. He’ll send me beat CDs and I just go through ’em and cut songs. Jump and Nickel were just a couple of songs that I knew I wasn’t going to use for the album and we figure why sit on ’em? We might as well get them out there to give people an idea of the type of shit me and Nottz is going to be doing and let them know that we are going to be doing an album in the future. I got a lot of Nottz records; the records that I’m sitting on that I haven’t put out are way more album worthy records. We sittin’ on classic records right now. We’re just waiting for the right time to drop ’em.

RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of independent artists right now are thriving and gaining a lot of recognition, on the flip side of that, I think many people who are fans of Royce Da 5’9″ feel that with your talent you can reach a much wider audience. How do you feel about that as far as being independent as opposed to being on a major label?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Well, what I am doing right now is I think I am trying to find that medium. I am independent right now; I am independent by choice just because I’ve been in a label situation – Koch put out my Death Is Certain album; but as far as from a promotions standpoint I feel like that we did everything. I feel like the way that album was promoted, all the promotion we did ourselves. We could have put that album out ourselves and sold 50,000 on our own.

So at this point I want to do this until we find the right major label situation – label deal and joint venture, something like that. I don’t plan to just stay independent forever but I definitely want to have more of a grasp on the creative direction and just how my albums are marketed; I just want to have a little more control. This is just my time to be patient and do the independent thing until I can find the right situation.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Do you feel that there is overwhelming pressure on artists who are on major labels to make pop hits for the radio? As far as your own career goes, where do you draw the line between broadening your fanbase and keeping your integrity as an artist?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: The ultimate goal with me is to sell records. That’s the ultimate goal. There is no use of getting in this game if you not selling records. Because the people who are winning, that’s why they’re winning, because they’re selling records. Now as far as how they sound, the unique thing is to find what separates you from everything else and everybody else and figure out why you sell. Why would Royce 5’9″ sell? Royce 5’9″ has to come up with a record that people like and respect where they don’t think he is stepping out of his character to do so. I feel like artists – if you’re going to sign to a major label – why do it if you don’t plan to write pop hits? Why take a whole bunch of money from a major label – what do you think they want? So, I think if people just get better with their decision making it will be cool. With Royce 5’9″, if I feel like doing an underground record, I’m going to put it out independently, underground. If I go tomorrow and take $2 million from Def Jam you gotta be expecting some type of radio records from me otherwise it’s just not going to work (laughs).

RIOTSOUND.COM: You scripted some of the lyrics of Dre’s Chronic 2001 album. Have you done anything like that since; write lyrics for other artists to perform?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Naw, Dre is the only person.

RIOTSOUND.COM: What artists are you feelin’ at the moment? As a fan of music, who’s CD would you be willing to pay money for?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: I would probably buy any R. Kelly record, any Beyonce record.uhmm.any Jay-Z record, any Eminem record. I like the people who control their situations; they do albums where you can tell it’s just them all the way through being creative. I’m on the whole creative thing right now; I like the whole creative thing where you can tell that person has creative control. I try not to listen to too many people so I am not influenced too much, I try to work on as many of my songs as possible and I spend a lot of my spare time listening to what I was working on to try and improve it. So when I do get albums, I listen to them once or twice just to see where everybody’s at and then I just keep on moving with my thing.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Aside from rapping, do you have any other projects in the works?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Aside from rapping? No. Right now I am just trying to master the rap thing. I’m going to try and do another mixtape, which will be Volume 3 and after that drop the Nottz album, that’s what’s on my radar right now. After I’m done with that and after I have put all my time into that I may start looking at other things but I think those two albums are definitely going to change things for me.

RIOTSOUND.COM: When is the next official Royce album due to drop?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Sometime next year, I would say early next year. I got a lot of the material done but I am really going to take my time in doing this project and I’m just going to predict that it’s going to be one of the best Hip-Hop albums ever. And that’s not even me tooting my own horn, I know what Nottz is capable of doing and I know some of the kind of ideas that I got and I am just going to try and take it somewhere else.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the immediate future, what should fans be looking out for?

ROYCE DA 5’9″: Look out for the M.I.C. Mixtape Volume 2 coming in October; also look out for the M.I.C. Mixtape Volume 3 coming sometime in December / January and look out for the Nottz album – sometime next year.

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