Mainstream hip-hop fans have a knack for overlooking Royce da 5’9.” Between his stints with Bad Meets Evil, Slaughterhouse, and PRhyme, the Detroit legend has stayed busy throughout his career. He’s benefitted from a successful solo output as well. Sixteen years removed from his first studio album, Royce continues to put in the work.
After releasing his PRhyme 2 project with DJ Premier back in March, Royce decided to deliver his seventh solo album, Book of Ryan. The hour and eleven minute saga acts like a debut, with Royce taking a more introspective look into his family’s grievances. The album is a learning process for the Detroit rapper, as he weaves his way through spoken word and boom-bap production.
The Book of Ryan puts mental illness and addiction to the forefront, but rather than merely mentioning it, Royce attempts to figure out specific ways he can cope with his troubling circumstances. The rapper follows pure instinct when answering questions from his son for a paper about his conflicted father.
Royce sounds like he’s a veteran at life, but still has more to learn. His major flaw is his tendency to over-explain what’s about to happen, specifically on the “Intro” track, and “Woke” song. Even “My Parallel (Skit)” exemplifies Royce’s penchant for giving listeners a unnecessary rundown of what’s about to be explored topic-wise.
When the meat of the album finally arrives, Royce’s extraordinary lyricism and storytelling shines through. The lead single, “Caterpillar,” is a throwback to the Bad Meets Evil days, where he and Eminem would go bar for bar. While the metaphor embedded in the track seems a little simplistic, the irresistible 90s style beat caught my ear right from the get-go.
The middle of the record is some of the best rap music I’ve heard all year. Royce captures listeners with his poetic style of flowing, and gives us a nostalgic feel. He tackles a multitude of taboo subjects, like his relationship with God (“God Speed”), what power really means (“Power”), and the conflicts that come with materialism (“Summer On Lock.”). Pusha T’s harrowing chorus really drives the bleakness of the latter song home.
The vocal edits on “Cocaine” were a nice touch of unpredictability, and Royce’s pain radiates right off his voice. He has a much-needed moment of closure after speaking on his father’s trials and tribulations, especially with drugs. He also experiences a minute of realization about his own life, and how much he’s impacting his kid. I wish Kanye would delve into a theme like this more often.
Even “Boblo Boat” paints a picture for listeners about the good times in Royce’s life, specifically when him and his family would go to their local amusement park. J Cole brings another top-notch verse, and tells his own story about life in the Ville.
Royce does struggle to end the album, as he reverts back to over-explaining his themes, mainly on “Stay Woke.” It’s almost as if he needs to convince himself that he’s some kind of social justice warrior. In some senses he is, but for most of the record, he takes a more personal route lyrically. Both of the “Woke” songs felt out of the place in the context of the album.
The single, “Anything/Everything” was a little confusing to me, mainly because it’s very empty, and very short. He restates a lot of the things he’s already mentioned, and oddly uses quotes from other people to round out the track. On top of that, the “Caterpillar” remix did nothing other than add an obnoxious verse from Logic about how black he is. The Eminem version was immensely more entertaining.
Despite the poor finish to the project, Book of Ryan still acts as a leeway into Royce’s own state of mind. He wrestles with fatherhood and the effects his dark past has had on him, even to this day. In a world where trap music rules the mainstream, Royce da 5’9” returns with an introspective look into his past, and a blueprint for how he should approach his optimistic future.