Royce Da 5’9” punctuates the intro of his new album The Allegory with a reference to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In it, Plato tells of a philosopher, who after escaping imprisonment inside a cave filled with shadows, tries to go back to tell the others about the false reality the cave had instilled in them, to no avail. I had to read it in high school, and this review is the only time it has come in handy in life.
Royce’s evolution over his past three albums has been inspiring to see. His rapping ability has never been in question, but recently he’s been playing the role of director as much as he has rapper. If “Book of Ryan” was an intimate film on the nature of fatherhood, The Allegory is a naturalist crime drama, but one that’s more concerned with society at large.
I’ll always admire artists who push themselves creatively, and that’s exactly what Royce has done here. He takes a big risk by taking on a producer role, but it’s one that pays off in leaps and bounds. Each instrumental is rich and developed, serving as the perfect canvas for Royce’s elite lyricism. Something that The Allegory and Royce’s recent albums have done well is allow him the freedom to rap for the sake of rapping within the confines of the album’s larger themes. This choice results in longer runtimes, but I appreciate the balancing act that he’s able to pull off. His efforts to push himself creatively sometimes manifest in lyrical concepts that don’t quite work, such as his lines on “On the Block” about going on a date with the 8th of December and making the rest of the winter pay for the dinner. I’m still deciding if that’s dope or not.
Most of the time, though, this creativity pans out. His stilted flow on the intro track veers heavily into spoken word and sets the stage for the thematic songs that follow. On “Rhinestone Doo Rag,” he calls back to the cover of his first album to deliver a message on the importance of ownership and evolution. Royce is also the master of crafting simple, creative lines that resonate, one on “Pendulum” that’s been stuck in my head being, “Too artistic to nut, this a catharsis.”
The album is very feature-heavy, but most of them add something valuable. Each member of Griselda is given their own track to shine, and all three show out with verses that highlight their best qualities. Westside Gunn steals the show on “Overcomer,” maybe the best song on the album. I’m always a sucker for rappers talking shit over soul loops, and this track gave me that and more. Westside Gunn and Royce’s verses are separated by the moving chant of “All we do is slang dope.” It channels the feeling of thousands of neighborhoods across America gathered around a campfire. Vince Staples comes through with an immaculate flow on “Young World” over a beat that sounds ripped from the theme song of an old LA detective show.
Royce pulls out all the stops on The Allegory and shows how far he’s developed as an artist. He’s the perfect example of how someone who has been boxed in can find new ways to innovate, maintaining the core of who they are while still incorporating new ideas.
Now we can talk about the anti-vax stuff.
In recent interviews and moments on the album, Royce stresses the importance of thinking about the future. He wants to make music that ages well, which is the opposite of what will happen to the kids of parents who put stock into a single study that’s been disproven a thousand times over.
As irresponsible as this material is, though, you can hardly say it’s out of place. The Allegory is centered around America’s present and future and the responsibilities Royce feels towards his community. It paints a picture of a corrupt nation that hates him and everyone like him, but with a resilient hope rising from within. This hope can be found in Eminem’s thoughtful message on representation. It can be found in the multiple skits of a father quizzing his daughter on how to make it in the world. And unfortunately, it’s in Royce saying that vaccines cause autism and Malaria can’t kill you. Royce’s distrust of the country he grew up in leads him down this path of skepticism, towards a conclusion that makes perfect sense on the surface, but falls apart at the lightest level of scrutiny.
He is wrong. And it’s a shame he’s as wrong as he is because it casts a shadow on the rest of the album’s social commentary, almost all of which is poignant and well-thought-out. It’s just so frustrating. It’s like combining dozens of ingredients into a massive bowl to make a cake, and when you make it to the last ingredient, you pour out that milk or crack that egg to find that it’s five months expired.
The Allegory serves as an alternative ending to Plato’s thought experiment, where the philosopher makes it outside the cave and becomes obsessed with finding the truth. His demise is that, in his search, he becomes more obsessed with the search itself than the actual truth. He finds something, so it must be truth, and he presents it back to the cave-dwellers, who look back up at him from their chafed and bloody knees and realize he is just as imprisoned as they are.