Royce Da 5'9
Only a few things in life are certain, death and taxes, so goes the saying. But heralded rhyme spitter Royce da 5’9” is confidently adding another to list with his forthcoming fifth studio album: Success Is Certain. The project, his first solo effort since inking to Eminem’s Shady Records, showcases the veteran MC’s trademark lyrical acumen along with an evolving perspective as a father, a man and a Detroit native.
The album follows the release of 2009’s Street Hop and is a nod to his 2004 LP Death Is Certain.
“I’ve always been able to rap, that’s not secret,” Royce explains. “There’s a lot of guys that can rap. But it’s who you are as a person, are you able to bring that across and do people even care? Me, myself, I’ve always been a work in progress outside of the booth. I’ve always been able to go in the booth and get people to say, Yeah, he can rap. But it takes maturity, going through life’s trials and tribulations, learning from those mistakes, bouncing back from them and making a story for yourself. I had to really learn how to bring myself across in a way where people felt like they knew me and know my personality.”
Royce da 5’9” first burst onto the scene in the late ‘90s making a name for himself in Detroit’s competitive hip-hop scene. He joined forces with another rising local talent Eminem and the two recorded the original “Bad Meets Evil” track, which later landed on Em’s multi-platinum debut, The Slim Shady LP. Royce da 5’9” went on to release his debut set, Rock City 2.0, but not ‘til several years passed and after he bounced around several label homes .
His troubles only deepened when a rift grew between him and D-12, including Eminem.
The talented rapper was being labeled a malcontent.
“When I do projects I basically rap about where I’m about mentally at that time. It just comes out,” says Royce. “Sometimes I’m stuck in a certain era. When I did Death Is Certain, everything that I rapped about was dark because it was a dark period in my life. I rapped more about failure and having beef and making mistakes. Now, this is the first time in many years that I’ve been happy. So I’m just as happy now as I was angry then. So it came natural to name my project Success Is Certain, cause it’s about everything I been though but rapping about getting through it. It’s looking back in retrospect but overcoming adversity, leaping over hurdles and breaking down barriers. Triumph, really.”
In 2008, Royce rebounded in a big way, first, by uniting with Joe Budden, Crooked I and Joell Ortiz to form the wrecking bars crew Slaughterhouse and then reconciling with the Dirty Dozen.
His scorching rhymes on Slaughterhouse’s two group projects and his and Em’s “Bad Meets Evil” sequel left fans clamoring for the return of Royce Nickel-Nine the solo artist.
With Success Is Certain, he more than obliges the request.
The first single, “Writer’s Block” featuring Eminem, finds the two old friends flipping words like Olympic gymnasts.
“Give up the throne, your lease up/ I am the Mona Lisa,” Royce spits. “Better call the Da Vinci Code, we’re throwing your piece up/it’s a waste of fake, like a phony B-cup/ making a mistake was like my only teacher/ wait til they get a load of me, cuz.”
Slated Success Is Certain material like the cerebral “Merry Go Round,” “Legendary,” and the Alchemist-produced “I Ain’t Coming Down” help to properly paint the portrait of the artist, born Ryan Montgomery, and his travels.
“I’m just addressing a lot of things and a lot of it is aimed at the people in the barbershops who said I would fall off and not make it. This project is letting you know that I’m here, I’m back and there’s nothing you can do, basically,” Royce says. “I feel like I can get in the game and I’m a threat to be checked now. For the next five years I want to get in there and score some points, that entails record sales, making money and being considered one of the best in the moment. That’s a goal of mine: I want to be looked at like that because I am. I just need to show it. I don’t expect anybody to say it right now, I got to prove it. I’m still a competitive MC. I’m not competing to go against anybody but I’m competing to co-exist to be respected by my peers. The same way I respect them, I want to be noticed and as visible as everybody else.”
When Ted Leo won the 2010 Shorty Award for Best Twitter Feed in the Music category, he defeated some strong competition, including Justin Bieber and Britney Spears. What vaulted New Jersey native Theodore Francis Leo over such juggernauts? Many voters cited Leo’s natural humor and conversational tone, which veered from quips encouraging vegans to opt for Tofucharist at their next communion, to commentary on watching Battlestar Galactica, to lashes at his intern.
While many musicians would crap out self-promoting blurbs and bland observations, Ted Leo was articulate and goddamn funny. What does his road commentary have to do with his live show, you ask? Why should you be sure to see him at Bottom of the Hill? Because the guy’s a goddamn national treasure, that’s why.
It’s rare these days to find an American songwriter tackle political issues with such ferocity and specificity. The UK has Billy Bragg and Frank Turner, but who do we have? We have Ted Leo. This show is a solo acoustic set. The raucous shows with the full Pharmacists band are cathartic, sure, but the acoustic setting is where those barbed lyrics really emerge.
Leo’s trio of acclaimed albums for the sadly defunct Berkeley label, Lookout!, will surely be represented: The Tyranny of Distance, Hearts of Oak and Shake the Sheets. We’ll likely hear a few brisk numbers from his most recent disc, The Brutalist Bricks. And yes, there’s a chance we’ll hear a song or two from his as-of-yet unfinished musical about the history of US involvement in Guatemala, Red Bananas.
For a taste of his sharply observed words, look no further than the first lines of the new album’s opening, “The Mighty Sparrow”: “When the café doors exploded, I reacted too / I reacted to you / Papers in the wind a-waltzing, I was dancing too / My mind danced to you.” It’s a powerful start to a strong record, and another victory for the tenacious punk journeyman. And when Ted Leo wins, we all win.
Yellow Ostrich formed in a Wisconsin dorm room in early 2009 as the solo recording project of Alex Schaaf. Over the course of the next year, Schaaf released six albums and EPs, including three EPs in August, 2010: Fade Cave, The Morgan Freeman EP, and The Serious Kids EP. Alex relocated to New York City in the summer of 2010, recruited Michael Tapper (We Are Scientists/Bishop Allen) to play drums, and began to play locally in New York City. The Mistress, Yellow Ostrich's debut LP, was released in October. After significant grassroots support and acclaim for the album, Afternoon Records (Pomegranates, Haley Bonar, John Vanderslice) picked up the record and is reissuing a remastered version on February 2011.