23 July 2018

REVIEW | Royce da 5'9" - Book of Ryan

Royce's career is one that many emcees would kill for: a solid catalog of LPs/EPs/mixtapes that spans (almost) two decades, one fourth of the lyrical Voltron group Slaughterhouse (unfortunately the now extinct group), half of a rap duo with Eminem (Bad Meets Evil), and half of the emcee/producer team with the legendary DJ Premier (PRhyme). If you are one of those people that has Nickel Nine in your top ten, I can't front. I ain't mad at that. Royce not only has a slew of classic bars and tracks in his arsenal, but dude got a few projects that certain circles will stamp with that "classic" tag as well. His second album, Death Is Certain, comes to mind (I might throw in Layers as a possible). As well as his mixtape series The Bar Exam (with the likes of Statik Selektah, DJ Premier, DJ Green Lantern, and DJ Whoo Kid at the helm). So how did Royce da 5'9" do on his seventh solo album? Let's find out.

Let's start with his first single, "Boblo Boat", featuring J Cole. The beat is sampled from MichaƂ Urbaniak's "A Day in Park". Urszula Dudsiak's vocals can be heard throughout the track, mainly taken from her first verse. Her words play like a grocery list of words associated with an amusement park. The track actually starts off with an excerpt from a documentary about Bob-Lo Island. The narrator, Mort Crim, introduces the Canadian amusement park that existed from 1898 to 1993. Royce remembers taking the "Bob-Lo Boats" (S.S. Columbia and the S.S. Ster. Clair) from Detroit, Michigan to Ontario, Canada. Nickel uses this backdrop to paint fond memories at the park and foreshadows events that influenced his upbringing. Moments of happiness are broken by the threat of addiction that ran through his family. His metaphors juxtapose food courts with the aroma of weed, and swimming pools surrounded by broken glass. J Cole takes the baton seamlessly as he gives his tale from his North Carolina upbringing. Cole didn't have trips to Bob-Lo Island, but he vividly recalls his teenage years. Everyone was just worried about being "cool". For Cole and his friends it meant smoking, drinking, and losing your virginity. In these simpler times Cole was most happy joy riding in his mother's Honda Civic with his crew. Times have changed, but Cole assures the listeners that he still hasn't peeked as an emcee. As first singles go, you don't get better than this.

"Cocaine" was a track that stood out from the first listen. It actually comes after a skit. It's a little deep, but the skit ends with Royce's son asking for help with his school paper about "a figure in [his] life that [he] finds inspiring, that [he] looks up to". His son chose to write the paper about his father, Royce. The title for the paper would be "The Book of Ryan". SO DOPE. His son's first question is, "who are you?" Then we enter "Cocaine". Royce skillfully answers his son with a specific anecdote about Royce's father and the first time he found out about his drug use. Royce's battle with addiction is well documented, and this entire album pulls the curtain back on never before seen (or heard) personal stories. A recurring question is: if Royce's father didn't battle addiction, would Royce (and his bother) not have to deal with their own addictions? Royce knows that he lost a lot of time with his family while he was battling addiction. "Cocaine" is meant to explain to his son that addiction runs heavy in their family. By understanding his grandfather's struggle, his son is able to better understand the struggle Royce went through. In the end, both men beat their addictions by using their families as their motivation and strength. This is a beautiful track that also just sounds dope.

We've heard about the concept for the Book of Ryan since 2016. But it wasn't until March (this year), around the release of PRhyme 2that we got a tracklist and cover art for the Book of Ryan. Royce basically pulled a Josh Brolin. Brolin played Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War AND Cable in Deadpool 2. Dude had two blockbusters a month (not even) apart from one another. PRhyme 2 dropped on March 16th, and month and some change later Royce was hitting us up with his seventh solo LP. In Hip Hop head circles, both of these albums definitely garnered a lot of buzz. Any solo album is always a risk. Since it is just you. Good or bad, it's all on you. That risk multiplies when you start getting up there in the tracklist. The Book of Ryan clocks in at 21 tracks (well, 19 if you discount the two skit tracks). We are finally enough removed from "Kanye season" that a 21 track album is a breath of fresh air. That's a drive home from work or a session at the gym. No skips. No repeats. But an hour (almost) listening to a "very personal" project? That's though, but here is the genius. So you got the theme, but you can't "Slippin'" or "Cleanin' Out My Closet" us to death for 21 tracks. Nickel hits you with a stick and move. He distributes where he chooses to go into detail about specific subjects and where he can provide broader perspectives that are relatable to more listeners. And of course there are parts where he can just flex his lyrical muscles for the sake of flexing. Oh, and THE BEATS. As an executive producer (along with Mr. Porter and S1), Royce is able to craft an entire album by hand picking the perfect instrumentals for each section of the album. The range that Nickel is successfully able to hit is crazy. And to make it all cohesive is even more amazing. Songs like "Summer on Lock" shouldn't work in this particular album. But it does. The T-Pain (T-Pain!) assisted "First of the Month" track also stand out as a surprisingly successful addition. Royce adds harmony to his already impressive lyrical repertoire. Not just on the "lighter" songs, but on deep joints like "Anything/Everything". Royce is able to balance an interpersonal album by adding current and relevant subject matter that all can relate to. The Book of Ryan is just that. An autobiographical book on tape. To say this is an introspective album would be an understatement. If you listen to this album for a week straight (or weeks, as I have), you'll have a different favorite track every single day. This project is authentic, vulnerable, and raw. Real rap. I got nothing else. If you a Nickel fan, you better have this in rotation. If you a Hip Hop head, ditto.

Peep video for "Boblo Boat" and the track they sampled, "A Day In The Park", below. AND peep the whole album too! And after you do that, stop being cheap and support Book of Ryan for real. Can't complain there ain't no real rap when you don't support real rap. Truth.

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