Something is happening in hip-hop culture as it ages and veteran emcee Royce Da 5’9” recognizes it and embraces it fully. With a subtle smile even — from behind his signature shades, of course.
It’s not about the tired conversation of which is better — golden era hip-hop or today’s music — but more about the ways the music itself can continue to move everyone forward. It’s not about trying to satisfy everyone anymore, because he’s realized throughout the years that people are never truly satisfied, no matter how good the music is or how well he may rhyme.
“It’s motivational to have that, though,” Royce told BET.com exclusively, sharing that even with Layers, his brand new solo album, hungry listeners are already looking out for the next PRhyme project.
“You know how it goes,” he says laughing. “It’s a blessing. People are never satisfied.”
In 2016, the Detroit native is here to create the music that he wants to create, in hopes that younger artists will take notes, learn and be inspired by his two-decade-long-and-counting career. He’s clocked the hours. He’s paid his dues. He’s paved his way. And he’s been through hell and back. Layers is an album kept close to Royce’s heart that reflects all of these things but glistens with a positivity that showcases where he is in life and his career right now.
“I’m happy that people are enjoying the music,” Royce said on the eve of his new solo album’s release (available today April 15). “That's all I'm really here to do it for at this point. I'm here to get respect from my peers and to contribute to the art form in a way that is not taking away from it in any way. I feel like that's my job now as an OG. To do that and do it on the highest level possible and continue to age lyrically and gracefully.”
On top of taking his role as an OG seriously, Royce aims to inspire a younger generation by continuing to lead by example through his music and keeping things as positive as possible. While this could be attributed to his now four-plus years of sobriety, the bigger picture is that hip-hop could really grow and benefit from his perspective.
“I have to say Layers is a re-introduction, a re-invention of sorts,” Royce says. “I felt the need to do that. I feel like I'm a new person and I want to introduce people to that person through my music, through interviews, through any outlet that I can.
“I think it can help younger artists coming into the business,” he continued. “It definitely should inspire work ethic and inspire some positivity. I've been spending my whole career, my whole life, rapping pretty much about negativity. I delve into a lot of personal issues that I had growing up and parts of my personal story, but a lot of it might not come off as positive music. Some of it still may come off as negative. I try to balance it out when I talk about it. When I talk about things publicly, I try to put the most positive spin on it as possible because that's pretty much where I'm at in my life right now. I'm in a positive place. I think hip-hop in 2016 needs that balance.”
For his newer listeners, Royce says he would like them to start with Layers first, which is another interesting testament that he really put his all into his latest project.
“I would like for people to hear this album first to gain a little perspective from it,” he says. “Once you hear Layers, you’ll have a better understanding of my journey. And then you can go back and listen to my older stuff and understand where I was coming from with that perspective to where I'm at now.”
The project is executive produced by Royce and Mr. Porter. Features on the album are chosen sparingly, namely Rick Ross and Pusha T, of which Royce says, “With this one, I just wanted to show my reach in a different way. I wanted to reach and grab somebody and pull them to my world. I didn't want to go too crazy with it, so I just chose Pusha T and Rick Ross and kept it simple.
“I didn’t set out to do a summer album or anything like that,” Royce says, when probed about its April release date. The 17-track album is an ambitious display of self expression, one that is sure to wake listeners out of a dreary winter season with its wisely-curated production.
“Music that causes nostalgia or takes you to a certain season or reminds you of something, I think that's always a great thing. That's the makings of classic material. That's something that is going to stick with you, no matter what and no matter when. If my album soundtracks someone’s summer, I think that would be a great thing.”
Taking the conversation back to Royce’s mentoring mindset, he reflected the ways he’s been able to achieve longevity in his career without letting the music industry knock him down.
“I'm constantly self-observing,” he says. “I try to keep a team of people around me that I trust. I try to keep my judge of character really sharp. You are who you hang around. I try to stay away from negativity myself and that way I won't exhibit that kind of behavior. You know, I've made my mistakes. I've been through my ups and downs in music but for the most part I feel like I'm on a pretty positive path right now. That's how I keep myself focused and dialed in on what I'm doing.”
As Layers receives positive feedback from fans and begins to climb the charts, Royce already has eyes on what will unfold during the rest of 2016.
“I’m excited about the projects that I got coming. The main thing is moving forward in a way that is productive,” he says. “I’m so excited knowing that I’ve got multiple things coming from so many different angles and styles, like a combination of punches where I'm just throwing them from up and around and under, you know? You can’t block it because I’m coming in from everywhere.”
Royce’s Layers is available today (April 15) via Bad Half Entertainment and is coming in hot.
KC Orcutt is a writer freshly based out of Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter: @KCOrcutt.
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(Photos from top to bottom: Krista Schlueter for BET)