Royce Da 5’9″: “Premier MC” (Elemental Magazine, 2006)

(Click photos to enlarge. Read below.)

By William E. Ketchum III

As experts or employers in any field will testify, experience points outweigh technical know-how in nearly any situation. Pat Riley used his years of playoff experience to coach his Miami Heat to the NBA Championship this year – he’s been there before, and he knew the actions necessary to get back. And with a career full of label drama, beef, and bad situations, Royce Da 5’9″ is putting his veteran lifespan to good use.

“Being mature is my biggest motivation,” Royce says. “The maturity to push myself. You can drop me off on the comer on the way to the studio, and I can walk to the studio and get inspired in that walk. So to write rhymes down, it’s nothing.”

Most ripe artists would have folded-voluntarily or helplessly-under the adversities with which Royce has dealt. He went from being Eminem’s partner-in-rhyme as the duo Bad Meets Evil, and making vintage songs like “Renegades;” to beefing with Eminem and D12, and seeing his verses on “Renegades” get replaced by bars from Jay-Z. Despite an Em-assisted single and an exceptional debut album, he was dropped from his Tommy Boy recording home.

Still, Royce has proven one of the better comeback stories in hip-hop history. The brilliant two-disc mixtape Build and Destroy combined previous career highlights with new heat produced by Just Blaze, Kanye West and others. Its 2004 follow-up, Death Is Certain, made the case for his self-coined “King of Detroit” title with a collection of ominous backdrops and equally menacing rhymes, reestablishing his status as one of the industry’s elite.

These days, Royce is using his prior experience to make sure that his future situations follow through. With Tommy Boy’s hands-on course of Industry Rule #4080 fresh in his mind, Royce has traveled the indie route with his last two albums. And as rumors about him signing with Def Jam swirl through hip-hop circles, Royce doesn’t bat an eye.

“The whole signing a deal thing, l’ve done that three or four times. So that’s not something that requires my immediate attention, especially when I’m not fully prepared with the records,” Royce asserts, after dismissively affirming that Def Jam is one of the various labels interested in housing his next album. “We have money already, so it’s not a situation where I need to go somewhere and get a signing bonus. It’s putting myself in a situation where I can bargain as opposed to going to somebody’s office with my hand out. I don’t think there’s nowhere we won’t be able to go, so it’s not just a situation where we’re sitting around excited that Def Jam is talking. ”

Another part of maturity is knowing that no matter how mature you are, there’s always someone who knows more. Accordingly, for the aforementioned senior LP, Royce enlisted veteran beatmaker DJ Premier as the executive producer. As the genius behind timeless albums like Gang Starr’s Daily Operation and Jeru the Damaja’s The Sun Rises in the East, Royce saw Primo as the best candidate to mastermind his new effort.

“All the other albums were just me recording songs and taking it in the direction that I wanted to take it in,” Royce says. “Now, it’s like, let me fall back and take somebody else’s advice; bring somebody else in who has been known for doing classic albums, and just follow a direction this time. Play a role. That’s no different from Biggie having Puff, or Em having Dre. I needed that direction.”

“This is his Nas project,” he continues. “Whatever he was supposed to do with Nas, I don’t know if it’s going to happen or not. I hope it does, but if it doesn’t this will be equivalent to that.”

Royce says that the only completed track from the album is the recently-leaked “Ding Ding, which features him spitting over sinister pianos, boxing bells and Primo’s signature scratching. Primo is producing four more tracks, and he’s handpicking the beats for the rest of the disc. So far, those tracks are from Carlos “Six July” Broady, who produced the bulk of Death Is Certain, and Bink!, whose clientele includes Beanie Sigel and Fat Joe. Royce says that he appreciates the outside counsel he’s receiving this time around.

“He gives a lot of direction, more so now than back then,” Royce says. “Back then, I just came in and laid my verses. He liked the verses, [but] I think he was just excited to be working with an MC. Now, especially since he’s executive producing, he’s a lot more involved. He’s producing now instead of just beat-making, so that’s a real good thing.”

While this album is the first time they’ve worked together extensively, it’s still the latest in a series of previous collaborations. In years past, Royce and Premier worked together to create gems like “Boom” (which Royce says Premo had originally made for Capone-N-Noreaga, but they didn’t want it. “I’ll take it,” he nostalgically laughs), “My Friend” and “Hip Hop.” Royce says that they have such strong chemistry because of their mutual versatility.

“Me and Primo, we just like the same kind of shit,” Royce says. “His ear is just as diverse as my sound. You’d be surprised at the kinds of records that Primo likes. You can’t really tell off of some of the artists that he works with, because he loves the underground. That Christina Aguilera record, he can do that shit all day. That’s where we click-when we find out how alike we are.”

That alchemy is exactly what many listeners are anxious for, especially after 2005’s Independent’s Day. While the album had highlights like “I Owe You” and the Cee-Lo-assisted “Politics,” it failed to measure up to the superb Death Is Certain. Royce says that he feels pressure both from fans and his own camp with the new project.

“The pressure doesn’t necessarily come from other people; it comes from me and my camp, the people whose opinion I value. We’re all so critical right now. We want this to be the best album, because this is the biggest statement: Royce and Premo,” he says, while subsequently adding, “I still really care about people liking my records. A lot of people say, I don’t care who likes it, I just do them for me.’ Yeah, I do my records for me, but I want other people to like them too, because I feel like I have a common ear. I think I can sell a lot of records, I think I can get a lot of radio spins, I think I can be a huge star.”

Royce’s superstar ascension would be as beneficial for him as it would be for the city of Detroit. Since 2005, Detroit has lost three of its most important hip-hop figures: Blade Icewood of the Street Lordz, uber-producer/MC James “J Dilia” Yancey, and Deshaun “Proof” Holton of D12, respectively. Blade and Proof were gunned down, and Yancey died of lupus, a rare autoimmune disease. Obie Trice also came dangerously close to joining their same fate when he was shot in the head while driving. Fortunately, he was able to drive himself to a hospital and get treated before it frayed into fatal damage.

“The city is not going to stop talking about that, it’ll still come up on random street corners. But as far as the status of the streets, it’s the same as it was before them, same as it’s going to be,” Royce insists. “[Their deaths] put a big dent in hip-hop as we know it in Detroit, and that’s going to be there forever. Hopefully it’ll be there forever, and hopefully they won’t be forgotten. This is not something new in Detroit, this has been happening forever.”

Royce says that he personally knew all three artists, and that each death hit him equally hard. “You can imagine how I feel, that shit struck very close to home,” he says. “Not one of those deaths happened where I didn’t sit and think, like, ‘Damn, that could’ve been me.'” He says that he has been in situations similar to what deemed the shootings that took both Blade and Proof, and that he doesn’t believe media accounts detailing the nightclub situation of the latter. As he did with previous situations, he made sure that he !earned from their deaths. “That shit really affected me and put shit into perspective, and it really made me move different and treat people different,” Royce says.” Just try to be more of a productive mothafucka in society, and not be one of these mothafuckas who niggas want to touch like that, because it’s real easy to put yourself in that position.”

That’s a good thing, because Royce has got a big schedule ahead of him. Along with the new album, he’s running his label M.I.C. Records and ghostwriting for clients that include Diddy. He has also said that he’s down for the Bad Meets Evil reunion that fans have yearned for since their beef (“You’ve probably got to ask Em that, he says. “l’m always down for that, I’ve been saying that for years.”) And with everything he’s got going this time around, he’s got the seasoning to make sure it goes right.