“This is straight up, pioneer driven/ I ain’t stoppin till I am, where Em is”
~ Royce Da 5’9″: 8-11 (Freestyle)
As regarded a city as there is in America, Detroit has buit as big a name as they come, boasting hip hop acts such as Elzhi, Black Milk and of course, the technically enhanced veteran, Eminem. Almost forgotten amongst the cold confines of the “D” is one Ryan Montgomery, better known as Royce Da 5’9″. After a year long stint in prison for a DUI, Royce sought to reclaim his hold on the underground, unleashing the initial two installments of his famed Bar Exam series, patching up misunderstandings with longtime friend Eminem and forming a lyrical juggernaut with the likes of Crooked I, Joe Budden and Joell Ortiz in Slaughterhouse. Working under the radar with the legendary DJ Premier, Royce Da 5’9″ entered the studio diligently to finish up work on his long delayed, much anticipated Street Hop opus. With the Slaughterhouse project available for release and backing coming from some of hip hop’s greatest acts, Royce Da 5’9″ allows listeners to join him on his quest to be mentioned among hip hop’s elites and (in a way) escape the shadow of one Slim Shady.
Royce Da 5’9″ explodes out of the gate on the energetic opener, “Gun Harmonizing”. Backed by Emile’s melodic production, Royce likens his rhyming skills to that of an AK-47, even mimicing the gunfire with dramatic scatting on the hook before fellow Slaughterhouse mate Crooked I bats cleanup with a damn near show-stealing guest feature. Nickle enlists Phonte, one half of famed hip hop group Little Brother, for hook duties on the smooth “Something 2 Ride 2”, a slow burner produced by the legendary DJ Premier. Mimicing the execution of Premier’s use of a Public Enemy’s numerical sample on The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”, Royce delivers punchline after punchline on the blistering “Count For Nothing”.
“Dinner Time” shows Royce literally as hungry as they come as he spends a little over three minutes devouring wack emcees, with even cameo legend Busta Rhymes becoming a morsel for the Detroit Native as he absolutely “toe-tags” Quincey Tones’ militant backdrop. The self-proclaimed “Sergeant Slaughter” is joined by the rest of his Slaughterhouse conglomerate on “The Warriors”, another Emile-produced gem that features the fearsome foursome unleashing two verses a piece, wrecking a cinematic backdrop with numerous quotables and Royce emerging from the destruction triumphant with two absolutely stellar verses. “Shake This” is easily another classic addition into Royce’s belt as the famed rhyme spitter reflects on past problems with alcoholism and prison time and details his journey of redemption, aided by Premier’s lush production.
Street Hop also offers a musical epiphany for listeners as Royce Da 5’9″ allows listeners to partake in his twisted thoughts for a few of storytelling murals, easily painting himself among the underrated when it comes to cinematic narratives. Listeners enter Nickle’s version of The Twilight Zone (nicknamed the “5’9 Zone”) on “Part of Me” as he details a pecuilar night at the bar for a young man who enters a beautiful dream in the form of a threesome with two gorgeous women before awakening to an ugly nightmare as the vixens numbed his body before a vengeful act of castration takes place for the unlucky chap. “On The Run” sees Royce incased in a hotelroom, gripped by a state of paranoia as he goes over the past 24 hours in an attempt to figure out exactly what happened to him. The subsequent track, “Murder”, acts as a Nas-esque “Rewind” as he recounts the bloodbath he witnessed the day before from start to end (which ties into “On The Run”).
Lyrically, Royce is a force throughout the album, bombarding each beat with relative ease and calm. Executively produced by DJ Premier, Primo possesses an excellent ear for beats, selecting excellent backdrops for Nickle’s rhymes to run rampant over. Royce even manages to dip his feet into commercial waters on “Thing For Your Girlfriend” and the autotune-laden chorus on “Far Away”. The biggest detriments to Street Hop‘s case as a classic album are the lengthy tracklisting (clocking it at 19 cuts) and the inclusion of generic subject matter on obvious filler (“Gangsta”,”Bad Boy” and the useless skit, for example). With enough spins, the gangsta talk grows tired and its fire is eventually snuffed out. Noticeably missing (after the addition of the year old and previously leaked “Shake This” and “Part of Me”) is the classic “Taxi Driver”, an absolute gem of a record that was originally planned for Street Hop, but leaked as part of Royce’s The Revival LP and was thus, not included. With that being said, Royce Da 5’9″ presents another solid addition to his growing catalogue, but sees him still in search of that undeniable classic record that would elevate him into the company he thirsts to join: the likes of Jay-Z, Nas and his fellow Detroit friend/native, Eminem.