By Angelo Gingerelli
After well over a decade in the rap game, Detroit lyricist Royce The 5’ 9” has seen unprecedented success recently with several well received collaborative projects including “Bad Meets Evil” (Eminem), “Slaughter House” (Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz & Crooked I) and “PRhyme” (DJ Premier & Adrian Young). With Layers, Royce has promised fans his most personal album to date, and while it’s an interesting project, opening up to your fans doesn’t always translate to a great album.
Layers was introduced with the leadoff single “Tabernacle” that details the most significant day in Royce’s life where he met Eminem, had his first son and saw his grandmother pass away all within the span of a few hours. The soulful beat and heartfelt verses are great, but oddly the chorus/hook are replaced with spoken word interludes where Royce fills in the blanks in the narrative left out of the verses. It’s not a terrible technique, but it’s used on about half the songs on the album and wears out it’s welcome pretty quickly.
A few songs later on “Hard” Royce raps about how the song was inspired by Broadway smash Hamilton and it’s clear that the entire album is influenced by the musical theatre template. While there are definitely a few songs where this works (“Pray” “Shine” “Hello”) there are a few where it’s less effective (“Hard” “Dope”) and overall these in-song interludes detract from the replay value of the album. Only rabid fans of musical theatre listen to the soundtracks from their favorite plays over and over again, and there’s a pretty good chance most Royce fans will grow tired of this project after repeated listening.
The other issue with a self-proclaimed battle rapper like Royce delivering a “personal” album and attempting to show the “Layers” of his personality is that’s not what most fans want from punchline rappers like him. The undisputed king of this transition is Eminem whose early displays of skill (“Any Man” “Get You Mad”) gave way to songs like “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Lose Yourself” as his profile rose to megastardom. Since Slaughter House signed to Shady Records the individual members have all attempted similar transitions like Joe Budden’s All Love Lost and Joell Ortiz’s Human and House Shoes albums, however none have received the critical or commercial success of their label head. Most of these projects (Layers included) are worth at least a few spins, but none of them are as good as the relentless lyrical beatdowns on their group efforts.
The beats provided by S1, D12’s Mr. Porter, Nottz and Jake One are all solid, but are somewhat subdued compared to past Royce songs with producers like DJ Premier and Just Blaze, this is most likely a conscious effort to fit the overall tone of the project and mostly works to make the album cohesively introspective about the man Royce is today.
Over the course of the seventeen tracks Royce addresses many ongoing issues in his life including alcoholism, fatherhood, marital infidelity (most notably on “Misses” about a Fatal Attraction style affair with a female fan), drug dealing (“Dope”) and growing up in Detroit (“Starter Coat”). While “Layers” might not be full of hard-hitting classics like “Boom” or “Scary Movies” it does provide a nice introduction to the artist for new fans and shows a different side of Royce The 5’ 9” for long time listeners.
Best Songs: “Tabernacle” “Misses” and “Starter Coat”
Perfect For: A long car ride or cardio session
Rating 6.5 out of 10