After nearly 20 years in the rap game, Royce da 5’9″ finally cleaned out his closet with the release of Book of Ryan, his most intimate album to date. If you’re familiar with Royce’s revealing “Tabernacle” record—originally intended to be included on Book of Ryan—then you have an idea of what the confessional BOR sounds like.
For the rapper, born Ryan Daniel Montgomery, unearthing engrossing personal narratives is new territory. Nickel Nine’s career has been built on shooting head-scratching and face-screwing sixteens at his contemporaries. Book of Ryan is a hard-boiled noire playing through the dark crevices of Royce’s childhood, where the 40-year-old rapper witnessed his father “beat the sh*t” out of his mother, internalized his dad’s cocaine habit, and the mental anguish of feeling like he’s “not doing anything good enough.”
Without a doubt, Book of Ryan is one of the most important albums out. The 21-track LP sheds light on the genetics of addiction and provides insight on masculinity that’s often seen in urban spaces. VIBE selected six rhymes from Royce’s latest offering to break down its importance and life lessons.
Lyrics: So I went out there to look for what he asked me to get/I was checkin’ all the seats but the only thing I saw/Was a bag of cocaine (Say what?)/Uh, papa was too silent, he ain’t never tell a lie/I went in to tell him ’bout it, he said “Oh, that must be Guy/He worked with me at the job,” I said “Oh” and walked away/He said “Oh, before you go, make sure you don’t tell your ma ”Bout the cocaine” (Say what?)
The Break Down: Although we’ve watched the Detroit rapper battle alcohol addiction, we’ve rarely heard Royce get personal about his father’s drug dependency. On “Cocaine,” Royce sheds light on this experience and helps fans understand his addictive personality. Drug addiction is classified as a disease. Research shows that it’s 50 percent genetic disposition and 50 percent poor coping skills. Children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an unhealthy addiction. With “Cocaine” and album cut “Who Are You (Skit),” and his revealing interview with Angie Martinez, Nickel Nine is acknowledging decades of research on drug habits, which gives color to his past addiction. And for the hip-hop heads who’d rather listen to a Royce record than read dense research, these lyrics are very beneficial.
Lyrics: It’s Christmas time in the Montgomery home/Daddy’s actin’ all crazy again/Momma got herself a bloody nose/Daddy slapped her in the face again/Why they always gotta fight so much? Damn, momma face swole/Me and my bros in a panic state/If that’s the case yo, I can’t just stay around this.
And I’m looking at Frank Dux and sh*t, thinkin’ you should split/Before daddy come down these stairs of this basement and see you wasted/But he just cut me off like, “That nigga ain’t gon’ do sh*t”/But the truth is, he couldn’t whoop my dad even if he was sober/I know cause he tried once/Ended up unconscious, a broke arm and a tooth was chipped/My big bro got a lot of emotional problems, he feel that we was all abused as kids/He saw momma get dragged down all kinds of stairs like a ragdoll when he was two/And this is back when daddy used to sniff cocaine, poor thang/He had to be subjected to this when he gets drunk, he gets to losing it
The Break Down: It’s bad enough that violence is one of the first things learned when growing up in poor communities. As the above lyrics suggest, mothers abused by men introduced young people to violence in the home, which is a traumatizing experience. As children, understanding how domestic abuse affects them can be arduous, thus leading to the normalization of violence within society. However, adolescent minds capable of understanding normalized behavior. With Royce reflecting on his childhood, he sheds light on the aggression that we see urban spaces—which has the potential to help young fathers who come from crime-ridden areas.
3. “Protecting Ryan (Skit)”
Lyrics: This n***a just blacked out and started swinging the knife at the dude I dropped/’swoosh swoosh swoosh’ “I’mma kill you motherf**ker!”/And start cuttin’ the n***a/I had to grab him like, “Greggy, what are you doing? Don’t kill this n***a!”/The whole park just went silent/And then the silence gets broken by police sirens/And all you hear from each way is people going, “Greg throw the knife on the roof! Greg throw the knife in the pool! Get rid of the knife, Greg!”/And he drops the bloody knife right in the grass/I look at him, he looks back at me/Prison bars just come in between us and surrounds him completely/My mother and father just outta nowhere pops into the picture/And I said, “You ain’t have to try to kill him Greggy And then he went to prison and started writing letters home “Dear Momma, I’m so sorry. All I was doing was protectin’ Ryan”
The Break Down: This is arguably the most profound line from Book of Ryan. Royce’s oldest brother, Greg, was protective of his sibling, so much so that he stabbed someone that Royce had an altercation with, which resulted in Greg’s imprisonment. Royce doesn’t divulge into the root of his big brother’s protective behavior, but based on the album’s theme, Greg’s actions may be rooted in trying to shield Royce from seeing his mother abused. That protective, and violent, behavior carried over into their teenage years. As the skit leads into “Strong Friend,” Royce makes it clear that we need to check on people who appear to be stronger than us. Being that Greg was always protective of Royce, no one ever thought to protect Greg.
4. “Boblo Boat” feat. J. Cole
Lyrics: All the gangstas I had in my family had me anti-b***h/My granddaddy mistress caught the business from my granny fist/That was back ‘fore I was born/Pop told stories ’bout it that would last for hours-long/And as a family, we was just so happy/When him and mama got along on the Bob-Lo boat.
The Break Down: Hip-hop has always been rooted in misogyny, but rarely does one hear about other spaces where it is practiced. As Ryan M. raps, he first learned how to chant “B***hes ain’t sh*t” from his uncles and his dad’s stories about his cheating grandfather. Digging deeper into this revelation, certain communities associate fragility and lack of fighting skills with defamatory words such as p***y, b***h, h**, and fa**ot. All of this leads to misogynistic lyrics. Over the years, Royce has said spewed his fair share of misogynistic lyrics. Thanks to “Boblo Boat,” we now see where Nickel first learned how to demean women.
5. “Outside” feat. Marsha Ambrosius and Robert Glasper
Lyrics: You know what I’m about to say next, right? I’m afraid of you drinkin’/Though I never taught you to swim, I’m afraid of you sinkin’/I know I taught you to fight, you ain’t in condition to win this/You wired different/You just ain’t the n***a your friends is, it’s scientific/Not my opinion so you know you genetically predisposed/To more than just eating soul food, so I’m afraid of you to try to risk it.
The Break Down: Here, Royce talks to his 20-year-old son, informing him that falling into the pit of drugs and alcohol is high. Royce goes a step further by explaining to his son that he’s genetically wired to become an addict because the disease of addiction goes back at least two generations from his son. Through his professional counseling sessions, Royce is able to explain addiction’s DNA to family and fans alike. Similar to JAY Z, Royce is ensuring his fans that counseling is cool—even for hardest cats in the ‘hood.
6. “Stay Woke” feat. Ashley Sorrell
Lyrics: Thanks to Marshall, I’m sober doin’ what I enjoy doin’
The Break Down: One night during a studio session, Eminem (who has been sober for a decade) reminded Royce that if he ever wanted to talk about his alcohol abuse, he can call on him. One day, Royce took Em up on his offer and received professional help. He’s been sober ever since.
Stream Book of Ryan below.