It’s ten minutes to 5:00 PM on a strangely slow, snail’s paced Friday afternoon in New York city. The usual Hip-hop news feed is slow on this day, and VIBE’s usually upbeat office is quiet. So rare.
The change of pace is odd but welcomed in a space that’s oft overloaded with the noise of scribes tapping on their laptops, and loud rap music blasting from from laptop speakers. Today, only three writers are present, and the office is covered by an uncomfortable muteness, and just a few clicking sounds of Macbooks with loose keyboard letters.
Half of the staff is at the Coachella music festival, and this is the type of Friday that makes one fiend for some sunshine instead of the artificial glow from light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. To add to today’s grayness, rapper Royce da 5’9’’ is over half an hour late for our interview. As the clock inches pass 4:58 p.m., a visibly drained Royce finally arrives with his calm demeanor borderline portraying a sluggish attitude. Accompanied by two of his Bad Half Entertainment teammates, the Detroit native falls through VIBE’s offices rocking Black Jordan 12s, camouflage pants, and a navy blue jacket — and a worn out look.
“Tired is an understatement,” Royce says as his eyes hide behind his black-tinted sunglasses. “But, I don’t get tired when I’m in the studio. As long as I’m in the studio recording, I can go,” Royce says.
This week, Nickel has been non-stop with interviews, and performances while promoting his new album, Layers aka his first No. 1 album. And the hustle doesn’t stop there, he’s heading South for a show in Baltimore as soon as he’s done with this press day in NYC.
Being that Royce has an addictive personality — proof lies in his battle with alcohol addiction — he’s now experiencing a newfound clarity along with his sobriety. He uses the studio as his safe haven, where he says he doesn’t ever grow tired of slinging witty rhymes. Since making the sagacious decision to stop chugging bottles of liquor, he’s like a whole new man.
“When you get older you start having more views. And overall, I’ve been making albums for so long that I just had something [different] to say this time. That’s all it really was.” Nickel’s last album, 2011’s Success Is Certain, had its fair share of angry undertones, as well as his previous efforts.
His 2014 collaboration with DJ Premier on PRhyme and 2016’s Trust The Shooter mixtape are both drenched in top-notch middle finger, crotch-gripping verses all over neck snapping boom-bap production. “People know I can rap, they accept that, says Royce. “It’s almost like, ‘whatever. Yeah, he can rap, so what?’ It’s to that point now. But now, I felt like it was time to peel back some layers. Get introspective and show them a different side, and just factor more about how I feel about things into my music, as opposed to just rapping about how good I am.”
His latest work features more moving autobiographical tracks like “Tabernacle,” “Wait,” and “Misses.” The Mr. Porter-produced “Pray,” the Nottz-produced “Shine,” are also standouts on the 17-track album. Royce offers an array of tales about police brutality, marriage issues, his priorities and more on the LP. Yet he keeps his tongue-in-cheek, playing the O.G. role throughout the album.
“I’m not in a position to preach. I’m pretty much talking about myself. I’m talking about shit that I’m guilty of,” says Royce. “I just don’t want you to get fucked up. It’s like Jay Z’s “hopefully you won’t have to go through that.” Everything that I’m talking about I either went through it, witnessed it firsthand, or it’s something that went on around me, and affected me in some way. And that’s what makes it important to me, which makes me want to talk about it.”
Layers also comes at good time, especially with recent reports of many of America’s high schools not properly preparing students for college. As well as charter schools leaving many minority students educationally disadvantaged. This is something that Royce experienced as a teenager. On the truth-telling track “Hard,” Royce unearths his personal experience with teachers attempting to discourage him from attending college.
“They always used to tell my parents, ‘He’s capable of doing more if he just applies himself.’ Then, when I developed any type of relationship with a teacher they would always tell me that I might want to think about taking up a trade,” says Royce. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that. I don’t remember conversations with teachers where they actually spoke to me like college was an option. [They were] putting it into my young mind, and making me rule out education, and that’s not fair. Other kids in different environments don’t go through that. ‘A trade, learn how to be a plumber?’ It’s nothing wrong with being a plumber, they make good money, but that’s never a first option.”
With Royce being an elder in this game, he’s not what one would call an “old washed-up rapper that’s hating on the young cats.” In fact, he praises this generation of emcees. He understand that hip-hop is — for the most part — a young man’s sport.
“One thing I love about this generation is that they’re so strong. And, they are supposed to be. And because they are like that that’s the reason that hip-hop is evolving into something else right now,” describes Royce. “We’re witnessing a change right before our eyes. The fact that it’s doing that every few years is what’s making it stay around. But all you can do as an O.G. is accept your position and fall back. And try to reach back to help as much as you can and try not to offend anyone. Let them do them, because they are our future, whether you like it or not.”
While many hip-hop heads go back and forth about rap music in 2016 being watered down, too trapped-out or drugged out, Royce says that music is always going through changes. “This isn’t the first time that hip-hop has went through this. This has happened before and I survived it that time. As a raging alcoholic, I survived it. I mean, I know how to rhyme, and I know how to roll albums out. I know all of these things. So, I don’t really worry about that. And one thing that you have to realize is that there’s not one artist that can cater to everybody. Everything boils down to preference.”
Also, his addictive personality has a few pros that should be noted for anyone trying to overcome obstacles. When asked how he’s been able to stay sober for the past four years. He simply answers, “Everyday I wake up, I say, ‘I’m not going to drink today.’ And I just keep doing what I love — hip-hop.”