How Royce da 5’9″ Made the “Anti-Everything” Album with ‘The Allegory’
We spoke to Royce Da 5’9” about the production on his new album, his working relationship with Eminem, the Detroit rap scene, and more.
It’s the middle of the week and Royce Da 5’9” is in the middle of the dreaded press run. He has been pinned down to a jam-packed schedule where he’ll be conducting interviews, participating in photoshoots, and making radio appearances. All of this is in support of The Allegory, his eighth solo album, which is out on all streaming services today.
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Arriving at the West Hollywood hotel he’s staying in, Royce greeted us rocking a clean tan suit, designer sunglasses, and a diamond-encrusted goat ring that was impossible to miss. (“They say you are what you eat, but I never ate goat,” he raps on “I Don’t Age,” one of the standouts from The Allegory.)
He carries himself with his head held high, which is what you would expect from an OG, who’s been in the game for 20 plus years, holding his own as an MC with the like of Eminem, J. Cole, and Pusha-T.
There are a number of collaborations on The Allegory, from Benny the Butcher to Vince Staples to DJ Premier. But this album is Royce’s vision. He produced every track on the album — an ambitious feat considering he received his first-ever solo producer credit last month on Eminem’s Music to Be Murdered By LP. Even if he’s still just a producer newbie, he takes pride in doing things himself on this album, even as he has access to some of the greatest producer minds on the planet. (He’s made two excellent PRhyme albums with Primo.)
“My integrity means everything to me,” Royce Da 5’9” said. “If I say I’m producing it, I want people to feel ‘OK, Royce said he produced it, he produced it.'”
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With The Allegory now out, read our interview with Royce Da 5’9”, who spoke about the production on his new album, his working relationship with Eminem, the Detroit rap scene, and more. Check out the interview below.
What’s the significance of naming your new album The Allegory?
The goal was to make something that feels like a hip-hop album, but that has a lot of layers you may not necessarily get on the first time. It’s really abstract in the way that it’s constructed. It goes against all the normal standard laws and shit that everybody’s creating right now. “This can’t be this length…This has to be longer…This has to be shorter…That has to be that way.” It’s going in a different direction. It’s the anti-everything. It’s a real reflection of where I am mentally. I think a little bit different than the average person, and I wanted everything about the album to be exactly that.
How do you think differently?
Well, I’ve been noticing just talking to people that perspective is a big thing for me. I find it interesting that two people could be looking at the same thing and be seeing two different things. I’m having a lot of conversations with people. I tend to disagree with people when it’s usually a disagreement when they believe something just based off of “this is what you’re supposed to believe.” Usually, when it’s that type of situation is when there will be a disagreement.
I was told when I was a kid in school that Martin Luther King [Jr.] was assassinated by a guy with a rifle, right? So as an adult, in my journeys and doing research, I find out there’s another story where he’s suffocated in the hospital after he was shot. Based off of what I read, what I’ve seen, the facts that I have, I’ve come to the conclusion that he was suffocated in the hospital. I’ll have a disagreement with somebody who won’t allow themselves to even think about nothing that they’ve been taught by America to be false. We’ll disagree there. When it comes to America and standard information, I operate under the edict that you are…guilty until proven innocent. [Editor note: PolitiFact deemed the news that Martin Luther King Jr. was suffocated to be false.]
Was there any correlation to Plato’s Allegory of the cave?
I was reading it when I recorded the album. Perspective in human programming: two people can be looking at the same thing and seeing something different. It’s their own respective realities because that’s what they’re accepting as their reality. Sometimes, people aren’t open to take in new information and unlearn what they thought they knew. It’s like that with everything. Especially anywhere where large sums of money are being generated, there’s always going to be corruption. Streaming and all of this shit, you’re going to find out that there’s so much fucking corruption behind all that. It’s all going to come out. Watch, I can’t wait.
What are the main themes of the project?
I’m not sure there’s one main theme. It’s whatever it needs to be. Usually, when I do albums, there is a main theme. With [my last album] Book of Ryan, there was a main theme. That was my focus when I was making the individual songs. But this album, I didn’t want any song to be a focus of a theme. I wanted it to be: you’re enjoying the grassroots elements of hip-hop, then out of nowhere there’s a line or two that I could’ve said on a song three songs back.
I wanted everything to be very splashes of paint all over the canvas. I wanted it to sound like Quentin Tarantino directed it. I didn’t want it to be anything traditional. There’s no one conceptual song. There’s no one song that sums up anything, but everything together creates the complete concept of the Allegory.
Did anyone oversee the sequencing before it came out? Did you have to play it for anybody?
No, that’s a process that I normally do myself. Especially since I produced the album, I made sure I did it myself this time. Sometimes, I’ll have Mr. Porter help me with sequencing. He’s just a great guy to have in a room. Obviously, I didn’t really do that with this album. I tried not to do it so much. I tried not to invite a lot of my masterful producer friends to the studio too much because I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea.
My integrity means everything to me. If I say I’m producing it, I want people to feel “OK, Royce said he produced it, he produced it.” I don’t want to be one of these guys, you hear about ‘em later like “oh, he didn’t really do that beat. I heard such and such did that beat.” You run the risk of that happening when you have people in the room.
Because I realized how much of a luxury it is to have DJ Premier sitting in a room or Mr. Porter sitting in a room. To the naked eye, why would he be there? Unless he’s doing something. If he wasn’t doing anything, I didn’t have him around this time. Like, for Book of Ryan, I’d have [Mr. Porter] around because I love his creative input. But with this album, I shied away from even having any of those guys around. Because I don’t want them to hold my hand.
How did you learn how to produce?
Years of being in the element. Working on various types of projects. I always produced, but this is different because I’m actually making beats with this album. But I always arranged. Working with Slaughterhouse, that was my role in the group to bring everything together. Bring everything together sonically. I was usually the first person to the studio, the last person to leave. Pretty much got to see everything through. I enjoyed it. I didn’t mind playing that role, it’s how I like to create. With this album, it was a natural progression.
What is your favorite types of songs to sample?
Right now, I’m down a 1970’s soul sample rabbit hole.
Thank God for YouTube. I’ve never been record shopping. Never sampled anything from off of vinyl. Everything that I’ve ever sampled or chopped I’ve gotten off of YouTube. Right now I’ve been going to YouTube and subscribing to a whole bunch of different [pages.] I found out they got these pages where people actually upload these samples. Even old record labels like Westbound [Records] have a site on YouTube. You can subscribe to it and shit pops up all day. All those old songs. I love the songs. I love just listening to the songs so I’m down a rabbit hole where I’m listening to a lot of those old songs
You know the song where Swizz [Beatz] sampled the “I Get High” sample for the Styles [P] record? That song is fire, I listen to it all the time. I can’t think of her name right now. [Edit note: the song is Freda Payne’s “I Get High (On Your Memory).”] I didn’t bother to sample it either because that shit is classic. Might as well just stay away from it.
How does music today compare to when you were coming up?
Music today? I’m not that familiar with a whole lot of things that’s happening. I’m aware of what they’re doing. I can’t say that I’m into a lot of it. Some of it is good, a lot of it is not. I don’t necessarily get inspired sonically by anything that’s happening. Lyrically, there are moments that are inspiring. Anytime Kendrick [Lamar], J. Cole, do anything they shine. The guys who rap really well. YBN Cordae, all these guys. Whenever they’re doing anything, it’s inspiring to hear.
What do you like about Cordae?
I like everything about Cordae. He’s very enlightened at a young age. His willingness to learn, his desire to learn, the way that he applies information, he’s way ahead of time. He’s way more advanced than he should be in that way. Stylistically, lyrically, the way he puts albums and everything together, that’s good too. But the way he takes in information and the way he applies it is great.
There’s going to come a point in time where all that shit is going to meet. It’s going to all meet and fall into place. He’s going to make a classic. He’s going to make something that’s going to matter. I believe it all starts in the mind. Mentally, he came into the game very, very equipped.
What are your thoughts on the Detroit rap scene?
The Detroit rap scene is cool. I love what they’re doing. What I love the most about what’s happening in Detroit is that it feels like a moment where people, media outlets, record labels, they’re actually paying attention to Detroit. They’re giving a lot of people opportunity at the same time and they’re treating it like it’s a real thing to the world. That’s why I like it. I like hearing Tee Grizzley get mentioned, then Sada Baby get mentioned. 42 Dugg get mentioned. This is all different conversations.
I like the fact that we got a lot of versatility going on at the same time. Even if you’re not into… let me use Danny Brown as an example. We’re not friends. We don’t really listen to each other’s music. But he should be saluted because he does something that I never heard anyone from our city do. He’s also fearless in a way where people were going one way, and he went a different way. In essence, what he’s doing is bringing new customers to the party. That’s admirable.
That’d be big if you guys collaborated… for the city.
Of course, I’m always open to that. But to answer your question, just overlooking everything in the city — versatility in the city can be processed as a bad thing. I’ve heard people go, “Oh man, that ain’t the real Detroit. What they doing ain’t the real Detroit.” That’s not the real Detroit if that’s what you make it, if that’s what you want it to be in your mind.
But if you look at it with a wider lens, you’ll see there’s so many different ways to rep Detroit. We as a city, Motown in our lineage, our rich heritage of classic music, and classic behavior, we’re much more than just hood shit. We took over the world and we can do it again. We have to embrace who we are.
How has your and Em’s relationship evolved over the years? From Bad Meets Evil to 2020’s “Yah Yah” and “You Gon’ Learn.”
It’s always evolving. He’s a grown man. So am I. We see each other when it’s necessary, that’s pretty much it. When I was real young, my dad’s friends used to come over the house all the time. After he hit a certain age [where] we [would] never seen them again. It’s how it goes as men. His focus is on the studio and his family, my focus is on the studio and my family.
We have one of those relationships where we see each other and we talk to each other, usually when it’s necessary. I don’t have many people I just speak to daily. [My manager] Kino, my brother, my wife, and Mr. Porter. Other than that… I don’t call Marshall every day because I don’t expect him to answer the phone every day. If I notice I haven’t talked to him in a minute, I’ll shoot him a text. If there’s a certain fight coming on, that’ll jog my memory to check on him. See who he thinks is going to win. Other than that, we see each other in the studio.
I like when it falls into place because those songs came together by just either me playing him beats or just sending him beats. It comes together like that. The song with me, him, and Black Thought, Denaun made that beat in 2014. Marshall just remembered it.
Were you surprised to see yourself on [three] tracks on the project?
That was surprising to me, I didn’t expect that. Because I don’t view a lot of those like I put in the work for it, it randomly fell in place that way. He doesn’t generally do his albums that way. The only person I remember being on one of his albums that many times is Skylar Grey.
What was it like being in the middle of Joe Budden and Eminem’s beef?
That wasn’t beef. I wouldn’t constitute that as beef. When two people are used to dealing with things a certain and it differs with the way that they handle things, sometimes it’s a clash. It’s not always meant for everybody to be around everybody. It wasn’t a big deal. Nothing to take personal. I spoke to Joe a couple days ago, he’s never said anything about Marshall bad to me.
The reason why I said that is because Joe is outspoken. He’s not just outspoken when there’s a camera, that’s how he is. If he had some type of real issue where there was beef, then there would probably have been a conversation or at least some type of attempt to initiate a conversation. I just don’t think it’s that serious. It’s not even a big enough deal where they even need to talk about it.
What made you finally speak out about Yelawolf on “Overcomer?
It definitely wasn’t a situation where I was keeping something to myself and decided to speak. What I said was a direct reaction, that’s it. That’s all it was. To say that would imply that I waited until my rollout. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not airing it out. I don’t see a clear path to bringing across what I want to bring across the proper way and it connecting. I don’t see a clear path to that by airing it out.
I don’t see where that helps the situation. I see where it would be mistaken as me being self-preserving trying to use the situation to sell a record or be vindictive to somebody — which is not a reflection of who I am as a person. I was put into a position where I had to handle it in a way where I had to let it slide, but I had to let him know: it’s noted. Next time, I won’t be so nice. But no problem.
What’s the dynamic in the studio with DJ Premier?
Fun all the time. All we do is sit and talk. Me and Preme, we’ll talk more than we’ll work. Because he can talk and he’s so fun to talk to. You can talk to him about anything, so that’s alway fun in the studio. We have fun. It’s usually me sitting there listening to him tell story after story after story. It’s always interesting because it’s always some real cool hip-hop history.
Given your sobriety, what do you make of all the recent substance-related deaths?
They’re all unfortunate. Unfortunately, this is something that exists in the culture. Artists are a little bit more under the fire because these behaviors are marketed to us. It puts us in a bad position because we’re basically learning how to self-discipline through the process of trial and error. How all of these big companies and all of these mass producers of all these wild synthetic drugs, they’re putting capital gain in the forefront of everything. They’re willing to cut shit: cut, cut, cut, put fentanyl in that. They’re willing to make the shit so dangerous in order to make a couple extra dollars that you’re almost guaranteed to not make it through the process of trial and error, trying to find self-discipline within all of that.
It’s like a fucking death sentence. I don’t think labels have any type of interest in trying to balance out the narrative. I just don’t think that they care. I don’t think every person at every label is a scumbag, but the number one concern and objective is to make money by any means necessary. That’s the American way. To come into this game as an artist and to think you can depend on a label to keep you safe is a dumbass move on your part. The best thing to do is try to be as aware as possible. If you can learn from somebody else’s mistakes, that’s a hell of a lot better than learning from your own.
What’s your recipe for making a great song?
They just come to me. My whole thing is always trying to stay in the element as much as possible because you never know when an idea is going to come. Every now and then, it may be a crazy line. I don’t really have much of a process. I started getting the most out of the process when I made it the least amount of a process as possible.
I try to think much more freely. I don’t really have a method. I do it when it feels right. It’s hard for me to even record vocals, like “I need you to do vocals at 7 o’clock.” That’s not who I am. It’s got to feel right. Then when it feels right, it’s easy work. But if I’m hitting some deadline, I’m forcing something or chasing it, it’s going to run from me. It’s the nature of it with me. I like letting it come to me and doing it on my terms. Doing it on my time.
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.