Published Feb 18, 2020Over a stifled horn and yearning strings on "Mr Grace," the sonically skeletal opening track from his new LP, The Allegory, Royce 5'9" spits: "A rich man wrote this with a poor man's focus." And the Detroit vet's hunger remains palpable throughout these sprawling 22 tracks.
That might surprise the uninitiated. After all, Royce scored a double platinum hit with "Lighters" alongside Bruno Mars and Eminem, collaborated with myriad other major names throughout his 20-odd years in the game, and has garnered increasing critical acclaim of late. Those positive reviews are mainly due to Royce's candour on the mic — confessing to infidelity and addiction, and detailing the abuse he suffered as a boy, culminating in his diary-like preceding release, 2018's Book of Ryan, which was hailed as a late-career masterpiece.
The Allegory will spark even more accolades, because it finds Royce at his rawest and most ravenous yet. He raps like a man with plenty to prove on "I Don't Age," lobbing punch lines at junior foes who might assume they're more nimble. His strikes are all the more pointed on single "Overcomer," which features booming drums and soaring soul samples, along with a blood chilling warning to fellow Eminem cohort Yelawolf. Drama aside, the track is a gripping listen thanks to Royce's denser-than-lead wordplay and evident chemistry with feature MC Westside Gunn, whose high-pitched, and equally high speed delivery thrillingly evokes Ghostface Killah.
And while battle rap fans will revel in Royce's spry posturing on those tracks, the 42-year-old MC impresses all the more on introspective songs like the closer, "Hero." Its Kanye-West-heyday-esque production (i.e., rollicking gospel keys and tightly clipped, chipmunk-y vocal samples) provide the perfectly heartfelt backdrop for Royce's apology to his father. The reason he's sorry? How he blindsided pops by airing their dirty laundry on Book of Ryan. It's a deepening of the emotional nuance plumbed on that preceding LP, and it's engrossing.
The aforementioned "I Don't Age" features vivid flashbacks to his father's substance abuse and mother's emotional wounds, alongside the track's numerous disses at foes, as the instrumental's keys and drums pulse like a cop car's siren. Most chilling of all: Royce's lyrical deceleration that "Pappa raised me like I'm a dog with rabies" on "Thou Shall." That paternal dysfunction is also reflected in a handful of skits that are well-written and acted, a refreshing uptick from the interludes that usually amount to mere filler on lesser rap albums. Some of those skits also feature boldly brazen, richly researched social commentary, an element that Royce peppers throughout the LP to balance all the introspection.
Then there's the production, which is leaner and jazzier than Book of Ryan's less cohesive and comparatively forgettable instrumentals. From the hauntingly echoey beat on "On the Block" (featuring scratches from studio legend and frequent Royce collaborator DJ Premier), to the gritty distorted horn sample and Illmatic worthy chants of "Pendulum," not to mention the slithering bass and skittering percussion of "Young World," The Allegory is never less than sonically gripping. More noteworthy still: Royce, a rookie behind the boards, produced all 22 tracks himself.
That's right: sonically, thematically, lyrically — on every level, Royce gives The Allegory his all. And the result is the best LP yet in his 20-year-strong career. (eOne)