Royce da 5’9” ‘The Allegory’ 1 Listen Album Review

Royce da 5’9”‘s new album is, for a lack of a better word, woke.
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Royce da 5'9" 'The Allegory' 1 Listen Album Review

Al·le·go·ry:

(n.)

  1. A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
  2. A symbol

Royce da 5’9” has evolved since the days of rapping alongside Eminem in the hip-hop duo Bad Meets Evil. He came of fame as a Detroit lyricist who could match Slim Shady bar for bar. Not as a sidekick, but an equal. At some point in the 18 years since his 2002 debut album, Rock City, Royce strayed from the path of a Rap God. He actually became more mortal. Sobriety has granted him a clarity that has revealed the 42-year-old rapper to be more than a skilled lyricist. 

Royce’s new album, The Allegory, is the first project wherein the acclaimed rapper produced every record—further proof that self-improvement and artistic growth is driving the veteran rapper into new realms of creativity. 

If The Allegory is on par with the artistic and creative development displayed on his previous album, Book Of Ryan, Royce will be recognized as the rare rapper whose late-career output is more impressive than his hungry beginnings.

In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. 

1. “Mr. Grace (Intro)”

A black father is speaking with his black child about America. “Are you a buyer or a seller?” He’s an intelligent kid. Well-informed. If this excerpt is from a video, and someone posted it on Twitter, the tweet would go viral. Is that an electric guitar? Whatever’s happening is a pleasant build-up. Rappers have to know these abrupt gun bangs aren’t good for the listener’s heart. The introductory conversation made me think of Nipsey Hussle. Royce has been a consistent critic of America since Layers, I believe. His sound has grown more cinematic over the years. He’s a world-builder, not just a wordsmith. The question is, what is this world? “The only thing we didn’t make was slavery laws.” This beat is blooming with colors. The tone of his voice is that of a preacher giving a sermon. Preaching a story of blackness. I have to admit, I’ll need a second listen to digest all of this. It’s an entire album worth of thoughts and textures in a seamless intro. Maybe a little too heavy-handed, but I’m into it. 

2. “Dope Man” ft. Emanny & Cedric the Entertainer

Theatrical. I feel like I’m listening to a play. The Marvin Gaye sample is pleasant to hear. I like how warm this is. Emanny sounds good here. He reminds me of BJ The Chicago Kid. “Dope Man” takes you back, a soothing record about a complicated subject. Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness” sample has to be one of the most sampled hip-hop records. As a producer, Royce is a collagist the way he pieces together his soundscape. As a rapper, he’s smooth as a rock skipping across a pond. I need a second listen. I’m not blown away, but I’m intrigued. There’s a historical bent to this album that makes sense to release during black history month. Thinking about Lupe Fiasco’s Drogas Wave as I move to the next song. 

3. “I Don’t Age”

The first beat starts with some hip-hop knock. Royce never phones the lyrics in. A lot of black power in these bars. He’s self-assured, a veteran rapper who comes from a different time but refuses to let the narrative be that he missed a step. Possibly the fewest punchlines Royce has ever used his whole career. There are quotables, sure, but the lines are more observant and reflective. He’s a rapper with 10,000 hours on his meter able to make rapping a form of athleticism. “I don’t age,” he tells us before the next song. 

4. “Pendulum” ft. Ashley Sorrell

These chords are something. This production has a personality. The mood is ominous, but not terrifying. His voice sounds exquisite here. It’s the loop; he’s just sitting right above the chords like God standing above the cloud. “We gonna rob the rich and leave them with the fucking bill.” There it is, the statement that fits the sound. “Pendulum” is storyteller Royce. I’m not exactly how the verses fit the hook, though. I still need a map to follow where Royce is leading us. He’s taking us somewhere, though. A place that’s pro-black and anti-capitalistic. This verse reminds me of Cole. Ashley Sorrell slides in. Her verse isn’t as dynamic. I like her tone. A Soulja Boy clip. Hahaha. What is this album? 

5. “I Play Forever” ft. Grafh

Rappers making gun sounds should be its own genre of hip-hop. “I fell in love with the street life.” I like the tone of Grafh’s rough singing. He leads with the first verse, an interesting choice. He could be a bit more lively, really drive it home, but I like this. The beat is working in his favor. Royce’s instrumentation is transformative. He doesn’t marry a singular idea. I feel the same about his verses. I like this flow a great deal. He sounds like he’s still having fun discovering new ways to bend words and fit them into flows. These horns, at the end, added some triumphant color to the close. I like this one, too. Not in love, but this is an entirely different Royce. He’s a different rapper.

6. “Ice Cream (Interlude)”

A skit. A boy asked his mother what’s an allegory. They’re outside. The season of this album is summer; it feels almost like a Spike Lee movie. If you replaced the woman’s voice with Huey Freeman, this would be a scene from The Boondocks. The Ice Cream Man is catching heat for not knowing the origin of the ice cream song. She’s digging into him with receipts. I think she just canceled the Ice Cream Man. 

7. “On The Block” ft. Oswin Benjamin & DJ Premier

This loop and sample scratch! It instantly sounds like a PRhyme song. God Bless Preemo. “On The Block” is shaping up to be my favorite. SMOOTH. Royce is sliding. I’m talking dress socks across a hardwood floor sliding. The kind of song you would want a 2003 Ludacris verse on. Royce finds a new way to land on every record. Man, Premier laced Royce. Laced! Oswin Benjamin is up to bat. My favorite thus far. Royce jumped back in the ring. A beat switch. He’s on his elder statesmen criticism. I’ll revisit it. 

8. “Generation Is Broken”

The changing radio station texture is my favorite texture. It’s so warm.

9. “Overcomer” ft. Westside Gunn

Another beat I like. Royce’s production is soulful. This album will sound great in the summertime. Westside Gunn has a voice perfect for minimal loops. He’s weightless, a levitator who has the best gun sounds in all of rap. He gave Royce a crack rock. Buffalo is having a great 2020 in rap. A lot of feeling in this one. “Where I’m from drivebys overrated, if you got five bodies, then you famous.” I don’t love Royce’s drums, but I love how they come in. That beat switch! The heaven gates just burst open. Royce sounds like he’s at the pulpit, in an all-white Dapper Dan suit on an Easter Sunday. Can anyone tell me why Yelawolf got dissed? Royce is back in his motivational bag. I wish he would’ve got the Jetson drums, but again, I love how they’re placed. He catches the bounce nicely. The Mac Miller lines always hit my chest extra hard.

10. “Mrs. Grace” (Interlude)

A skit similar to the intro except with a little girl. She’s being asked by her father what kind of gun is in her hands. She is naming each one. This interlude is wild. As a father, he wants her well equipped with the information that will keep her protected. I don’t know if this is extreme, I don’t have kids, but it’s interesting. “Who’s coming to save you? Nobody.”

11. “Thou Shall” feat. Kid Vishis

Oh, this is darker. Royce’s production is varied but very hip-hop. “My poppa raised me like a dog with rabies.” He’s Goliath, here. Royce made this beat? It’s a spooky loop. I wonder what that sample is. Nice dramatic touch with the strings. Kid Vishis. OG Royce fans know these two are always good together. Vish sounds like a battle rapper. You can feel the screwface in his delivery. “I don’t wait when it’s war, I’m on some now shit.” He’s good. I’m not in a hurry to rewind this one, but I’m not mad at it. 

12. “FUBU” feat. Conway The Machine

The Allegory is unlike any Royce project. It’s as conceptual as Book of Ryan, but it moves better, there’s a fluidity that’s not restricted down by the storytelling. Conway! Conway is killing it with this flow. There’s a bounce, and he’s talking his talk like he’s living larger than ever. Royce is so tired of you rappers. He didn’t catch the beat like Conway, though. Oh, what was that about his son getting autism? This album is a lot. You have to tune into every word because you never know if it’ll be a punchline, a mantra, or an honest reflection of the times. I’ll revisit it. 

13. “A Black Man Favorite Shoe” (Skit)

What is this skit? He just said black people are stinky, and they suck. Where is this clip from? I didn’t hear this in history class. Did this man just shoot a pair of Air Jordans?

14. “Upside Down” feat. Ashley Sorrell & Benny The Butcher

Royce is Spike Lee with this album. I love the loop. It’s haunting. Like someone is coming—someone with a gun. The build-up was nice, but these opening lines are a lot. It makes me think of Chappelle on stage. No fear of backlash. Royce is speaking with his entire chest out. Oh, the D.L line. He wedged that into the flow. He’s on full critic mode. He’s talking about rappers owning their masters but not knowing their value. Then Benny comes in like he’s ready to put the dagger in our hearts. He’s a titan. You can imagine him breaking faces on the blacktop. Glad Griselda is honoring how insane they are in contrast to how insane that superteam was. Keeper.

15. “Perspective” (Skit)

Eminem! He sounds so young! I don’t know how old this clip is, but he sounds earnest about black and white kids growing up with certain idols. He’s praising hip-hop as being a genre that has brought people together. Reminds me of J. Cole’s “Fire Squad” but from Eminem’s perspective—a white man, acknowledging how whiteness has impacted black music and black life. This skit is a think piece. If Eminem would’ve penned this article for The Fader, it would be a topic of conversation on the timeline. 

16. “Tricked” feat. KXNG Crooked

I see Royce isn’t shying away from the bounce. “Tricked” is a lecture, but the bounce is the candy with the medicine. Someone is going to send this song to Ma$e. But what he’s saying is real. People have been tricked. He started with how artists are tricked in music and then expanded the perspective. Crook! Half of Slaughterhouse. Man, Slaughterhouse feels so long ago. So much has changed. Crook follows Royce’s lead. He’s focused on the prison system. “Those 360 deals got them sitting in your pocket.” “My nigga, you been tricked.” This one was food for thought. 

17. “Black People In America”

Oh, what is this? He said something about interjection. I like this loop. A lot is going on with this one. It’s a go back home message. This record is Belly

18. “Black Savage” feat. Sy Ari Da Kid, White Gold, CyHi The Prynce & T.I.

“Black Savage” is an older record. Not sure when I first heard it, but I love the loop. Royce is charged up. “I ain’t your average rapper residing in Calabasas.” There’s just certain confidence you hear in emcees like Royce, Black Thought, and Phonte. They move words across beats with a fundamental understanding of how rap is effective. White Gold is pouring it out. He’s added a nice change of pace. This record is a posse cut structured like a single. CyHi! I’m glad to hear from him. He never sold out a show? That’s honest. He’s rapping with such good energy. T.I.! If this was ten years ago, this T.I. verse would be completely different. The more political T.I. has a charm, it’s some of his most honest writing. He and Royce have made a similar shift in music that intends to inform and empower. I’ll keep it. 

19. “Rhinestone Doo Rag”

This album is a ride. I like this one instantly. Royce is back in his soul, spilling it out. He’s giving food for thought. “I wore that Rhinestone Doo Rag so you don’t have to.” It sounds like Royce is passing the torch to the next generation, but also saying, don’t wear Rhinestone Doo Rags. 

20. “Young World” feat. Vince Staples & G Perico

Is this the next generation that Royce sees as torch barriers? Vince! Never imagined him and Royce together on a song. He’s a graceful rapper, one of the few who never loses the essence of their cool. Vince could rap about anything, and I mean anything, without having to appear like he’s straining himself. This verse reminds me of Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2. The lyricism is sharp, the delivery is smooth, and the beat is a great loop for him. JAY-Z sample! Beat change! Royce is wild for this sequence. G Perico! He came in talking about student loans. He took us to the West Coast. Nice Biggie nod. This bounce section is so wild. I see the purpose, but I don’t need it. Man, Royce’s song structure has changed so much. He just came in. Karlie Hustle name drop! Did he take his first drink at Dr. Dre’s house!? If you know Royce’s history with alcoholism, that’s major. Keeper. 

21. “My People Free” feat. Ashley Sorrell

This loop is cold. The way he slowed it down. Royce’s beats aren’t complicated, he doesn’t have a singular sound, but he uses his imagination. Ashley Sorrell sounds fine. She’s criticizing the system. “How you a public figure only worried about your figures?” Royce hasn’t given anyone a pass on this album. He wants everyone to do better. “Let my people free.” Interesting. I like the Gucci line. I don’t know if Royce was ever considered a conscious rapper, but he would be now. This is the album I would expect Common to make in 2020 if he stayed on the path of Like Water for Chocolate. He’s giving out appreciation roses. Jemele Hill got a shoutout!

22. “Hero” ft. White Gold

Yes! This beat is a perfect loop for Royce. So much soul, so much heart. He’s on a victory lap bounce. Autobiographical raps. Another chapter from the Book of Ryan. You can’t help but nod your head. He’s talking about his dad’s reaction to him sharing so much of his life on the last album. I love that he’s ending on a song about his love for his father. The Allegory has a theme of fatherhood and preparing the next generation that I like. It’s a well-written thinkpiece in the form of a rap album. White Gold drives it home. White Gold could be the Sampha to Royce’s Drake. “Hero” is the sleeper hit, by far my favorite song on the album. 

Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Royce da 5’9”’s The Allegory:

Royce da 5’9”’s The Allegory reminds me of a quote from the movie Black Panther: “A man who has not prepared his child for his own death has failed as a father.” Royce, as a black father of five, understands how his involvement influences the lives of his children. That’s why The Allegory is an ideal successor of Book of Ryan, but instead of focusing solely on his family, Royce expands the scope to America and blackness. 

The Allegory is a heavy album, by far Royce’s most timely work. It’s music that represents Royce at his most thoughtful, experimental, and passionate. He wants to uplift and encourage but not coddle, which makes the album feel like being shaken by someone who is yelling, “Wake up!” The album is, for lack of a better word, woke. 

I have to revisit the music and overarching message, but what I do know from one listen: Royce da 5’9” is immersed in unraveling his history and black history through music in hopes that we, the listener, will do the same. 

Correction: In a previous version of this article, we misspelled Grafh's name.

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