Royce da 5’9” Interview: 30 Minutes of Real Talk & ‘The Allegory’ - DJBooth

30 Minutes of Real Talk with Royce da 5’9”

“I haven’t always had projects where I wanted to speak.”
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Royce da 5'9", 2020

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 symbolic representation

Royce da 5’9” has a lot on his mind, which makes the veteran Detroit rapper a great artist to interview. Every question I asked, Royce answered thoughtfully and thoroughly. Even though we only had 30 minutes on the phone, our unedited conversation transcript is well over 4,000 words.

“I haven’t always had projects where I wanted to speak,” Royce, 42, tells me early in our conversation. “I’m not so sure that I always will, in the future.” Royce is well-aware that an album like his latest, The Allegory, requires the creator to speak openly and candidly about the political and personal perspectives found throughout the 22 self-produced songs. We talked a bit about him producing, finding creative fulfillment, having his first drink at Dr. Dre’s house, the ridiculous record contract offered to Royce’s oldest son, and more. 

On finding creative fulfillment: 

I didn’t come to the studio knowing I had something to talk about. After I finished the Book of Ryan, I wasn’t inspired to do much of anything. I can write 16s all day, but after being around this long, there’s a certain fulfillment I look for and need to have before I can release something or feel good about what I’m doing. That fulfillment isn’t always there. 

I knew I didn’t want to do another personal album. I want to make sure that whatever I do, I know what I’m gonna do, that it’s with a purpose, and I’m inspired to do it. No more just shooting at the side of the barn.

On learning to make beats: 

I came into the studio one day and was watching TV while talking to my DJ. Somebody made a joke about getting equipment and fucking around with beats. We ended up at the Guitar Center. I bought Ableton. I get back to the studio, I call and tell Preem [DJ Premier] I got Ableton. He told me to take Ableton back and get MPC Studio. I take Ableton back and get an MPC. I FaceTimed Preem, and he walked me through how to program the drum loops. I like practicing, so I went down that rabbit hole a little bit. I wasn’t in love with it, but it kept my attention. It was something to do.

[Mr. Porter] came in maybe a month later and showed me Logic, which looks similar to Pro Tools, and I just took to it a little better. I just understood the language. Once I switched over to Logic, I fell in love with the process. I felt like I was in a position where I could at least come close to sonically doing things that I’m hearing. I hadn’t been able to do that before.

So I started practicing making beats. One thing led to another, and I end up rapping over one of the beats. At some point during the process, I felt like I was okay enough, and I agreed to self-produce an EP. I felt like it would be a cool idea because I can get a couple of beats out there and see what people think. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get three or four songs to make sense as a little body of work. So I just kept trying to figure it out, and I kept adding to it.

Never was there a point where I said, “I’m bout to do my whole album.” I’ve been saying: This is the first album that happened to me as opposed to me setting out to do one. I didn’t have an album on my mind. I had no idea what the beat making process was even like. I learned a whole bunch. I learned a lot of sonics, but I also learned that I always produced, I didn’t make beats. It’s creating other passions for me. I want to produce for other people now.

Royce da 5'9", 2020

On The Allegory’s soundscape:

I wanted the album to sound like everything is taking place in this world in my mind. If it’s a piece of art, I wanted it to be a canvas with the most splashes of paint on it. Like the smallest splashes of paint in the highest right-hand corner; no one conceptual song, just scatterbrain thoughts being touched on all throughout the album while listening to a real hip-hop album done in an eclectic way, as if fucking Quentin Tarantino directed it.

On short attention spans in the Internet age:

Kino [my manager] would come in the studio like, “Man, you can’t have a verse that long. People’s attention spans are too short, because the Internet.” Well, you shouldn’t have said that; I’m going to make it longer now. I’m just tired of that type of shit. There are too many anecdotal facts being fucking regurgitated in this business. How about this? Everything is readily accessible; everything is on-demand. People can fucking access anything they want to. So they don’t have to engage if you don’t keep their attention, but if they like you or if they like what they’re listening to, they’ll listen to it.

If I want to go left, I go left. Nobody’s gonna tell me where I’m going. I do what I want to do. That’s what art is supposed to be. Once you start putting all of these rules and boundaries in your mind, you’ll begin creating with limits. There shouldn’t be any limits because all of those limits are created by people with jobs at labels, who have an agenda to make money quickly. Low investment, high profit, high reward with no type of invested interest in building your brand. Not an area of their concern.

If you just let the universe push you around, you end up creating records for the label to fulfill their fucking vision. You’ll be killing your brand and building theirs at the same time. What kind of career is that? 

A quick one.

On the importance of information:

I drew a correlation between the way we receive information in this country and the way we receive information in the record industry. It’s damn near the same thing. It’s powerful, rich people taking advantage and monetizing information they’re not giving to you because they use that against you. The only way motherfuckers are getting the information is through trial and error while the companies are making sure they keep us against each other. 

Labels come together all the time to do shit against us, man. But we’re trying to build relationships with them while we compete with each other and that’s the reason we don’t have the control we should have.

I’m so passionate about passing down information. Number one, it’s our obligation as OGs. No excuses. Number two, if we don’t, history repeats itself.

A couple of little kids tried to sign my son recently. They wanted to sign him to a management contract, but it was a production deal. They wanted to give him $20,000! That’s what they do; they offer you an advance. Ain’t no fucking manager need to give you no money. What does he need to give you money for? 

My son couldn’t answer it. I say, “Tell them you don’t need their fucking money and y’all don’t need a contract. Tell them to bring some shit to the table, they can get 20% of it, and you’ll let them know how it goes. If you like them, hire them. You don’t have to sign any contract. You certainly ain’t signing no shit that says they participate in revenue streams from publishing and shit like that.”

They even hit him with the semantics: “We don’t want to say a management contract. We want to have a partnership with you.” [I asked my son], “Are you partners in their management company?” He just got quiet. I said, “Alright then, y’all ain’t fucking partners.” It ain’t nothing personal. It’s just business. You can’t take it personally, but it has to be noted. They’re shooting right at you. This is just the beginning. That’s why we must give our [people] the information because our [people] are signing shit like that. 

On the Mr. and Ms. Grace skits:

Have you ever watched Derrick Grace before? Kind of heavyset guy, with tattoos all over his face? He indoctrinates his kids with information. I was taken aback by, number one, the fact he inspired me to look for those teachable moments with my kids. Number two, just how astute to detail children are at a young age before they grow to an age where they overthink.

I don’t necessarily want to teach my kids how to use automatic weapons, but this is the way [Grace] sees the country, and he feels like he needs to arm [his kids] with this kind of information. It’s some admirable shit, and it speaks to a lot of the shit I’m talking about on the album. I just ripped a couple of them off on YouTube and put some music to it, to see how it would sound. I like the way it sounds, so I just went with it.

On having his first drink at Dr. Dre’s house:

I know the reason why I took the drink. I always used to say: “I fucked around and drank the other day because I didn’t want to tell Dre no.” I remember always saying it. He wasn’t pressuring me or nothing. He just offered it, and I didn’t want to say no. I felt like that would be going against the flow. It was more important for me to fit in. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking. 

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