Royce 5'9" Mod Club, Toronto ON, May 17

Royce 5'9" Mod Club, Toronto ON, May 17
Photo: Shane Parent
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Royce 5'9" (formerly Royce Da 5'9") wasn't supposed to hit his peak now. Not when he's nearing 40 and going bald and recovering from alcoholism and trying to save his marriage and 15 years removed from his major-label solo deal.
 
Ryan Montgomery was set up to succeed at the turn of the century. He was best buds with global superstar Eminem, so much so that they formed a group. Dr. Dre wanted to sign him. His debut album featured production from the game's A-listers at the time: DJ Premier, the Neptunes, and Trackmasters. Stick your head inside a beehive — that's how loud Royce's buzz was in 2001.
 
And yet there he was last night (May 17), destroying the Mod Club as part of a 39-date, one-man North American tour in support of Layers, his sixth solo LP but his first number one R&B/hip-hop album in the States. Royce — a lyrically dense, punch line MC — only unseated his celebrity crush, Rihanna, for the throne. Sixth time's the charm.
 
Decked out in blue jeans, a black shallow-V tee, a camouflage jacket and hat to match, Royce opened with "They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore," and it's true.
 
The rapper rapped through his hour-long set, stacking bars upon bars like the grocery store checkout line. His breath control, pronunciation and projection were superior — even on a fast-rap sprint like "Savages." Real-life younger brother Kid Vishis played hypeman and got his own a cappella and DJ TY cued up the instrumentals, but it was Royce who owned the room.
 
It's obvious he's in love with his new material, a creative wellspring fed by sobriety and personal epiphanies. The battle MC still likes his beats hard and his wordplay double-black diamond, but he's never written so personally or emotionally as on Layers.
 
While a throwback to young Royce popped up in the Premier-produced backpack classic "Boom" and a couple deep cuts from 2011's Bad Meets Evil got burn, the focus was on new ish from Layers and mixtape Trust the Shooter.
 
"Dope!" deals with the ignorance of drug-selling, "Startercoat" details his carefree youth and "America" is a poignant look at death, slavery and arrogance, yet they all made good concert jams. "Tabernacle" is an incredible nonfiction story rap about when Royce met Eminem, lost his grandmother and welcomed his first child — all in the same day. We knew he could spit; now we know who he is.
 
Call it sobriety. Call it maturity. The Detroit wordsmith believes he was careless with his gift in the past, but no longer: "I will never half-ass this shit again," Royce promised the throng of hand-waving, lyric-reciting fans during a rare breath. "I love y'all."
 
When the music faded, Royce spent 15 minutes onstage signing his fans' ball caps and 12-inches, shaking their hands and letting them snap selfies with him.