Published Feb 19, 2020Although Royce 5'9" tersely calls out fellow Eminem associate Yelawolf on "Overcomer" (a single released ahead of the Detroit vet's new LP, The Allegory), longtime hip-hop fans may be surprised by the reason why. "It's definitely not beef," Royce tells Exclaim! when asked about his intense lyrics dedicated to the Alabama rapper.
Royce goes on to describe stymieing the escalation short of the brutal rivalries that have consumed so many rap greats. "There was a situation where Yelawolf crossed the line, that's all. I said, on the song's line: 'This is your first and your last pass.' It's for him to understand that I'm aware, and he's being held accountable. And that's all that needs to happen."
Such tension has sparked plenty of speculation among hip-hop fans, many of whom wonder if the white Alabaman MC's prior defense of the Confederate Flag drew Royce's ire. However, 5'9" instantly shoots that theory down, pointing out he defended Yelawolf in the midst of that racially charged controversy. He did so because the Alabama rapper's stint on Shady, the label headed up by iconic MC (and frequent Royce collaborator) Eminem lead to plenty of shared time together, and a unique bond.
"I considered him a friend, so I stuck up for him then. But there was an incident that took place since then that involved me and somebody that I'm very close to, and it just wasn't handled like a person who's socially responsible would. I don't want to hash it out here, or come off as vindictive, but respect isn't something I'm going to ask for."
Fans who find it refreshing to see Royce rise above rap's thuggish tropes will be all the more impressed by the vulnerability he unveils on The Allegory's closing track, "Hero." In a culmination of the introspection he nurtured on his last handful of LPs, especially the tracks that vividly described his father's abusive tendencies on 2018's Book of Ryan, Royce now apologizes to his old man for the harsh frankness of those bars. Not that the ever-truthful MC would curtail his rhymes for anyone, but he can appreciate how difficult it must be for someone whose transgressions have not only been exposed, but also preserved on wax.
"There wasn't a whole lot of communication in my family growing up, but there were a lot of suppressed feelings. Being able to get these feelings out through art is something that's very hard to explain to someone who doesn't create," Royce said of the ripple effect stemming from his soul-baring spitting. "It's an interesting thing, the way people who don't create view art. If you say somebody's name in a song, who just happens to be a part of your truth that you're speaking, that truth of yours becomes strictly about them. People go out of their way to make it about them."
However, Royce might have a little less familial drama to draw on for his next album. That's because he and his father were able to come to an understanding, with a bit of extra persuasion on Royce's part. "A couple of conversations were had. I bought him a car," the MC admits with a laugh. However, such generosity from his father was never required to smooth any rifts. "I didn't harbour a whole lot of resentment. Even before I started letting a lot of this out, before I started going to therapy, me and my dad's relationship was good. It was just a bumpy upbringing, a really violent and tumultuous upbringing."
Aside from capturing such emotional nuance and maturity in the lyrics, The Allegory is also a testament to 5'9"'s professional growth, in terms of its production. Royce, a novice behind the boards, helmed all 22 tracks himself, giving the album a jazzy, boom bap vibe that surpasses Book of Ryan's flatter production and is eclipsed only by the MC's prior collaborations with legendary beatsmiths like DJ Premier, the Alchemist and Dr. Dre.
"It's a real fun process. I'm learning as I'm going along," Royce said of his burgeoning beatmaking, citing towering jazz fusion bassist Stanley Clarke and his compositions for John Singleton's directorial debut Boyz N the Hood as a key influence.
"I spent all my time in the studio, listening to music, messing around and making beats, then rapping over them," Royce adds. "I'm always asking myself what I want to speak about, what I want the album to be about, and how I want to challenge myself."
The Allegory comes out February 21 on eOne.