The reinvention of Royce Da 5’9” [click to read] is the stuff of which legends are made. Back in 2006 when Royce was deadlocked in an ugly feud with Eminem and D12 and preparing to serve a year in prison, few thought that the self-proclaimed Senator Clay Davis of Detroit would so easily bounce back and become of the game’s top emcees. Yet three years, two critically acclaimed mixtapes and one juggernaut of a super-group later, Royce reigns supreme over the veritable wasteland that is Hip Hop. Now, four years since his last solo effort Independent’s Day, Nickel Nine is back with his latest album Street Hop.
Sadly, however, despite the Rocky Balboa-like set-up of Royce’s career, Street Hop isn’t the triumph for which fans had been yearning. By no stretch of the imagination is Street Hop bad. Quite the contrary; the album actually finds Royce crafting some of his best songs ever. Despite this, the album has far too much tedious filler content, ultimately dragging down its overall quality.
Lyrically, Royce is at the top of his game. Never before has he sounded so focused and so sure of his craft. The album’s brilliant opening track “Gun Harmonizing” [click to listen] finds Royce going for dolo, spitting rapid-fire assurance “Every bullet’s a note, I write with a firing pen / Every time the trigger pulls, it’s a quote.” Nickel Nine even trumps Hip Hop’s guest verse assassin Busta Rhymes [click to read] with a blistering two verses the song “Dinner Time” [click to listen]. Yet the fun doesn’t stop there; songs like “Something 2 Ride 2” [click to listen] with Phonte [click to read] and “Hood Love” [click to listen] with Bun B [click to read] and Joell Ortiz [click to read] find Nickel Nine rapping with a more tempered flow with much same success. But Royce doesn’t stop there. The Mr. Porter-assisted [click to read] cut “Mine in Thiz” finds the emcee hitting new levels of crazy with his stuttering street talk.
At its finest moments, Street Hop plays out more like a film than an album. Tracks like the smoked out “Something 2 Ride 2” and the heartfelt “Hood Love” anchor the album in strictly cinematic territory. Similarly, cuts like “Murder” and “Part Of Me” find the emcee spitting Martin Scorcese-like narratives. Yet it’s the album’s first single “Shake This” that finds the Detroit emcee at his finest moment. He’s brutally honest, looking back to 2006 when he was convicted of driving under the influence and sentenced to a year in prison.
Yet Street Hop isn’t simply Royce channeling his inner Slick Rick. Whether it’s the thugged-out tough-talk of cuts like “Soldier” and “Count For Nothing,” the endless barrage of punch lines on “Gun Harmonizing” with Crooked I and the inevitable Slaughterhouse track “The Warriors” [click to read] or the amped-up braggadocio of “New Money,” Royce keeps the bangers coming. He even finds success even when he looks to the ladies for inspiration, with the smooth “Thing For Your Girlfriend” and “Far Away.”
Unfortunately, however, Royce loses his momentum midway through the album. Cuts like “Gangsta” with Trick-Trick and “Street Hop 2010” go D.O.A. (death on arrival). The former of these two songs is particularly painful to hear as Royce retreads hardcore Hip-Hop’s most snooze- worthy of clichés. Similarly, the Jamaican patois of “Bad Boy” with Jungle Rock, Jr. comes off more “Brooklyn Go Hard” than “Sound Bwoy Bureill.” In addition, although not half as bad as the previously mentioned tracks, the in media res precursor to “Murder” called “On the Run” is wasted by far too much scripted dialogue and not enough actual rapping. Ultimately, Royce’s shortcomings on Street Hop makes the middle portion a tedious hurdle to overcome, and while the faults may seem few, they prove too significant to ignore.
Street Hop’s production fares quite well. Upholding his legacy as on of Hip Hop’s best producers, DJ Premier laces the album with three uncharacteristically subdued yet brilliant cuts (“Something 2 Ride 2,” Shake This” and “Hood Love”). While some may miss his trademark cut and scratch choruses, Premo’s simplicity affords Royce the space to bring the lyrical brilliance. Similarly, producers Nottz [click to read] (“Count For Nothing” and “Street Hop 2010”), Mr. Porter (“Mine In Thiz” and “Thing For Your Girlfriend (Hoe Jack)”), 6 July (“Part of Me”), Emile (“Gun Harmonizing” and “Far Away”) and Streetrunner (“The Warriors” and “New Money”) provide the album with a number of well-crafted tracks. The only major fault in the production comes from Streetrunner’s painfully generic rude bwoy anthem “Bad Boy,” a song better left unheard.
Street Hop is as amazing as it is fraught with faults. Clocking it at 19 songs, in unquestionably too long, and while Royce Da 5’9” more than capable of captivating the listeners’ ears, he doesn’t know when to edit. At the end of the day, however, Street Hop’s successes far outweigh its failures, yet had more attention been paid to excising it’s filler content, perhaps Street Hop would be considered great instead of just very good.