Similar to his favored Bar Exam mixtape series, Royce Da 5’9 (newly minted) is back with another exhibition of bars wedded closely to beats created by some of Hip Hop’s best. Tabernacle: Trust the Shooter features an all-star grouping of producers. Premo makes an appearance on the opener “Black History,” and the rest of the team is stacked. Mr. Porter, Aarab Muzik, Nottz, Jahlil Beats, Jake One, AntMan Wonder, DJ Pain 1, and S1 create signature soundbeds for Royce to go off to. He does just that, for the most part, backed up with some of the new school and old school’s diamond dusted MCs.
But rap has become a kind of conversation with one person. A schizophrenic operation wherein the MC isn’t really talking to you or about your or about life for that matter, but projecting a kind of fantasy at which they are the center. A life and persona of their imagination. To be sure, emceeing has always been fantastical and aspirational, but the role of the newer generation seems to be to mostly surround themselves with the results of machinations dreamed up by longing. Royce has dabbled in that kind of creation and delusion with his solo projects; an artistic experience that has balanced the weight of his relationships: with Eminem, a bond that is probably deeper than blood, and extending out beyond the Detroit scene to the fearsome foursome Slaughterhouse and into the waiting arms of their urban cousins in New York.
That kinship led to his collaborative project with DJ Premier, whose place in Hip Hop history is cemented by being one half of the legendary Gang Starr as well as his being one of the best producers of all-time. PRhyme (not P-Rhyme, for God’s sake) managed to get Royce’s mojo back, as this very publication gave the album it’s highest rating in 2014: Album of the Year.
To commemorate that fantastic project, Royce has been doing a much deserved victory lap. Heading out on tour and staying sober. Tabernacle, then, is an eschewing of new age rapper’s conventions. It replaces imaginative escapism with autobiographical candor, spilling bars about his ADD, his natural talent for music, and his tumultuous personal life. Also included is his relationship with his sons (detailing one’s autism), his relationship with his wife and life begging death in turn. The lyrics are sharp as usual. On “Wait” Royce pens a chapter on a Christmas morning, “Christmas morning I remember wakin’ up wishin’ I could just go to sleep / Cause we only got like two toys a piece / I ask my pops did you do more for me? / He said, ‘Yes, I got you clothes, heat, and I let you keep a whole two rows of teeth.’” On the posse cut “The Banjo” Royce takes up arms with the masterful Styles P and heat spitters Conway along with Westside Gunn.
In fact, each turn is a tightly wound galaxy of Royce exhibiting his most special ability: creating a fresh world around his bars and going beyond mere mood. “Rap on Steroids” is just that. A monstrous flow played to near perfection over an ominous rhythm. And “Dead President Heads,” feels like a movie soundtrack with sensuous beats holding tightly to rhyme schemes made easy be repetition.
The jewel of the project, though, is the titular track. A multi-pronged tale of Royce meeting his crying on the way to be at the bedside of his wife who is delivering his child as his grandmother lay dying. Add in a rapidly approaching show, and Royce gives you an idea of what it really means when so many are counting on you and you must inevitably let one of them down. He’s let no one down with this one as Tabernacle: Trust the Shooter is already one of the better mixtapes/EPs of the year.