After years of dropping heady raps and multi-syllabic lyrical miracles, 2018 showed off all of Royce Da 5’9. PRhyme 2 gave listeners brutally macho bars and clever punchlines alongside sole producer DJ Premier, while Book of Ryan delivered a newer side to the Detroit veteran rapper, as he thoughtfully demystified his personal life and gave a laser-sharp focus to storytelling.
While PRhyme 2 might’ve been more of the same Royce, one who sits comfortably big-headed on top as a lyrical rapper’s rapper, Book of Ryan packaged a more lyrically interesting side to Royce, one who revealed his inner and past familial struggles, detailing personal subjects as addiction and childhood abuse. So it’s no surprise that with his latest effort, The Allegory, Royce makes a through-line between these two styles.
And also unsurprisingly, it works well for him.
On the album’s first song, “Mr. Grace Intro,” Royce samples a short lesson that Derrick D. Grace II teaches his daughter on financial literacy, before a gunshot cues triumphant horns that blare above various rattles and tappings, setting the stage for Royce’s free form rapping. Royce is stern but airy, introducing his album as “the allegory of the cave theory, by Plato” in which he aims to reveal “actors standing behind me controlling nothing but shapes.”
To Royce, the actors are financially literate young rappers with inflated egos (“Your video got 4 million hits, Oh shit! Somebody told you you’re rich,” he raps on “Pendulum”), formulaic Spotify rappers (“You an algorithm, you niggas everything the culture isn’t,” he raps on “FUBU”), and those who maintain the status quo of crippling systems (“White kids graduate to relationships and tons of perks, black kids just aggravated and had to take a ton of percs,” he raps on “Upside Down”).
On The Allegory, Royce aims at those oppressors through a handful of interludes that set-up how each song fits within the overall theme of the album. Each skit and correlating song serves to either showcase the power of knowledge or the dangers of ignorance. This approach works best with tracks like the label-hating, phony-exposing “Tricked,” which follows Eminem interlude speaking on white artists being recognized over their black originators on “Perspective,” and the incredibly tough Conway the Machine-assisted “FUBU,” which comes just before a white man’s racist rant on “A Black Man’s Favorite Shoe.”
For the most part, Royce is unafraid to reach political and social moral high ground. His criticisms are best heard on “Pendulum,” which sees an unapologetic Royce compare both personal experiences and peer relationships to social media to a pendulum that swings to attack those at the top as much as those at the bottom. “I was still a slave just 400 years ago,” he raps, “going massive for a cracker wearing a robe / and I just did a deal for my masters and my soul.” On “Tricked,” he’s quick to reveal the fallacies of modern society, though he does questionably blame vaccines for his son’s autism (“From day one at the hospital they target our children, say they gon’ immunize them they somehow get autism”).
The most obvious story surrounding The Allegory is the production, which is is entirely handled by Royce Da 5’9 himself. His first endeavor into producing, Royce lends boom-bap drum patterns and soulful samplings to much success, though there are a few mishaps. “I Don’t Age,” has a frantic synth melody fluttering about a piano loop and flat boom-bap drums, but is occasionally broken up by an annoyingly loud harp sample. “Dope Man” is a recreation of funky ’70s drug pusher anthems, à la Curtis Mayfield, sampling Ohio Players and an Ice Cube vocal to make for a barrage of noise that doesn’t sound like it found its proper footing. Whenever Royce finds the right sample on The Allegory, like the soulful “Over Comer,” it soars over the track and aids in a nostalgic spoon-feeding of boom-bap that doesn’t feel dated, although never forward-thinking and mostly stripped back.
The Allegory is an album that defines Royce Da 5’9 as a wise artist who raps his lessons as a teacher, albeit, a confident and aggressively punchy one. He’s hungry here, rapping with intense passion and enunciating his sharpest social critiques with excitement. Alongside a star-studded cast of lyrical sparring partners made up of contemporaries like T.I., Vince Staples, CyHi the Prince and all of Griselda, The Allegory plays out as Royce’s most consolidated offering yet.
A definite career high-point for a rapper whose résumé spans over 20 years.