Royce da 5’9, who’s currently serving a ten-month bid for parole violation at Trusty Camp, got on the phone with HipHopGame to talk about his album with DJ Premier, writing for Diddy and potentially working with Nas.
I’m feeling good. My spirits are up pretty high. I’ve been getting a lot of letters and stuff. I’m just using this time to reflect and get super-focused. I’m going to come out more focused than I’ve ever been. I’m going to come out and do what’s right.
How far along did you and DJ Premier get on the album before you had to go in?
Not too far, actually. Me and Preem only did about four or five records. I did some records with my man Bink. I did some with Nottz and some with Broady. I have 20 to 30 songs, maybe. That’s not as far as I would have liked to been. Normally I like to cut about 70, 80 or 100 records and then narrow them down after that. I’d say we’re about a third of the way done.
Is the album still going to be just you and DJ Premier?
Primo’s going to do half the album, maybe five or six records, and he’s going to executive-produce the album. He’s helping me pick producers and he’s working with me on every song making sure it sounds right.
What other producers do you want on this record?
I got a few people in mind. Normally, different ideas for producers will come out of me doing records. I start off doing records with people I have chemistry with, like Preem, Nottz, Broady and Bink. Those are my main guys that I got chemistry with. Off of doing those records, we’ll spin off some ideas. I’ve been spending a lot of times talking to Slam at Bad Boy about different producers. He’ll shoot me beat-CD’s and I’ll sit there and listen. I’m trying to make it a lot more diverse. I’m trying to work with a lot of different people to see what sides of me can be brought out. I’m going hard with this album. I’ve been listening to a lot of people’s beats, but until I start recording, I don’t want to throw their names out there.
How is your relationship changing with Carlos Broady?
It’s gotten better. One thing about me is if you give me these types of situations, you figure out who your friends are and you figure out who’s your real family. Carlos, Preem, Bink and Nottz are all real family. All the people in my circle have all been there, from management to everybody else. My relationships with all my surrounding people have gotten stronger since I’ve been in.
Ideally, when would this album come out?
We’re actually going to record a large bulk of the album and try to find a home for it. That’s the goal. I’m not huge on doing the independent thing another time around. I’m not opposed to it, but I would like to go somewhere else and get involved in somebody else’s system and not spend my own money like we did last time around.
How do you and DJ Premier work together?
Preem is just a real good dude. Preem is one of those people who you can’t say anything bad about him or I’ll have a problem with you. He’s been sticking with me in my situation. We’ve been spending a lot of time on the phone, talking about this record and what we’re going to do with them. Before I got into this situation, I would go out to New York and I’d sit with him in Headquarters. He would make the beat and then I would go in the booth. It’s pretty much the same thing every time. It’s us inspiring each other. He would go through loops and then when I hear something, he would go make it like only he can do. Once he finishes, I’m ready to go in the booth.
A lot of artists always say, “I was going to get Primo on my album, but he was too busy.” Have you ever had that problem with him?
Primo’s always been busy ever since I’ve known him. He’s real, real focused right now. I talked to him yesterday. He went to James Brown’s funeral. He’s always focused and he always has real good words to say to me. There’s only a couple times I’ve called him and I haven’t been able to get through to him and that’s more than I can say for most people I deal with on a day-to-day basis. You can’t stop Preem from being busy. He’s one of the most significant cats in the game as far as production. He’s always going to have work and he’s always going to have people beating down his door. I’m just blessed enough to be made a priority on his list of things to do. We’ve always kept it real with each other. I have no problems with him.
On “Ding,” you said, “Mood-swing on the beat as soon as Preem prepares one.” What does DJ Premier bring out of you that no other producers can?
It’s something. It’s something. (pause) I don’t know if it’s a hunger. I don’t know what the word is. He makes me want to MC. He doesn’t make me want to do a radio record. He just makes me want to MC. He brings the classic Royce out of me. He brings out the Royce that wants to do a classic song every time he’s in the studio. No. 1, his expectations are always so high. He’s a perfectionist. Right before I went in, he made me rewrite a lot, which is the same thing Puff was doing when I was fucking with him. When you’re around great dudes and you see how they work, it turns you into that type of perfectionist. Now we’re all just running a tight-ass ship over here.
Were you happy with the response to your latest record with DJ Premier, “Ding”?
I was happy. I was real happy with the response on it. It had a real big internet presence. It wasn’t something that we sent out to radio. It was basically something to leak out to the ‘net and the mixtapes. People responded real well to it. I got a lot of love off of it so I was real happy with it. It served its purpose for what it was. It was just a record me and Preem wanted to throw out to people to let them know we were in the studio together and we were actually doing this thing.
Does the feedback, positive or negative, you receive from songs like “Ding,” which are released before the album is done, ever change the way you work on the rest of the album?
I would say it doesn’t affect me, but it does. A leak record is to throw out there to see what the response is going to be so you can see if you’re on the right track. If I’m constantly getting a negative response, although I might not admit it, I might switch up some things. If a lot of people are criticizing something, I’ll try something different, within my own realm of course. I think I pretty much got it down. I’ve never had the problem of leaking records and people having a lot of negative things to say about it. There is always going to be a few negative things because people are always going to hate. You have to distinguish between the people who are hating versus the people who are genuinely concerned. That’s the normal wear and tear you go through when you throw records out there.
Will your new album be better than your last album, Death is Certain?
Death is Certain is not even going to be a third of what this album is going to be. Death is Certain was done in two weeks. It’s not an album I felt like I couldn’t top. I was nowhere near peaking out. The whole time I did Death is Certain, I was drinking the whole time. It’s a crazy album, but it just goes to show what I can do when I apply myself. I’m applying myself now more than ever. The material I’m doing now is unmatched. Ask me if my album after this one can be better than the one I’m working on now and we may have a problem. I’m going to be somewhere else even higher. It’s all about keeping myself motivated, inspired and around the right people.
On “Street Hop,” you say, “I’ve been a monster.” Are fans still sleeping on you?
I wouldn’t say that. I’ve been getting love for being an MC for a long time. It’s just that the music is forever changing. Music went through a long period where it wasn’t cool to be an MC, even though you had the Lil’ Weezy’s, the Fab’s and the T.I.’s dropping albums before Jay, Nas and Em dropped. It wasn’t cool to MC for awhile. That’s why I respect dudes like Lil’ Wayne and T.I because they emceed, but a lot of kids didn’t actually know that they were doing it. They managed to MC and still remain commercial. A lot of people didn’t know that they were rhyming and putting words together and having similes and metaphors and punchlines. Being an MC wasn’t really a popular thing to do.
I always got love for being an MC. People always said, “Royce is good on that ‘New York shit.’ He’s good at putting his words together. He’s good at the words.” I’ve always gotten love for being an MC and I think things are starting to come back full circle. To use punchlines and to know how to put your words together, I think that’s becoming popular again to a certain degree. The input and positive energy is coming back and I think it’s time for me to strike. The iron is heating up. As soon as it gets hot enough, I’m going to strike.
In an interview with Allhiphop, Nas said that he would like to sign you to his imprint on Def Jam, The Jones Experience. How do you feel about that statement?
Nas is one of the greats. You’ve got Nas, you’ve got Jay and you’ve got Em. There’s not really anyone else. It’s definitely something I would be interested in. I’m not sure how serious he is about it, but it’s definitely something that I would be interested in. It’s good to know the interest is there. It makes me feel good as an MC. It’s good to be around somebody who inspires you.
I’m beyond open to discussing it with Nas. That would be an understatement. I just want to be somewhere where I can be myself. I’m a raw MC that’s able to gallop that fine line between underground and commercial. That void has always been there. I feel there are only a few artists that can fill that void. Nas and Jay-Z are two of them. I feel I’m one of those artists. For me to go over there, that would be a win-win. As far as discussing it, I’m beyond ready to discussing it. We can do that whenever Nas is ready.
How would a Royce and Nas track come out?
I think it would come out crazy. I’ve been in the studio with some greats. I’ve been in the studio with Em, Pharrell and Dre. I’m no stranger to being around great artists. I think that being in the studio with somebody like Nas would just excel that even further. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the studio with someone who made me think outside that box. I haven’t had any sparring partners since Em. That would be interesting.
Have you heard Hip-Hop is Dead?
I’ve heard some of that. I got to hear that because of my status in jail. (laughs) Nah, I’m playing. I got to hear some of it. I heard about his sales. That’s a monumental moment in hip-hop. I know he didn’t compromise nothing about the way he feels and he made a bold statement. That’s some real shit.
What was it like writing for Puffy on Press Play?
It was one of those experiences that was a blessing. I put working with Puff right up there with working with Dre because you learn so much. You learn work ethic. Those dudes were looking at me like I had a strong work ethic. Puff’s follow-through is sick. I must have written 50 verses for the “Tell Me” record. That’s not even counting the other records. The average person would sit there and complain, but when you see the way that Diddy works, it’s an around the clock thing. He has three rooms working at once. You look at that and you say, “Now I see why this nigga’s so rich. He doesn’t stop. He’s like a fucking machine. What’s driving him to be this way?”
It makes me say, “I should be this way. I was out drinking last night and this motherfucker was in the studio. I’m complaining about why his chain is nicer and what makes his music so special.” It’s because he started ten to fifteen years ago and he has not stopped since. That’s my thing.
I tell myself every day that when I’m not hearing my wheels turning in my head, that’s when I know I’m not focused. I don’t have to be focused to do my job. I realize that. I can be drinking every night and going back and forth to the studio and taking the risk of driving home drunk and still make dope records. That’s not enough. Along with that shit comes the hoops that I have to jump through. Mentally, I can’t jump through no hoops anymore. I have to get to the level I know I should be at. I’ve wasted a lot of years fucking around. That’s what I learned being around those dudes. They walk in the room, you see how they operate and you know they know what they’re supposed to be doing.
I spoke to Pharoahe Monch about his experience with Diddy. He said his work ethic completely changed through working with Diddy. Did your work ethic change working on Press Play?
Yeah. My work ethic is going to be way different from now on. I’ve never lacked as far as spending time in the studio. It’s just how my days go. If I go out one night and get drunk and I’m in the studio the next day, I’m still feeling the shit from last night. I’m not as sharp as I could be. I’m working in a job where I need to use my mind, but I’m fucking with my mind doing other things that I feel are fun. I come up with my best shit when I’m focused around the clock. I’m sharp. When I’m sharp, I don’t think anybody can fuck with me. Any hindrance there is me hindering myself. If I can perform to my highest capabilities, I don’t think I can be touched. I’m not there right now. I haven’t shown enough in my actions to claim that right now. That’s something I’ve kept to myself, but you’re going to see.
Did writing for Diddy improve your writing ability for your own records?
Yeah, it did because it taught me not to settle for something just because I wrote it and I feel it’s dope. I would give Diddy what I would give myself if that’s what he wanted. I want to give him my best shit. I feel like him giving me the opportunity is a blessing and all I know how to give is my all. When I go in with an artist of his caliber, I’m competing with every other artist who’s ever wrote for him. I’ve heard what Nas, Jay-Z and Pharoahe Monch wrote for him. I wanted to compete with that. He wanted me to write on that single, which I was more than happy to do, but I was hoping he would throw me one of those darker beats because that’s the level that I love rhyming on. That’s why I would talk to Nas because mentally, we’re in the same place.
Is it ever hard writing for somebody else?
No. It’s not hard at all. Diddy sat me down and said, I’ll never forget this, he said he likes the melodies I use on my songs. I call it my flow, he calls it my melodies. He likes that. He said it sounds like an instrument. That’s how I came up with the flow for “Tell Me.” I tried to come up with a distinctive flow. Something that was different. The beat and hook were already there. I think with the first verse, it was mission accomplished. People still say, to this day, “Who wrote that joint?” It’s not the most lyrical joint because it’s a radio-ready record, but that flow is unmatched and he did a damn-good job delivering.
Even though you’re not rapping on the track, it’s got to feel good seeing a song like “Tell Me” do well.
It feels real good. It feels real good. It makes me feel like I’m still significant. Sometimes you get those feelings like, Damn, man, did I fuck it up? Especially after that whole Em shit passed. I was asking myself, “Did I fuck it up? Am I going to get another go-round?” All you can do is keep moving forward and eventually the good things will fall in your lap again. That’s why I’m glad that something this fucked up is happening to me because something that much better will come on top of it and drown it out. I’ll look back and laugh on it.
Is what you’re going through today going to change how you act when you get out?
It’s making me a whole ‘nother person. I’m different right now talking to you. I don’t know how, but I just feel different. I have a whole different outlook on being a husband, a father and an artist. I’ve been around people who are super-successful and I’ve seen how they carry themselves and I know what lane I should be in. Obviously I just have to put my blinkers on and don’t get in any other lane. I’m different all the way across the board and it’s only been three months, but that’s a long time to be away from music when that’s what you love to do.
Have you done a lot of writing since going in?
When I first got in, I couldn’t write because the environment wasn’t inspiring at all. In the last month or so, I’ve been writing a lot. I had to go back to the days where I would write with no beat and memorize it and then go to the open mics. For the last few years, I was telling myself I couldn’t write without a beat. I told myself I had to write to the beat in the session. Now I’m writing these verses 100-plus bars at the time. Now I’m just knocking out verse after verse after verse, writing about whatever’s on my mind.
When you come out, can we expect a lot of new music?
Right away. There’s going to be a lot of new music.
It seems as though there’s some tension between Guru and DJ Premier right now. Are you and Primo the next generation of Gang Starr?
I’ve talked to Preem about that situation before. He has a lot of love for Guru. I’m cool with Guru and Guru’s cool with me. I don’t know their relationship firsthand. Primo would never say Gang Starr is finished. Gang Starr is still alive and as long as they’re doing what they’re doing, there’s always the possibility that they can go and do another album. Right now, while they’re not doing anything, I’m more than happy to fill that void. We’re Gang Starr right now. There is always another possibly Gang Starr can go and do another album. Right now, it’s me. Anytime anybody says my name, Preem’s name is attached to it and vice versa. I don’t have any problem filling that void, but I don’t have a problem letting Guru get that spot when he’s ready. That relationship was there long before me.
You had the “Fruits of Labor” track before Papoose had it. What’s the story behind that?
I was just in the studio with my man Bink. We were in the studio a lot. That’s actually one of the records that we recorded. That’s one of those situations where another artist had the same record. Bink sends me records and I don’t even tell him that I did something on one of them or that I have a particular beat. Papoose got a hold of it and recorded it. I didn’t hear what Papoose did but I heard it was dope. That was just one of those situations. There’s definitely no hard feelings there.
How involved are you in the Royce da 5’9” mixtape DJ Statik Selektah and Primo are working on?
Statik has the accapellas, freestyles and songs people haven’t heard. He’s putting it together and waiting to get with Preem so he can approve everything. Preem is actually executive-producing my career right now. (laughs) He wants to approve all the freestyles and everything. He’s getting with Statik and they’re working on that. That should be out real soon.
What else is going on with M.I.C. today?
Just me. M.I.C. is only going to move as fast as Royce da 5’9” can move. We’re going to do this mixtape and my little brother Vicious just dropped his mixtape. He pressed up some copies to let people know he’s still working. It’s dope. He really stepped it up. I heard some of it over the phone and I’m real proud of him. Other than that, we’re just taking it real slow.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming MC’s?
Make it count. That’s where the M.I.C. comes from. We never say “Mic Records.” We say, “Make It Count.” Always try to be prepared when the opportunity presents itself, because it might only come once. If you’re prepared, you can earn off of that and it doesn’t get any realer than that.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Thank you for your support and thank you for your letters. I didn’t write anybody back. In case you were wondering why I didn’t write back to you, I didn’t write anybody back. I’m actually enjoying my solitude. I’m going to be sure to put every single person’s name who wrote me in my album credits as a thank you. Thank you in advance for showing me love and sending me letters. I really appreciate it.
You can write to Royce at:
1690 Brown Road
Ryan Montgomery – 294855
Auburn Hills, MI 48326