Before he linked up with the Joel Ortiz, Crooked I and Joe Budden to form Slaughterhouse, Royce Da 5’9” was one of the most feared lyricists the Motor City had to offer this side of Marshall Mathers.
While Royce proved that he could play well with others on projects like the Eminem collab “Bad Meets Evil” Royce solidified his rep with solo albums like “Rock City,” “Death Is Certain,” and “Independence Day,” putting the fear of Rakim in the heart of the average MC.
With the ten-year anniversary of “Death Is Certain” upon us, the man known as Nickel took a break from his fellow Slaughterhouse heads to reflect on his favorite solo album and the difference between Royce in 2004 and Royce in 2014.
TUD: From your catalog, “Death Is Certain” has to be one of your darkest projects. What was your mind state when you wrote it?
Oh man, I was in a real, real morbid place at that time. That was the first time that I gone through a lot of things in succession… a whole lot of people against me, a whole lot of beef. Now that I’m looking at it in retrospect, I approached things in a very competitive way, being one of the first guys in the city to get a deal, the first thing I did was proclaim myself the king. I kinda went away from all of the other artists as opposed to making it a thing where this is good for all of us. Like unifying early on, but I’m twenty years old. So I kinda did that and it caused division between me and a lot of people. It had a lot of people not rooting for me because they felt like they were competing with me, or whatever the reason. They could have just been fucking haters; you know what I’m saying? But it was what it was at that time. I was doing a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking … I developed this big snowball behind me so by the time I got to the “Death Is Certain” album I was sorta right in the middle of the snowball, not really ready to deal with it in any sort of diplomatic way. It was just a poke-my-chest-out, come-the-fuck-on, whoever-want-it-can-get-it type of thing. That was the mind frame I was in and I was just stuck man, I couldn’t rhyme about nothing happy. Everything on that album was pretty much me venting my frustrations and kinda like talking about my problems, but in the booth. The booth was kinda like a therapeutic chamber for me. A lot of people are still living to this day because I was able to get some of that stuff off my chest and vent that way as opposed to doing things differently.
You told us you didn’t do this album from a musically competitive standpoint. That being said, where do you think it stacks up compared to “College Dropout,” “Encore,” “The Tipping Point,” “The Carter,” “Streets Disciple” and some of the other albums that dropped in the same year?
Yeah, see that’s the thing man, I don’t really know man, all of those albums… I had no idea those albums came out. I’m aware those albums exist but I’m not really familiar with any of them other than “The Carter,” “College Dropout” and “Encore” and I didn’t listen to those albums at all at that time. Those are like… well College Dropout is a classic. Everybody should agree with that. I probably heard it sometime after that. I probably went back to that album and that’s why I’m so familiar with it. It’s pretty much the same thing though, Kanye just really, really pinpointed where he was at that time and that’s exactly what I was doing with “Death Is Certain.” If anything “Death Is Certain” would probably parallel to that, the much darker version of what “College Dropout” is. In terms of what’s better, in terms of being ranked amongst those albums, you’ll probably have to ask a causal listener or someone who’s really into that.
“Hip-Hop” produced by DJ Premier from “Death Is Certain”
Ok, Where do you think “Death Is Certain” stacks up in your personal catalog?
Umm, I would have to say one. They only thing I can compare it to as far as growth is one of “The Bar Exam” mixtapes. With “The Bar Exam,” I started really figuring out the whole punchline rap when I started the second one. I’ve been morphing into different things. Like, I’m an addict by nature so I do things in patterns. I keep doing it and doing it until I’m tired of it and I move on to something else that I’m into at that time depending on where I am in my life. So “Death Is Certain” is the first time I rhymed introspective, first time I got personal and let people in. Only problem was it was a little one-dimensional because I was only talking about everything bad that was going on with me in the streets. I didn’t even talk a lot about my personal life. The most I said was “my wife don’t like my album, she’d rather listen to Joe Budden.” That’s as personal as I went and trust me I had waaay deeper problems… I had problems in my relationship back then and that wasn’t even one of them. That’s was just me talking about something. Once I moved on from “Death Is Certain” and got into “The Bar Exams” I started really wanting to get into punchline rap. I was listening to a lot of Lloyd Banks and Fabolous and stuff like that and speaking to myself like “man, they got a punchline every fucking line” and I started wanting to try and do that type of shit. Then I moved on from that and I got into the group. And when I got into the group I realized you cant just have a punchline every line and compete with them while you’re doing songs with them and compete with them so I started mixing it up. Now I’m just back to introspective because I got a lot of shit I want to say. It’s kind of interesting man…. I’m happy with it.
It’s been a full ten years since “Death Is Certain.” You’ve never tried to do a part two for it though. Are you planning one or are you happy to leave it in the past?
One of the most important things to me just with life in general, you have to keep progressing, you have to keep growing. There’s a certain magic that you can only capture at a certain age and in a certain situation. Jay-Z is not going to keep giving you “Reasonable Doubt.” There is something special about him being at that age and rhyming about his experiences at that time. There’s nothing worse than a 36-year-old n*gga still trying to turn up with the kids, there’s a corny factor to it, you can be better at rapping than them but everything has to be natural. So what you do is you try and stay as productive as possible while you have the opportunity and capture these moments. And I think I’ve been doing that, some just impacted differently than others. That’s the reason why I put “Death Is Certain” where I put it at, because I favor that moment that got captured and you’ll never get that moment again.
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