Royce Da 5’9″ Emerges Out Of Eminem’s Shadow With Rock City

Rapper survives label politics, unveils stronger self on long-delayed LP.

Even though he has been signed to Tommy Boy Records, Game Recordings and Columbia Records, Royce Da 5’9″ has yet to put out an album.

Rock City, the debut from Eminem’s one-time right-hand man, was pushed back several times, and in the process, Royce tried to make commercially viable, radio-friendly songs and dealt with label politics. Now, after years of learning the music industry, Royce feels as though he’s finally on the right path.

“I made a lot of mistakes and I learned from them,” Royce said. “The album getting pushed back, that’s part of the game. It comes with the territory, so I just rolled with it. It’s really about how you bounce back, and I feel like I really bounced back good off of everything. Every time I fell down, I feel like I jumped back up.”

The jumping back Royce speaks of comes with the November 26 release of Rock City [Version 2.0] through Koch Records, home to the Ying Yang Twins, Onyx and others. Originally scheduled for a 2000 release on Columbia Records, the new Rock City album does not have the commercial cuts Royce recorded in order to appease Columbia. Instead, it will feature the Detroit rapper flipping the harder, more lyric-driven style he first introduced with Eminem on “Bad Meets Evil,” a song from Eminem’s major-label debut, 1999′s The Slim Shady LP.

Rock City [Version 2.0] features production from the Neptunes, DJ Premier, TrackMasters, Reef, Alchemist and others. Royce favorites such as “Boom” and “Soldier Story” are included, as well as newer selections “Off Parole” and “Nickel 9 Is.” The first single, “Mr. Baller,” features the Clipse and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes.

After a number of ups and downs, Royce feels releasing the album in this configuration is his best option. “It’s more updated,” he said. “We took some songs off and replaced them with newer stuff. Instead of me sitting around, this is like the best decision.”

Eminem still appears on the hook of “Rock City,” but the album is no longer being executive produced by the D12 mastermind. Eminem, who used Royce as his hype man on a number of his early tours, also secured Royce a ghostwriting position for Dr. Dre’s 2001 album, as well as a spot on DJ Clue’s 2001 record, The Professional 2.

Even though they were good friends for years, Royce said he and Slim Shady have drifted apart. “I don’t really talk to Slim that much no more like I used to,” Royce said. “That’s my man, don’t get me wrong, but we don’t talk a lot. You know how you just grow apart from somebody? I really just feel like I need to do things myself.

“The things that Slim did for me in the past, I feel it’s coming back to haunt me,” he continued. “He’s not riding with me like that no more. Back in the day, it was ‘Royce that,’ ‘Royce this,’ ‘Royce that.’ Now he’s doing his own thing. I’m not on his label. … If I go to a label [now], they want to know Eminem’s involvement, or ‘This is Eminem’s man.’ I’m just trying to break away from that.

“His friendship is more important to me than [being in a situation where] every time I talk to him, I need a favor,” Royce said. “I don’t want to put myself in that position. That’s chump status. I do me. I don’t depend on Slim and we don’t really talk like that, but that’s my man.”

Like Eminem, Royce has transformed himself into a music-making machine. After waiting years for the release of his first album, Royce is already well into his second collection, which he said will be released next year.

“I got 20 joints right now,” Royce said. “I’ve got the next album done pretty much already. All those new joints, I’m holding to put it. As far as all the new stuff, I’m holding it for the next album. It’s like the new me. It’s much different from anything that I’ve been doing. It’s like the best material I ever did in my life. It’s just crazy. I’m thinking better. I’ve got piece of mind. I’m not depending on nobody. I’m just doing me.

“You’ll hear the difference in the new material,” he said. “I’m coming back to my underground fanbase. I’m not even thinking about radio when I go in to do records. I think rap is going back to that. I’m just fed up. I tried to appeal to radio. It just don’t work. People don’t want to hear me doing that. People want to hear me doing what I came into the game doing, which is just be lyrical. I think people respect me for my lyrics and if they feel like I slight myself or water down my lyrics to appease a different crowd, they don’t like that.”

So after a career that has already had more delays than an airport in a snowstorm, Royce is looking forward to the future, not his rocky past.

“I worry, but then again I can’t worry myself to death about it,” he said. “I’ve got to take the opportunities that are given to me. If somebody’s willing to take the risk with me, then I’m riding with them. I’m not just going to sit around. I’ve got a family to feed. I ain’t really have a choice. I want this album to come out and I want to move forward.”