Royce Da 5’9” is the true definition of a wordsmith. He’s known to many as half of Bad Meets Evil, the duo he formed with Eminem, and each of the Detroit MC’s previous albums has been a lesson in lyricism. His latest is no different. ‘The Allegory’ warrants undivided attention, throwing you into a world of elevated thinking, complex rhyme schemes and sophisticated storytelling. Digesting it in a single listen is an enjoyable challenge.
It’s inspired by Greek philosopher Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, which focuses on “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature”, so there’s little wonder that Royce’s eighth studio album is so vast and intricate. He drops knowledge on black history and the racism that has often plagued it, hip-hop’s shortcomings and today’s often frustrating social climate. And it’s all backed by a sea of soul samples and skittish drum patterns that often penetrate poignant synths.
Royce recruits an arsenal of gifted artists – both known and unknown – and ‘The Allegory’ benefits from this mixed bag. Detroit singer-songwriter Ashley Sorrell appears on ‘Pendulum’, ‘Upside Down’ and ‘My People Free’, while Griselda rappers Benny the Butcher, WestSide Gunn and Conway the Machine appear on a bunch of tracks. Each guest somehow manages to evade Royce’s lyrical shadow. And although Eminem doesn’t rap on ‘The Allegory’, the ‘Perspective’ interlude sees him deliver an important musical history lesson for the uninitiated, highlighting the role hip-hop has played in desegregation. “Nothing has brought more races and more people from all different walks of life together than hip-hop,” he sagely notes.
While he’s a team player, though, you don’t want to get on Royce’s bad side. On the President: “I hate that your commander-in-chief is more demander and thief / And it seems like this boy just can’t be impeached”. On former Shady labelmate Yelawolf: “You think it’s ‘bout being loud or trying to be hostile ’til you get found facedown on the ground outside of Kid Rock’s house”. No-one is safe from Royce’s bite.
He even finds time to poke fun at himself – specifically his decision to rock a jewel-encrusted doo rag on the cover of his debut album, 2002’s ‘Rock City’. Addressing his fashion faux pas on ‘Rhinestone Doo Rag’, he spits: “I wore a rhinestone doo rag, but you don’t have to.”
In addition to rapping his ass off, Royce also handles the majority of the album’s production. Built from Motown sample packs, live instrumentation and gritty drum kicks, the Detroit MC’s foray into creating sonics feels fresh yet familiar. The multi-layered ‘Young World’ is reminiscent of Dr. Dre’s work with Anderson .Paak, while fans of Amp Fiddler and The Coup will feel at home on the bustling jazz jam ‘Dope Man’.
Royce’s 2018 album ‘Book of Ryan’ was always going to be a tough act to follow, but ‘The Allegory’ stands up as an accomplished body of work, packed full of poetic intricacies and life lessons, soundtracked by the sound of Detroit; it will likely end up on the majority of 2020 end-of-year rap lists.
Release date: February 21
Record label: eOne Music