Royce da 5’9″ Peels Back His Layers
On his new album, the Detroit emcee takes listeners on a journey through the sober mind of Ryan Montgomery
“This is me basically peeling back all the layers and just giving you everything as a whole,” Royce da 5’9″ says. “This is pretty much me completing the cypher. This is me completing all of my thoughts, being able to finally be the artist that I want to be. Because when I first signed my deal with Tommy Boy Records in 1999, and I turned my first album in, they said, ‘We like the music, but we don’t really know who you are by listening to you because your music is all over the place,’” he recalls. Layers, his first solo project in five years, is Royce’s chance to show his fans who Ryan Montgomery really is.
Making music as a member of three well-respected groups—Slaughterhouse, PRhyme, and Bad Meets Evil—it’s easy to see how Royce could feel pulled in different directions. “I feel like over the years, I’ve been giving you different sides of my thoughts,” he explains. “Like my core fanbase, I’ve been getting them different sides of my thoughts.” On Layers, Royce is piecing together the fragments and completing his thoughts.
The album takes us on a journey through Ryan Montgomery’s mind, on a soulful journey of his sober thoughts. “I decided to stop drinking about four years ago,” Royce explains. “And when I did that, all of the personal things I had never really thought about when I was making music started to come out; a lot of experiences [from] when I was a kid. All of that shit started pouring out. Like all kinds of memories I thought I had forgotten about. It was crazy with my brain working actually like it’s supposed to work and not working off alcohol,” he muses.
Writing with a sober mind has changed Ryan’s creative process. It’s allowed him to be more thoughtful and introspective. “It’s a whole different experience for me,” he reveals. “I had to actually and wait it out and take the time to be patient and learn how to work with a sober mind. And the first year I spent a lot of hours at the studio coming up with nothing. Nothing was coming out, you know because I was so used to drinking and thoughts coming to me so fast.”
Initially, this frustrated Ryan, but then he began to realize that his creative thoughts were forming as they were supposed to. “It really was just I’m thinking at the regular rate that I’m supposed to think and not super fast,” he reflects. “And now I don’t get frustrated when I can’t create at a fast pace.“
On Layers, Ryan goes in-depth about a lot of issues and experiences he dealt with growing up, and reflects on the things that ultimately led him to sobriety. He intends to go even deeper on his next album, Book Of Ryan. “This is like the precursor to that,” he explains. “The worst thing you can be is an artist with a whole bunch of secrets,” he says. “This is a job where you’re allowed to express yourself.”
One of the major life events that Ryan reflects upon on Layers is the night he met Marshall, aka Eminem, who would later become one of his best friends and business partners. Of all his collaborative projects, Royce says Bad Meets Evil, his group with Eminem, has been the most rewarding. “It was bigger than just the music,” he recollects. “Like there was a point in my life where I thought we would never speak again.” As the saying goes, however, time heals all wounds, and after some time had passed, Royce and Eminem were able to get back together, and mend their friendship.
“Marshall went through his own personal things with addiction,” Royce explains. “You know, with drugs and shit. And after he got sober, he reached out to me and you know, we started talking.” By this point, Royce was already a member of hip hop supergroup, Slaughterhouse, along with Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, and KXNG Crooked. “I already had my group Slaughterhouse and he was looking to sign someone new [To Shady Records], so he ended up signing Slaughterhouse,” Royce recalls. “While we were working the deal out, we were just sitting in the studio, and he [Eminem] was just like ‘Yo! While we wait, why don’t we just record songs?”
Royce and Eminem ended up recording five or six new songs together. “These songs were too good to just sit on,” Royce recollects. “He looked at me and was like ‘Royce, what do you wanna do with the songs?’ I was like ‘Bro! You got your own fucking record label. Let’s put em out,” he laughs. “So that’s how the Bad Meets Evil thing came about,” he affirms. “We went in there and we weren’t thinking about radio or anything like that,” he reminisces. “We just wanted to go in there and be like kids again, rhyme again like how we used to rhyme. It was almost like our relationship coming full circle. And nothing was more rewarding than that.”
Layers isn’t just about profound and bittersweet subject matter. It is very much about the music itself, which is very soulful and sonically developed. Royce’s vision the entire time for the entirety of the project was for the listener to have no reason to fast-forward or skip through anything. “Mr. Porter and I came up with a lot of cool segways in between songs and did a lot of cool things,” he says. “We adopted a lot of the same approaches used on classical albums. When I was done recording the lyrics, I had a lot of fun tying all the songs together, like a lot of fun.”
Royce wants all listeners of the album—fans, emcees, and producers—to hear the album from all perspectives. “I want people to hear it and enjoy it,” he says. “I want the emcees to be listening to the lines. To catch the different lines. And I want people to go back and listen and catch lines that they missed. They didn’t hear before. I want people to enjoy it from all standpoints. I want producers to be like ‘Yo, the beats are crazy.’ I just want everyone, all different kinds of fans, to be able to enjoy it on all different levels.”
In addition to working on his own music, Royce has also been working with Mr. Porter on helping young Detroit artists with their development. Their new company, Bad Half Entertainment, helps younger artists make albums. “We’re gonna do a lot of the grooming and development that the labels don’t do for younger artists,” he explains. “By the time they get to a point where they want to get on a major label, they already would have gone through our system. They’ll already be developed and everything already. And they’ll be ready to go.”
When Royce and Eminem were starting out, they didn’t have the support of older artists. “I didn’t have that, me and Marshall didn’t have that,” he says. “So we definitely gotta break that cycle.” Royce is a huge fan and supporter of Detroit artists such as Chavis Chandler, Icewear Vezzo, Ro Spit, Clear Soul Forces, Oba Rowland, his little brother, Kid Vishes, and others. “I’m basically the OG now,” he muses. “I pretty much support everybody. I love all them kids.”
Currently, Royce is working on his next album Book Of Ryan, which goes even deeper into Ryan Montgomery’s life story. He is also working with his brother Kid Vishes on his new album, and he and Mr. Porter are working with Detroit artist Tiara. “Be on the lookout for new PRhyme music. Be on the lookout for new Slaughterhouse. Be on the lookout for Bad Meets Evil music,” he says. “Anything related to Royce Da 5’9″.”