Royce Da 5’9” has been trying to play the commercial
rap game for some time now. His Detroit mix-tape classic with
Eminem, “Renegade,” got lost in the shuffle and
eventually resurfaced as a booming street anthem on Jay-Z ‘s
The Blueprint, with Jigga subbing in for Royce. Heck, Royce
has been so hungry for some notoriety he even did an amazingly
awkward (and hilarious) cameo on C-list teen-queen Willa
Ford’s “I Wanna Be Bad.”

Beth Dykstra

Even with all the mishaps that have marked Royce’s career,
Death is Certain has no stink of desperation. All the scorn
on the disc comes from frustration, not for lack of fame. Instead
of going the crossover route and using a smattering of hot
producers and nubile female singers, Royce’s album is
seemingly designed to spurn radio trends. Eerie and confrontational
songs like “Beef” and “Everybody Goes” fill
the disc with darkness.

Royce can stress different syllables in a word and his graceful
flow lets him craft slick internal rhymes with this tried-and-true
rap trick. Listening to Royce is never dull; multiple listens let
each verse flesh out in a new direction. The DJ Premier-produced
“Hip Hop” is a jewel of a track. Premier’s chimes
and Royce’s encyclopedic description of rap combine to make a
great song designed for neither booming systems nor
hootchie-infested clubs.

The angst and weight of Royce’s fire sermons holds back
the CD’s second half. It’s not so much that a cameo
from Murphy Lee would make the disc better, it’s just that we
need an occasional reprieve from the chants of fury. Royce refuses
to submit to the pop-rap blueprint tread upon by former underground
warriors (cough, cough … 50). But after a while, the bared
fangs just wear dull.

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

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