INTERVIEW: Royce Da 5'9" Discusses 'Book Of Ryan,' Mental Health & More
By Isha Thorpe
June 19, 2018
Royce Da 5'9" easily delivered one of the best rap albums of 2018 when he blessed his fans with Book Of Ryan. The project was the rapper's 7th studio album and almost everyone who's heard the LP says that it's Royce's best album to date. Lucky No. 7, indeed.
A little while before Book Of Ryan made its debut -- which was on May 4 -- Royce also released the PRhyme 2 album with DJ Premier. That just looked like the warm up for the MC because as soon as Book Of Ryan dropped, hip hop fans were completely blown away. Book Of Ryan consists of 21 tracks. Once you begin listening to the project, you'll quickly realize that there isn't another rap LP out there like it at the moment.
It's produced by the likes of Boi-1da, S1, DJ Khalil, Mr. Porter, Illmind, Frank Dukes and much more. As far as features go; fellow recording artists who assisted Royce on cuts are Eminem, Pusha T, J. Cole, Jadakiss, Marsha Ambrosius, Logic, Boogie, Fabolous, T-Pain, among others.
From beginning to end, Book Of Ryan is undoubtably as real as albums and their messages get. Royce digs deep into the personal moments in his life -- the good, bad and ugly included -- that shaped him into the man he is today. The MC uses his thought-provoking lyrics to open up about his youth, overcoming alcoholism, mental health and much more. Book Of Royce is definitely a project that will have you thinking things you've never thought of before, and feeling unexpected emotions you were ready for.
iHeartRadio spoke to Royce Da 5'9" about his album and a lot more. Peep our conversation with the lyricist below. You can cop Book Of Ryan here.
Your fans say that Book Of Ryan is your best work yet. Do you agree?
Yeah, I agree. The only thing about that is when we make music, we can only judge it based off of the way that it ages. So, it's pretty hard to say right now. Hopefully in like two, three months we can look at it in retrospect and still say the same thing. But, I will say that it was designed to be my best.
I put the most work into this album [out] of any album. I literally spent five years working on it. Usually I just do albums really quick, put 'em out. This album took a little bit more time just because it's my most personal. Most personal music to date and it meant the most to me.
A lot of people find it hard to be very vulnerable or as vulnerable as you were. Were you scared about that?
I mean, I was a little apprehensive at first, you know a little while ago. But, I had to come to the realization that I'm a pretty vulnerable person. So, once I was able to just put that aside and realize that I am who I am and just kind of go with it, everything came relatively easy. It actually felt pretty therapeutic.
It's two different kinds of therapy. It's like recording it, the creative aspect, actually getting it out is therapeutic within itself. And then looking at the reaction to it and the way that it helps people. And the way that people connect to it is therapeutic as well, because it's like my way of telling people, you're not alone. I have these issues, too. But then, I'm also like wow, I'm not alone they had these issues, too. It's like a two way street. I love it.
What were the most emotional songs that you recorded?
I got a song called 'Power.' That was probably one of them. I got a song called 'Cocaine' that was pretty emotional. But, it's not really hard to get out when I'm doing it, I'm so in the moment. I'm so in that cliché zone that we talked about. Gauging people's reactions and then being able to step away from the music for a second, and come back to it and actually listen to it, kind of like as a fan in a sense for a second. That's when it's tough. It's like, 'Wow. I actually talked about all that stuff.'
You're also very open when talking about mental health and demons that people might face. Why do you think it's so hard for the black community to open up about that so much?
You know what, I don't know. That's one of the reasons why I talk about it. And that's one of the most confusing parts of it. I think black people, we just know what we know. And usually when I'm speaking about it, I'm speaking just from my perspective. I'm speaking from me, from myself. And [when] we grew up, you know, these catastrophic things would happen within our household and we just suppress it. We just pretend like it never happened. Go back to normal like it never happened and that's how we dealt with it. We didn't talk about things, we didn't open up any kind of dialogue about anything. So, I mean closure was just... that didn't exist.
So, each new time that a new issue arose, there were remnants of the previous issue. And it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. It's like a snowball effect. And it's just like, I got to call it, like, a black thing. It's just, like, all of my friends were the exact same way, it was the exact same way and I don't know what that's linked to. But, I would love for somebody to be able to share that with me.
This September you're going to be six years sober. In terms of you making music, does it help to not go back to that place?
I don't have the craving for alcohol, I don't miss it at all. There was a point of time where we didn't book hotel rooms without clearing everything out. Now, I don't even do that. So, [I] walk in my hotel room, I see a bottle, the first thing I think about is relapse and then my mind goes to all these terrible places and all of these bad memories that I have associated with drinking, and I don't miss it at all. If anything, I think of things that I'm ashamed of and it takes me down a road in my mind that I don't even need to be thinking about.
I'm one of those people, I'm very emotional. I'm like an artist in every sense of the word... I mean, that's pretty much what it does for me, you know? It sparks the way that I deal with it. But, in terms of going back to drinking, not a chance.
What's the most shocking reaction that you've seen from Book of Ryan?
That's a good one. I guess probably the one thing that I didn't expect is people getting emotional over certain songs. Before I put the album out, a good friend of mine named V Styles, he came to my studio and listened to the album and he heard the song 'Cocaine' I told you about. He started crying. So, I looked over and I thought I seen him wiping his face. So, I thought maybe it's a little hot in here. So, we just kept listening and then I looked over again and I'm like, 'Bro, what is going on over here?' And he was just like, 'Ah man, it just got me a little emotional.' I'm like, 'You alright man, you need a tissue or something?' And I was just thinking to myself, the song wasn't really meant to be super emotional like that. But, it's just interesting, the effect the music has on people.
So, when the music came out, there was mad people tweeting me like, 'Yo, I just shed a thug tear listening to 'Power.' Or I just cried listening to 'Cocaine' and it's like wow, this is crazy, because music has that kind of effect on me in a sense.
But, movies do that to me. If it's written really well and it's a certain character played really well. It was a movie with Mark Wahlberg, Lovely Bones. I can never watch that movie. It hit a nerve. Whoever wrote that movie, that was their intent. And I think that's what music is kind of meant to do in certain instances. You [are] supposed to get all into it and you're supposed to be able to feel it. It's supposed to allow you to be able to feel. Especially when you come from a climate where you're programmed to be desensitized on all levels.
You're a well-known lyricist. So, where do you see hip hop and rap music in five years?
You ever see the movie Idiocracy? (laughs) I think that there's times where it feels like it's headed in a bad direction. And then there's always those exceptions to the rule like the Kendricks, the Coles -- they kind of take it and they assure you [that] yeah, it's still in a good place, don't worry about it. There's a lot of guys attempting to really dumb it down too much. Too much to where thinking is not cool.
I just don't want us to get to a place where you got 13, 14-year-old children thinking that it's not cool to think or it's not cool to be smart. It's cool to be dumb. I don't like that narrative. I don't like it at all. So, I'm just going to put my heart on the line and I'm going to say it's headed in a good direction. Five years, we'll be good.
Photos: Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio