Release Date: 11.26.03
Record label: Koch Records
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.
by: jon baran
How many of you are the oldest child? Ok, put your hands down now think back all the way back to when that attention grabbing needy baby was born. Remember how family you haven't seen in years would flock to your house, give you a nice pat on the head, and then stare at that boring baby for hours? Sure, all babies look and sound the same, but they didn't care, because this one was new! Now before all of you oldest children release an unadulterated tirade upon your younger siblings calm down and throw on a little Royce Da 5'9", you will probably have some sympathy for him. With Rock City being about 8 months old at the time of this review we have the benefit of looking back at it with the knowledge of what flipped the hip hop world upside down in the first half of 2003, that of course being 50 Cent. Should Royce be upset about the lack of push Papa Eminem gave Rock City in comparison to the lackluster Get Rich or Die Tryin? Maybe (although, to be completely fair, Rock City was not released on Shady/Aftermath), but he can at least take solace knowing that he has put together a far more solid album than most of his rap peers, including his symbolic brother 50.
At least half of Rock City is about as good as hip-hop gets today. Songs such as "U Can't Touch Me", "Nickel Nine is " and "Boom" rank up there with the best rap releases of last year. When Royce is at his best he resembles a version Talib Kweli that's less politically conscious but with a far bigger ego. It often sounds as if Royce is in the midst of an MC battle, with lyrics like "A whole lot of lip from cliques I'd probably rap circles around/I'm the next best to reach a peak formerly known/as the best keep secret, I guess that I just leaked it" quick to berate the competition and boost his own ego. Such egotism could easily become passé and meaningless in the hands of a less charismatic rapper, but Royce's magnetic bombast combined with some of the freshest beats this side of [indie hip hop powerhouse label] Def Jux create a sound that harkens back to hip hops early days.
But Rock City is far from perfect. When Royce isn't at the top of his game he too easily falls into hip hop clichés and stale beats. A particularly low point on the album is the track "Let's Go" that is drenched in clichés like "I could cause a scene to make you throw up/Put a bullet in yo' gut, bat em down and leave the sto' cut" and beats that sound like any of the ambiguous releases of No Limit or Cash Money. A small handful of other songs on the album ("Off Parole", "Take His Life") suffer from the same lack of originality and character that make the rest of the album so wonderful.
What is probably the most glaring flaw in Rock City, however, are the disappointing guest spots. With heavy hitters like Eminem, The Neptunes, and Clipse on board the hopes were set very high. The two Neptunes produced tracks, "Off Parole" and "Mr. Baller" are second rate Neptunes at best, and Eminem's appearance is so brief that if you aren't listening closely enough you just might miss it. Royce likes to drop Slim's name as often as possible on the album but Eminem's only real guest spot is as a mere background singer for the predicable-but-spunky "Rock City". A real gem was missed here by not allowing Em and Royce to share rhymes as they did on The Slim Shady LP's "When Bad Meets Evil". Right now Slim's other pet project may be getting the biggest main stream coverage, but Royce has the skills to step up to the lime light. When he is at his best you can put his name up there with the likes of Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Jurassic 5 as true visionary underground rappers. His worst songs aren't bad enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth, and if anything are only bad and unoriginal enough to be forgotten, making it that much easier to remember how excellent the rest of the album is. 30-Jul-2003 9:14 AM