Hot off the heals of his second, classic collaboration with the legendary producer DJ Premier with Prhyme 2, Royce stuns us with this solo effort out of nowhere.
In what may be the most mainstream attempt on the album in some ways, and a tag team effort with his Bad Meets Evil partner and fellow Rock City brethren, Eminem, “Caterpillar” is a strange, extended metaphor for the current state of rap from the perspective of these two older rap legends. Although Royce and Em spend the song talking about how they are the caterpillars and are destroying these butterflies, the better analogy here is how Royce as an artist has morphed into something new and great with the “Book of Ryan”.
Sobriety and self realization has spelled the artistic demise of many artists in the eyes of fans, especially in artistic genres associated with debauchery and hedonism like the gangster rap era that Royce came up in. Take that away from the artist and many times you are left with an empty soul that has either has lost their edge artistically or is still attempting to sell a fake image of what they use to be. Royce has gone way past these possible outcomes with this work. This album shows how brutal honesty, thought , and introspective can work artistically. How he pulls it off in a music genre that epitomizes the antithesis of this is nothing short of remarkable. From the Intro to “Woke”, to songs like “Godspeed”, you witness a man who has overcome the pain and suffering of an addiction and life’s tribulations and has recovered and matured and sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He is gleaming with self assurance and confidence but without cocky bravado and ego, and he constantly reminds us of the ghosts and pain of his past without ever indulging and surrendering in self pity. He sobered up and grew up and created a masterpiece here.
“Book of Ryan” has all the hallmarks of what makes a classic hip hop album or better yet a great album in any genre. The guest appearances are minimal which further solidifies the power of this solo effort. When he does have them on, he makes them count and they are relevant choices, like with J Cole on “Boblo Boat” or the NY all star line up on “Summer on Lock”. Just when you think you are witnessing a personal memoir as an album, with the story telling on songs like “Outside” and “Strong Friend”, Royce the emcee bites down on his mouthpiece and delivers vintage performances like his verse on the aforementioned “Summer on Lock” and the song “Legendary”. Like a lot of hip hop classics you have skits and the Royce’s skits are powerful and well done and all relevant to the theme of the album. Also his interjection of humor goes a long way and sounds totally natural whether on skit or within song verse. The choice of production, song length, and structure all are fitting to the overall theme and are strong but play a secondary role to his powerful lyrics and stories. His versatility as a musician is showcased throughout this album as well, as he changes up his cadence, delivery, tone, and you even get to hear him sing certain passages and quite well I might add! The album’s title and reference to “Ryan” talks a lot about seeing the world through the eyes of his dad and his relationship with his dad, and is a brilliant cryptic take on his own life, sobriety, and achieving manhood. Overall, despite the absurd prolific output here (count it, 21 tracks) everything is seamless and comes off as a well crafted, well thought out, and cohesive from beginning to end. It never manages to lose the attention of the listener and there is a dense work with much to unpack, so it bears repeated listening, yet manages to never get old or fatiguing after multiple listens.
Modern Rap can learn a lot from this work. The articulation of self and feelings that Royce manages to convey, so unabashed and unapologetically is refreshing and you just don’t see it these days, especially in this kind of music. His surrendering of ego and his honesty about his battles with addiction are so relevant in the modern space of human existence. He tackles the issues at the forefront of modern life and has made a profound statement that all people from all walks of life can relate to. His organic choice of music and lyrics combine synergistically and turn this to a very sophisticated piece of art that any one can enjoy and study for a long time. It is a modern manifestation of hip hop evolved that is capable of changing the landscape of what this music is, can be, and should be.