Bad Half Entertainment
Bad Half Entertainment

Royce da 5’9” is on his fourth year of sobriety and the progress is reflecting in his music -- not that the Detroit native has ever lacked when it comes to proper microphone etiquette. But since beating alcoholism, the Bad Guy may be getting nicer on the mic.

His last collaborative effort alongside DJ Premier, PRhyme, found him exercising clever lyricism over Premo’s boom-bap production. However, there’s always more under the surface than the egotistical wordplay that Royce rolled out on PRhyme.

Beyond the Superman-bulletproof talk laid down on wax is his real life. This is what Royce da 5’9” delivers on his latest mixtape, Trust the Shooter, which arrives shortly before his new solo album, Layers.

The 12-track project features Royce coming out swinging. The DJ Premier-produced “Black History Month” finds the rapper recalling his born day, in which he needed an incubator to help him breathe during his first moments on Earth. He also discusses his father's cocaine use and his son’s autism. On the second half of the beat (think: Jay Z’s “A Million and One Questions"/"Rhyme No More"), Royce takes listeners on a shotgun ride through his novice years of falling in love with hip-hop.

On the Jake One-produced “Wait,” Royce continues to unearth moments about his unpleasant childhood. "On Christmas morning, I remember waking up just wishing that I could go to sleep/'Cause we only got like, two toys apiece,” he rhymes. “Conference calls from record labels, guess I’m late/But, my other son’s autistic, he wants my attention/This might just be my defining moment, let them wait.”

It’s gripping lyrics like these mixed with Royce’s fluid flow that grabs a listener. Hearing Royce spew his misfortunes resonates on a personal level since he humanizes himself as opposed to playing the egotistical superstar rapper role.

The D1 Pain 1-produced “Universe Interlude” follows the same emo hip-hop theme. For a little over three minutes, Royce waxes poetically about the bumpy road to getting a record deal in the midst of going to jail and dealing with troubled family members. He showcases a vulnerable side by exposing his tribulations without too much tough talk.

In fact, on “Tabernacle,” another autobiographical tale, Royce raps, “I’m not a gangsta, drug dealer or thug n----/Just an MC who made a name with his rhyme style.”

Royce produces the kind of hip-hop saturated in clever wordplay and awe-inspiring metaphors about problems that the average hip-hop head can relate to such as getting in trouble for coming home too late and punching the clock at a boring 9-to-5.

He gets a nod of approval with “Savages,” “Rap on Steroids” featuring Assassin and "The Banjo" featuring Styles P, Westside Gunn, and Conway. Produced by AntMan Wonder, Jahilil Beats and AraabMuzIk, respectively, Royce steps away from telling his life story and gives lessons in bodying beats.

“Savages,” one of the better tracks, features an up-tempo backdrop backed with head-nodding drums and Royce going bar for bar with indirect foes. With quick-witted sixteens like, “I’m sick, I’m sick and permanent/Like the doctor opened me up and found a mask/Close me up, left inside of me an ounce of hash," the rewind-worthy factor increases in trying to catch Royce's shrewdness.

Trust the Shooter is a favorable project highlighting Royce's skills and consistency on the mic. While there’s not much criticism to go for with the tape, it's void of the club-ready bangers that can help push a song up the charts. But for those in love with raw MCs and personal stories paired with elite lyricism, Royce is definitely one of the most adept shooters in the game. Trust that.

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