Shady Records
Shady Records

When Royce da 5’9” dropped his last solo album, Success Is Certain, in 2011, the rapper was staking his claim in the game. Five years later, Nickel Nine continues his forward momentum with the release of his latest LP, Layers.

Royce isn't known for breaking records with his releases, but when those projects drop, the respect is earned. Success Is Certain received critical acclaim when it dropped in addition to his DJ Premier joint release PRhyme, one of the best albums of 2015. Before Layers arrived, he delivered a few new tracks on his Trust the Shooter mixtape, the content of which is lyrically superior to much of the music out at the moment. And with Royce entering his fourth year of sobriety, the guy is winning. Yes, clap for him.

Along with sobriety comes a clearer vision, maturity and levelheadedness, which are apparent on LayersNickel's sagacity throughout the 17-track effort finds him touching on issues of police brutality, fear and marriage with wit and clever wordplay.

He dives into Layers with the autobiographical tale “Tabernacle.” Over an S1 and J. Rhodes production laced with an organ, the MC tells his life story of falling in love with hip-hop, his brief stint as a college student and losing his grandmother on the same day that his son was born -- both in the same hospital. He also doesn't hide from his past addiction. “My name is Ryan Daniel Montgomery, recovering alcoholic.” A few bars later he raps, “My daddy taught me consistency/With his fucking patterns/Hallelujah/I’m the son of an addict/My addiction was music.”

The addictive personality traits being passed down to him from his father aren't all negative. There’s a good chance Royce can grow an addiction to anything that comforts him positively. This wise realization sets the tone for the rest of the project.

Fellow Detroit native and D-12 member Mr. Porter handles a bulk of the production on Layers. Porter’s introduction on the effort comes in at track No. 2 with “Pray.” Over energetic piano thumps and kicks, Royce throws out warnings to those who blow money on Wraiths and jewels. The goal is to get rich without going in debt according to the rapper.

While he's spreading words to live by, Royce doesn't possess a preachy vibe. In the process, he doesn’t sway from the shrewd wordplay he’s known for either. “I’m a speeding bullet who responds to the pull of God’s trigger/Jumping out the barrel like, excuse me, Nas/Move aside, Jigga," he raps on "Pray."

Nickel keeps things moving with “Startercoat.” His creative play on the UNLV pullover Starter coat that the late Tupac wore in his video for “Brenda’s Got a Baby” is an attention-grabbing storyline. In addition to Royce rapping about why Brenda put her baby in the trash, he also drops thought-provoking raps with lines like, "I ain’t go to college so/A couple friends of mine did/Other friends of mine dead/I’m fucking reminded/Just because I made the most money/That don’t mean I went the farthest though/I hope my college friends reminded/you got the keys, that don’t mean you the smartest though.”

“Shine,” produced by Nottz, is one of the most profound selections on the LP. While many rap tracks are saturated with boastful filler, Royce explains how his focus has been fulfilling his rap dreams as opposed to making money -- the money came as a result of following his passion. “Hip-hop is my house, watch these philosophies win/Around artists, I stand out like I locked my keys in/I forgot my goal at 21 was make a classic,” he delivers.

Royce sticks to his seasoned O.G. reasoning on other standouts including the DJ Khalil-produced “Misses,” S1-crafted “America,” Jake-One-assisted “Wait,” “Gottaknow” and the Rick Ross and Pusha T–assisted “Layers,” both produced by Mr. Porter.

Six albums deep on the solo tip, Royce's introspective side clearly shines through on Layers. The title is a fitting choice for a project that features an ever-changing sonic journey. Even with Mr. Porter manning much of the boards, the inclusion of several other producers ensures there's never a dull moment when the beat hits. But it's Royce's lyrics that hit harder, proving he's still sharp and poignant as ever. He's ditched the alcohol to leave room for his strongest addiction yet: music. Pulling back the layers isn't a strong point for many MCs, yet Royce da 5'9" does it well.

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