Album Reviews

Review and History – Royce Da 5’9″ – Rock City

Year of Release: 2002

Record Label: Game Recordings/Columbia/Koch

There is a question that I have in mind about Royce’s debut album: With there being two versions, could it still be considered the same album or two different albums?

What I mean is this: “Rock City” was set to put Royce Da 5’9″ on the map, mainly due to his close association with Eminem as one-half of the duo, Bad Meets Evil. The two had done some songs together such as “Scary Movies” and “Nuttin’ To Do,” as well as “Bad Meets Evil” on Em’s debut album, “The Slim Shady LP.” To be perfectly frank, the two even did the title track for this album. However, this album was delayed over and over again from 2001 to 2002, that at some point Royce changed from Columbia/Sony to Koch Records. The album was originally supposed to be released in 2001, but then got delayed, and also heavily bootlegged. Not to mention that around that same time, Royce had done a song with a Britney Spears clone named Willa Ford. He did recover from that, despite not being that mainstream, as in subsequent albums, he remained true to his style.

One thing that I want to note is that while I consider myself a fan of Royce, I have not followed his catalog in years. I do want to change that, though I wonder where to start, whether it’s his actual albums or even his mixtapes. I have listened to “Hell: The Sequel,” as well as the first Slaughterhouse album, however.

Also, I am going to cover both versions. I must note that I bought the version that was released at Best Buy back in 2003 (That was called “Rock City: Version 2.0”), but the original pressing of the album I did not get until about a year ago when I found it on eBay. Also, there are some differences in the two versions, despite some songs appearing on both versions. Also, some songs on Version 2.0 probably made the album better than the original.

The original version suffered from a lot of songs that seemed to go with the mainstream during that time. One song in particular that seemed different from Royce’s style in subsequent albums is “Get’cha Paper.” While the beat from The Neptunes was actually pretty good, the subject matter that Royce rapped about just seemed a bit off. It was had a bunch braggadocios subject matter about getting money, ladies, and talking about being the King of Detroit. I didn’t mind how the chorus was somewhat reminiscent of “Strawberry Letter 23” from The Brothers Johnson.

One song that appeared on both versions that served as its lead single, and that was “You Can’t Touch Me,” which when listening to it now seems rather dated. It had a decent beat, but really it left a lot more to be desired in the lyrics.

Another thing that was noticeable in both versions was the inclusion of Tre Little in a lot of tracks, as well as that there was a song that included a group that Royce was helping to jumpstart at the time called D-Elite, which Tre seemed to be a part of. What’s funny is how on Version 1.0 had two tracks called “D-Elite,” which were split into two parts, the second of which had the full crew. However, Version 2.0 had only part one on it, which had Royce rapping, but the second part was devoted to showcasing the other members. It was also a part of a trend at the time when an established rapper has a crew and then wants to show the world what they’re made of. For example, Eminem had D12; Nelly had the St. Lunatics. You get the idea.

That is not to say that Version 1.0 did not have any song that had any meaning. A couple of songs in particular were “Life” and “Who Am I,” which actually used the beat to 2Pac’s “Pain” and it fit pretty well. “Life” actually had a somber type of feel and Amerie (Remember her?) provided a good chorus to it, and her vocals went with the overall feel of the song.

That is not to say that Version 2.0 did not have some songs that were not that good, however. Right after the title track came the mediocre “Off Parole,” which felt like it was this version’s “Get’cha Paper.” It even included Tre Little on the track. The only thing that song had going for it was the beat. I was also not too fond of “Mr. Baller,” which had a nice beat, but the rest of it just left a lot more to be desired.

So what are some positives that I can say about the two versions? I must note that one song that I did like on Version 1.0 was “We Live (Danger” and I could possibly be biased because I first heard that song in “Grand Theft Auto III” way back in the day (Who says you can’t find good music through video games?). Royce also did a good job in “Take His Life” from Version 2.0, which had a somber beat to go with it. It talked about some serious subject matter.

Also, both versions had “Boom,” which was one of his first singles. I didn’t know this until recently, but it released as a single when Game Recordings was still around, but was also released on the soundtrack to “Carmen: A Hip-Hopera” (Man, just thinking of THAT makes me feel old; I wonder if anyone even remembers that TV movie).

One thing that must be talked about is that the title track had two different beats on the two versions. If I were to pick which version out of the two that I liked more, I would probably go with the one from Version 1.0. If you want to compare and contrast, be my guest.

I have to say that I give Royce credit for his effort in this album (or these albums how ever you want to look it or them), but “Rock City” was really not all that special looking back. If you listened to this, and then “Death is Certain” and other ones after, you would see a major contrast in style. Now if you did the opposite and followed his career post-Rock City and then wanted to see what he did in his debut, one could probably see that it would not be the Royce he/she came to appreciate. I kept one of the versions for so long, but in a lot of ways I am glad that I held on to it. While the other one was done for collecting purposes. I would only recommend it for die-hard Royce fans and collectors, but for those who are interested in checking out where Royce started off, just start with either the early Bad Meets Evil stuff or just start with “Death is Certain.”

V1 – 2.5/5

V2 – 3/5

Top 5 Tracks from Version 1.0

  1. We Live (Danger)
  2. Boom
  3. Life
  4. Who Am I
  5. D-Elite Part 2

Top 5 Tracks from Version 2.0

  1. Life
  2. Soldier’s Story
  3. King of Kings
  4. Who Am I
  5. My Friend

Also, here was the original artwork for Version 1.0

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