Royce Da 5' 9" (aka Ryan Montgomery) has been whetting the appetites of hip-hop fans since he performed on "Bad Meets Evil," featured on Eminem's 1999 album "The Slim Shady LP." So it's only fitting t

Royce Da 5' 9" (aka Ryan Montgomery) has been whetting the appetites of hip-hop fans since he performed on "Bad Meets Evil," featured on Eminem's 1999 album "The Slim Shady LP." So it's only fitting that the Detroit-based MCs should reunite on "Rock City," the second single and title cut from Royce's highly anticipated 15-track debut on Game/Columbia. The album is being released April 2 both domestically and internationally.

During the middle of last year, Columbia dropped "You Can't Touch Me," the rapper's official first single, produced by Tone and Poke for Trackmasters. Meanwhile, the DJ Premier-produced album track "Boom" was the lead single from "MTV's Hip Hopera: Carmen - A Timeless Story Told Through Ryhme" soundtrack released on Music World Entertainment/Columbia.

"Rock City" was released to radio mix shows and became commercially available on vinyl last December; a Antti J.-directed video should go into rotation on MTV and BET in the coming weeks. It goes to both R&B and crossover radio Feb. 5. Other notable album tracks include "Let's Go" and "Who Am I," both produced by Carlos "Six July" Broady.

The 24-year-old MC -- heralded for both his lyrical prowess and awesome rap delivery -- says his debut album has been in the making for years. "Some of the songs are three and four years old," he admits. "They've gone through surgery: I do them, then I repair some of the songs, changing this, changing that. When I was signed to Tommy Boy, I did five Neptunes songs. I kept two of them ["She's the One" and "Get'cha Paper," both featuring Tre' Little of his crew D-Elite], rewriting some parts."

It was the independent Game release "Nuttin' to Do" -- another pairing with Eminem -- that caught the attention of Tommy Boy executives. "I signed with them for a year," says the rapper. "We didn't see eye to eye creatively, so I asked for a release. I recorded 'Boom' that same year [2000]. It created the buzz: Columbia heard it and got at us."

That buzz has been simmering nonstop in the underground, aided by Royce's "Let's Grow," one of the strongest cuts on Rawkus/Priority's 2000 release, "Lyricist Lounge Vol. I." "What the Beat," a collaboration with Method Man and Eminem, was featured on DJ Clue's Def Jam project "DJ Clue? The Professional 2." Recently, Royce Da 5' 9" expanded his reach, with an appearance on "I Wanna Be Bad" by Lava/Atlantic pop songstress Willa Ford.

On Jan. 22, Royce kicked off a 30-city stateside promotional tour that will see him visit retailers, radio stations, and clubs in key markets like Los Angeles; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C. He will perform next Feb. 8 at a Columbia-sponsored event during the NBA All-Star Game.

"I'm proud of my growth," the rapper says. "This is the first Royce Da 5' 9" album that the world will hear. The second one will be better, and the third one even better. But once I start to regress, that's when I'm just going to stop."

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