On Friday (Jan. 17), Eminem crashed the party with his surprise album, Music to Be Murdered By. The 20-track project includes a bevy of stars ranging from lyrical juggernauts such as Black Thought and Slaughterhouse, to younger stars headlined by the late Juice WRLD and Cactus Jack rising rookie Don Toliver.
With a starry lineup on board, Eminem’s partner-in-crime, Royce Da 5’9′‘, earned MVP honors for his robust contributions. Not only does Royce flex his high-motor dexterity on “You Gon Learn,” “Yah Yah” and “I Will,” but for the first time in his career, he earned production placements on two tracks, including the album’s sole single “Darkness.”
“A beatmaker just makes you really, really dope beats. I have no desire to be a beatmaker. I want to produce,” Royce tells Billboard about his latest feat. “I’ve been doing that with Slaughterhouse. I’ve been arranging my whole career, writing for other people. Now, I’m just kind of concentrating my forces.”
Along with Eminem’s album on Friday, Royce unleashed his blistering collaboration “Overcomer” with Westside Gunn, where he thrashes one-time Shady artist Yelawolf for an ill-timed exchange they had a while back.
“This is not a lyrical issue,” Royce assures. “We gotta have a realistic conversation if we’re talking about who I’m going back and forth lyrically with. Eminem just released an album and I got three verses on there where I’m getting dragged across the Pro Tools by Black Thought. Yelawolf does not fit into these conversations and that’s not an opinion. This is a fact.”
Billboard spoke with Royce about working on Eminem’s album, nabbing his first production placements, his tiff with Yelawolf and more. Check out the interview below.
You earned your first two producer placements on Eminem’s new album. That’s a big look for you.
Yeah, man. It’s a blessing. It’s definitely a blessing. You know, Marshall is my dear friend, but nothing comes free. He does everything that he does on a top-notch level. You have to earn your keep if you wanna get that spot. You have to work for it. You gotta qualify. He’s not going to just rap over anything. So for him to choose a couple of my beats to rap on, it’s an honor.
During which era did you decide to become a producer? Was it during the making of Layers or Book of Ryan?
You know what it is, bro? When I was doing Book of Ryan, it was such a personal album and I felt like I kind of said everything that I kind of wanted to say, you know what I’m saying? So I was at this weird little crossroads lyrically where I was coming to the studio everyday and I was writing raps. The raps were cool, but I realized that after 20 years in, you can always write cool raps. If you don’t have a direction or have a message you want to convey, you’re not going to get that fulfillment out of it.
So for a month, I was coming into the lab and not doing nothing. I was just watching TV, looking on my computer, doing calls, and kind of just relaxing. Then, somebody just kind of brought up making beats. I was like, “You know what? I should buy some equipment and start messing with some beats.” It just started out as us cracking some jokes. My DJ was here and he talked me into buying Ableton. I bought it and I called DJ Premier. Premier said, “What did you buy the Ableton for?” [Laughs] The Ableton is too hard. Take the Ableton back. Get an MPC Studio!”
He wanted you to start from scratch.
I took the Ableton back and got the MPC Studio. So I went on the road with Marshall overseas and I got on FaceTime with Preem. He sat on there with me for about three hours and taught me how to use the MPC. So I went down a rabbit hole just making wack drum loop after wack drum loop. When Mr. Porter came in, he taught me Logic. I already knew Pro Tools from cutting vocals. So once I learned Logic, I kind of fell in love with the process. I stopped using the MPC and started laying my drums in battery. Once I started doing that, I was able to do things that sounded OK to me. One thing led to another and then certain beats started inspiring certain lines and that made me wanna write again. Then, I got agreed to do an EP and one thing led to another and here we are. This is the first album that it happened to me as opposed to me planning to do it.
Despite the friendship between you and Em, you guys are pretty critical of each other’s work when it comes down to it. Because Em’s a producer, what kind of conversations did you two have going into the album?
You know with Em, I sent him the “Darkness” beat and he wrote to it at the house. He called me and was like, “Yo. I got something to that beat. Send me the stems.” Em is a way more seasoned producer than me. He added like a lot of instruments on top of it and once he did that, after he laid his vocals, then it started to really, really become a record.
“You Gon Learn” was actually a song that I had for my album. I went in from where I was at with the album at that time and I played some of the songs that I had for him and he really messed with that one [laughs]. I can’t exactly remember how it happened, but I remember telling him, “You can have it if you want it? Don’t get it twisted. What’s mine is yours? You’re still my good friend.” I gave it to him and he did his magic to it. He added instruments to it, he added his shit to it, murdered it and that’s how the blessing happened.
For “Darkness,” talk about the direction you were heading in when making the beat versus the ultimate outcome of the record, which speaks to gun-control.
I didn’t have him in mind at all when I made the beat. It was so early on in the process for me. I’m just having fun making beats. I still have yet to make a beat with anybody in mind.
Because you’re so used to making the beats for yourself for your own album?
Not even. My favorite part of producing is creating brand new things with no intention and no repercussion. There’s no way anything can go wrong because nobody is going to come tell me it’s bad and nobody is going to come tell me it’s good. I don’t have to save it. I can save it if I want to. I can play it for people, I don’t have to play it for people. I don’t even have this kind of freedom with my raps. Every time I spit a rap onto something and it goes out to the world, I can’t get it back. There’s something about beat-making where I still feel like a little kid again.
I sent it to him because it sounded like something he may like, but I really sent it to him to see where I’m at as a beatmaker because we always check each other’s temperature when it comes to creativity. If he’s doing something new with the flow, he’ll want me to listen to some new songs he got. If I got some new direction that I wanna go in, I wanna go run it by him. He’s like my creative buddy. I sent him the song and I didn’t expect him to rap on any of my beats this early. I had an inkling when we were on the last tour and I had my stuff set up in the dressing room. I was playing a beat that I was working on and Marshall came out of his dressing room and came across the hall to a whole ‘nother section, which he never does. He never comes out of his dressing room before the shows and he never comes to this area where he came. He came into my dressing room like, “What the fuck is that?” Everybody was looking at him like they couldn’t believe that they see him. People in the band, they were looking at him like, “What the hell are you doing here on this side?” He was like, “What the f–k was that? Remember that one. Make sure you send me that one.” That’s when I kind of thought to myself, “Damn. Maybe Marshall might really rap over one of my beats?”
Is putting a rap together the same formula for you creatively versus creating a beat?
When I make beats, a lot of producers will come in and say, “Some of these beats sound like a rapper layering verses,” you know what I mean? It’s very interesting. Mr. Porter told me, “Listen. I’m glad you did this album [The Allegory] right now where you are because there’s a recklessness that you’re going to lose. You’re not always going to have this. So the more that you know and the more information that you take in and the more polished that you become, you’re going to lose this.”
I just love how I don’t care about things. With every producer that I know is a master, they’ll tell you what they’re not going to do before they’ll tell you what you’re going to do. Once they become extremely good at it, then they start setting boundaries for themselves. Right now, I’m at a space where I don’t have any right now, I just do whatever. I’ll disrespect the shit out of a beat.
Is that a main reason why you’re in love with The Allegory? Because of that recklessness?
I learned a lot. I learned that it’s not about making the best beat, it’s about making the right beat. It’s not about coming into a room and playing the best beat in the room because a really good producer may come into the room and take something away from the song that makes it what it needs to be. A beatmaker just makes you really, really dope beats. I have no desire to be a beatmaker, I want to produce. I’ve been doing that with Slaughterhouse. I’ve been arranging my whole career, writing for other people. Now, I’m just kind of concentrating my forces. I’m bringing everything together and I’m not outsourcing now, I’m just doing everything in-house.
So when you and Preemo get back in the studio, how much legwork are you putting in?
I’m going to lay back and kick my feet up and write raps [laughs]. I’m actually looking for that process to be a lot easier because I know what the burden of making beats is now. I actually have a newfound respect for all my masterful producer friends. I can’t wait to go back in with Preem and let him do his job, while I do my job because nothing works better than a well-oiled machine.
You dropped a new record with Westside Gunn on Friday called “Overcomer.” Why was he a perfect fit for that track?
Well Gunn came in and he chose the sample. I was actually going to skip and go pass by it, but he was like, “Wait, what’s that?” I went back to it and he told me to loop that. I told him it was only two bars. He said, “Keep it looping.” Exactly what he rapped over was exactly what he told me to do. After he laid his rap, I laid the song around him. With the “All we do is slang dope,” I took that line out of his verse and I copied his vocals and stacked them on top of each other, and said it with him. Then, I just built the rest of the song around it.
You took some shots at Yelawolf on that record. What was the motive behind that diss?
Just like I said in the song, I’m not gonna put it on blast, [but] he could have handled it many ways. He chose to handle it how he handled it and that’s cool with me. Otherwise, I’m a very peaceful man. I pride myself in unifying. I feel like hip-hop is the one engine that can unify everybody. Really, really dope hip-hop music is something racists can agree on, everybody can agree on. For people who like Trump and don’t like Trump. Everybody can agree on a really dope Kendrick record. Everybody can really agree on a crazy Cole record. Through hip-hop that’s possible.
Yelawolf, man, that’s just negativity. I don’t look at it as something I want to hang my hat on. I’ve done that before. I know the ending to that movie. I know how to do that every which way. The easy part is trying to come to a resolution in these types of situations. It’s just unfortunate that you can’t just do that with everybody. That’s cool, too. I haven’t existed this long being stupid, remember that.
Do you believe there can be a peaceful resolution instead of a track-by-track battle?
You know what, any man that’s at a place of peace is always open to peace. Now, after 20 years in, as far as trading bars back and forth on a record, you have to qualify in order for me to do that, you know what I’m saying? This is not a lyrical issue. We gotta have a realistic conversation if we’re talking about how I’m going back and forth lyrically with [laughs]. Eminem just released an album and I got three verses on there where I’m getting dragged across the Pro Tools by Black Thought. Yelawolf does not fit into these conversations and that’s not an opinion. This is a fact. No disrespect in that regard but this isn’t about him being a top-tier lyricist, this is about something personal that took place that’s unresolved right now that happens with men. So we move on. No problem.
Switching gears. What’s one word you would give fans as a teaser to expect from your new album The Allegory?
Informative because it’s not just my views. There’s a lot of things being placed in front of you that you need to look at. If there’s people who feel like this, you need to know they feel like this. If I feel like this, then this is why I think you should feel like this. I’m gonna tell you this based off research that I did and it’s the truth. Maybe you’ve been told something that’s not the truth, but I don’t think we don’t get a lot of music, especially in hip-hop that kind of forces you to look at the reality of certain situations. I think a lot of music is being done right now — and this is no knock to it because I love a lot of that stuff — but a lot of it is like an escape from reality. It’s kind of like a party that everybody is going to kind of forget and take their minds off momentarily. A lot of really ill things are going on in the world and the music industry. So I think if you’re going to have a whole bunch of music that’s going to serve as that getaway then you gotta have that balance, you gotta have that one album that’s going to push the mirror in front of the truth and make you look at it just for a second.