Since the release of the first Bar Exam (2007), I have eagerly awaited the DJ Premier executive-produced project by Royce da 5’9″ entitled Street Hop. With each passing year, my expectations were raised; that was until I heard the Slaughterhouse project [click here for review]. Expecting a classic, I was greatly letdown, as the beat selections was subpar compared to mixtape releases. So with all the hype surrounding Royce’s album [click here for exclusive interview], I declined to run out to the local record shop and make my purchase until I heard the record in its entirety. I don’t regret this decision, as this album seems like Premo just slapped his name on it, although his contributions are the most noticeable. Royce is an impeccable emcee even though his style has changed from the hard-hitting Bad Meets Evil days, but even all the lyrics in the world couldn’t save some of the beats and hooks on this one.
That’s not to say there are no bangers on this record; the Emile produced opener, “Gun Harmonizing” featuring Crooked I is a newly mixed gem from The Revival EP. All the verses are fire and it contains one of the most interesting hooks (or lack thereof) that I’ve heard in a while. The production is also stellar on this cut. “Count for Nothing” produced by Nottz also has solid production, in which Royce fiercely spits, “Royce is to Hip Hop what Mike Buffer’s voice is to boxing.” Premo makes his presence felt four tracks in on “Something 2 Ride 2” which is one of my favorite tracks this year. The beat is smooth and complimented by its laidback chorus. The Q Tones produced “Dinner Time” sees Royce trading verses with Busta Rhymes with an interloping rhyme scheme fit for any Hip Hop head. “The Warriors” is another gem snagged from The Revival which serves its purpose as a solid posse cut. Unsurprisingly, the DJ Premier-produced “Shake This” is one of the best tracks on the album with Royce telling the listener about his legal troubles and drinking problem, in an effort to kick it. “Gangsta” featuring Trick Trick has a grimy beat courtesy of Raf Moses, but the song took a while to grow on me. Royce’s delivery is slower than usual although his voice is perfect. Nottz returns for Royce to deliver some braggadocio on the banging “Street Hop 2010.” What’s surprising about this album is that even the skits on it (“Ho Jack”) are comical. Royce makes an anti-radio, commercial jam with “Thing for Your Girlfriend” featuring Kay Young. 5’9″ clowns on this one offering some lines like, “confront me about it and see the hammers/you’re better off catching me with the Cheater cameras/your b*tch bad with that thick ass/up and down sucking me so fast she can get whiplash.” Not the best song on the album, but better than I expected. Emile offers another excellent beat for “On the Run” which Royce rips apart spitting about being a fugitive pent up in a hotel room. At one point the track offers the perspective of Royce writing a last letter to his child. Royce follows up with the smooth “Murder” as he excellently narrates about riding on some cops alongside a friend who turns out to be a snitch. “Part of Me” is a somewhat disturbing song and displays Royce’s impressive storytelling ability. The album’s closing and final Premo appearance, “Hood Love” featuring Bun B and Joell Ortiz is a laidback street anthem. Although I’m unsure of its placement as the album’s final track, it’s dope, especially Royce and Bun’s verses
Royce goes all in on “Soilder” featuring his younger brother Kid Vishis, saying he’s “the finish line; this is where your run stops.” However, the chorus is terrible; it sounds like a wannabe Destiny’s Child is singing over it. This seems like the antithesis of Street Hop and more like a 2000 pop song. Vishis’ verse was surprisingly good and filled with some clever one-liners (“make his chest explode/the barrel on the shotty [is] wide as KRS’ nose“). Nottz joins us again with a solid beat on “Far Away.” Royce obviously didn’t get the memo on Jay-Z’s “D.O.A.” because his auto-tune crooning is atrocious. Even though he says he uses it because he’s “clowing,” the end result is sure to make listeners skip this track. I also wasn’t feeling the leaked single, “New Money.” It’s not a bad song, but nothing special either, and probably would have been better suited to just have Slaughterhouse tear it apart sans chorus. I wasn’t feeling the beat on the Mr. Porter-produced “Mine in Thiz,” but Royce murders it on this one, riding it smoothly. “Bad Boy” sees Royce nicely flow again (although this time in-and-out of a Jamaican accent), but the beat and chorus leaves something to be desired.
Overall, Street Hop contains an array of songs displaying Royce’s lyrical capability. At times the album falters due to bad choruses, auto-tune, and an occasional corny line. Had the album came out earlier, I would have been more receptive to it initially, but somewhere in its anticipation, it seemed unlikely to live up to the hype. Street Hop is a solid effort from Royce, but it’s still not perfect. Only time will tell where the album ranks in Royce’s catalog, but for now, it’s enjoyable.
Royce Da 5’9″ “Shake This”