Just when you think Detroit emcee Royce Da 5’9” couldn’t deliver anymore personal of an album than his last solo album, Layers, he delivers easily his most personal and introspective album to date with, Book of Ryan. Appropriately named after his actual government name of Ryan, it’s an audiobiographical look into his life as both an emcee and the actual person behind Royce Da 5’9”, Ryan Montgomery.
One of the most introspective, cohesive, insightful, empowering and conceptually great albums you will ever hear. Royce delivers an album with many chapters that’s both sonically and lyrically a true masterpiece unlike any other. A marriage of great rhymes, beats and storytelling that plays out like a deeply insightful and immersive look into his past, present and future. Playing out like a true timeless movie-like big masterpiece we always envisioned from Royce, this is by far his best album to date and shows he’s not only one of the top lyricists, but one of the best emcees period right now in all of Hip-Hop.
The very cinematic and piano-laden AntMan Wonder-produced, Intro, really setting the stage for how great the album will be. While the Mr. Porter-produced, My Parallel, is one of a few perfectly placed skits throughout the 21-track effort and the very lyrically insane, Caterpillar featuring longtime friend and fellow Bad Meets Evil collaborator, Eminem, shows why the duo is arguably the best 1-2 punch in all of Hip-Hop right now. Both emcees providing some of the best rhymes we have heard from them in quite some time on the S1 and Epikh Pro co-produced track to show why a new Bad Meets Evil album is more evident now than ever. Mr. Porter and S1, who executive produced the album providing a lot of the great soundscape throughout the album too. One or the other producing on all but nine of the 21 tracks. Including the very somber, yet motivational Mr. Porter-produced standout, God Speed featuring Ashley Sorrell. Which is the first really deeply personal cut on the album and may nearly have you shedding tears from the great storytelling about overcoming one’s circumstances to get where you are or still trying to be.
One of the more underappreciated aspects is how Royce is so perfectly able to choose and put his rare features on the album too. Whether it be Em on the already mentioned, Caterpillar or J. Cole on lead single, Boblo Boat or even the great harmonies from Marsha Ambrosius and piano work from Robert Glasper on, Outside. Even surprisingly T-Pain on, First of the Month. But easily one of the biggest and greatest standout features is from Shady Records signee Boogie on easily one of the best tracks on the album, Dumb. Where his chorus and raps about things that are dumb or pointless help really elevate the track.
The album really shifts to easily it’s most insightful and personal side on the, Who Are You, skit leading into the DJ Khalil-produced, Cocaine. A very emotional cut where Royce opens up about his father’s drug addiction and how he thought that maybe that’s where he inherited many of his own addictions. Instead of really blaming his father though he raps about how he and his siblings ultimately gave his father the strength to kick his addiction. Arguably the most real moment of the album hearing Royce emotionally sing, “My father choose me over cocaine. I’m proud to say I’m an addict who inherited your pain.” Truly probably hitting home and perhaps even inspiring a tear from so many others who have gone through something similar with either their parents or someone close they know. That perfectly segues into the emotionally transparent Fuse and DJ Khalil co-produced, Life Is Fair. A very truly great storytelling track about many things in life that aren’t fair. Whether it be when you’re young or even get older. Royce continues the great storytelling and memories from his youth on the very soulful and nostalgic Cool & Dre, as well as 808 Ray co-produced, Boblo Boat featuring J. Cole. A very feel-good and reminiscent track down memory lane to their youth for both Royce and Cole. More specifically for Royce an ode to the time he spent in his youth on Boblo Island.
Switching over to the second half of the album, Royce shows there’s still plenty of lyrical prowess and not just great storytelling. Most specifically on the StreetRunner-produced street banger, Summer On Lock featuring fellow lyrical heavyweights Pusha T, Jadakiss, Fabolous and Agent Sasco. Which finds all four lyrical heavyweights go out lyrical guns ablazing over the cinematic backdrop. That finds the Detroit emcee giving this memorable line referencing 90’s Tim Allen sitcom, Home Improvement, that may go over a lot of people’s heads at first listen: “Cruisin’ in that Wraith, dawg, like we came to offend haters. Shot a n***a off like his neighbor is Tim Taylor.” Fabolous also giving this very memorable guest verse on the track with, “Nina to your chest player like nine y’all number. We Rondo n***as. Real recognize real, you John Doe n***a.”
There is also very powerful tracks throughout the album like the very drum-heavy S1 and Epikh Pro co-produced, Amazing, which makes you feel like you’re there with a young Ryan. As Royce returns to his childhood neighborhood and reminisces on all the stuff, mostly not good he had to go through growing up. Which included the owner of a corner store taking his signed basketball from Isaiah Thomas he used to always dribble in the store. This is a very feel-good and celebratory record that let’s Royce let everyone know how much better off he’s now. Melanie Rutherford, a fellow Detroit native, providing the soulfully great chorus/bridge and serving as the lady who grew up in the area and is very joyous to see him return after his success. That so perfectly segues into one of the most not only open tracks on the album, but of Royce’s career with the Marsha Ambrosius and Robert Glasper featured, Outside. A record that Royce goes back and forth with his son on how he feels fear or afraid about certain things as an individual that his son didn’t think he did. If you thought that was personal than wait till you hear the storytelling on the very crazy Boi-1da-produced, Power. Easily the best track on the album with how powerful and inspirational it’s. Especially for so many other families who grew up with such a troubled childhood and can relate. It’s one of those very powerful records that’s so chilling and real it will give you goosebumps as you listen to it. While the final skit, Protecting Ryan, really brings you into Royce’s childhood of Ryan, as he so vividly paints a picture with his narration of the incident that lead to his older brother Greg being arrested because he was always, “protecting Ryan.” As you hear him retelling it, you can tell how dear to him this memory still is for Royce. Even in its child themed description that fits so well to the concept of the many child themed memories Royce uses throughout the album that ultimately lead to his success and where he is now.
As we get towards the latter part of the album Royce delivers more into his present and future. Starting with the very heartfelt Mr. Porter-produced, Strong Friend. A very conceptually great record about his and others fears of depression and anxiety leading them to thoughts of suicide. A subject not that often talked about and shunned away from, but needs to be talked about more because so many others, who are even the, “strong friend,” like myself, Royce and so many others also go through as well and can relate. It isn’t just the emotionally unstable friends or family you know who need checking up on, but the strong ones as well and really helped finally push me to tears with how much I can relate from the very first time I listened to it. While the very eiry !llmind and Frank Dukes co-produced, Stay Woke, shows off Royce’s phenomenally great bar work and rhymes that prove why he’s arguably if not the best rapper and lyricists alive, among the top two to three spitting right now.
One of the very closing tracks, the very joyous sounding KeY Wane-produced, First of the Month, meanwhile gives a perfect interlope to the Bone Thugs-n-Harmony classic of about the almost same name. That finds Royce with a surprisingly great guest verse from T-Pain both rapping about all the joys the first of the month still brings to them. While Pain and Chavis Chandler also bring the perfectly sang intro, bridge and outro that marries Royce’s chorus so perfectly. Really showing Royce’s great newly found versatility and growth he has gotten over his last few solo albums and both PRhyme albums, he delivers what’s not only easily the best Hip-Hop album of the year, but one of the best albums across all of music this year and in the past three to five years.