Bouncing everywhere from Bad Meets Evil with Eminem, to Slaughterhouse with Joe Budden, to PRhyme with DJ Premier, Royce da 5’9” is everything but new to the game. Nonetheless, his work as a solo artist has never hit the same success as he’s gotten as a “sidekick”. Honestly speaking, he’s had five records before Layers, and I haven’t heard any of them, but I have heard Slaughterhouse, Hell: The Sequel, PRhyme, and almost all of his collaborative projects. A good addition to Layers though comes with a solid production team of S1, Jake One, and DJ Pain 1 on “Dope!”, as if the number “1” is the new “Jay” or “Kool.” There’s also a lot of DJ Khalil, who produced Eminem’s Recovery and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 and Mr. Porter, of both Aftermath and Shady Records.
Layers opens up with “Tabernacle,” a “Last Call” by Kanye West or more a kin to a “December 4th” by Jay-Z moment, except Royce is a couple days later on December 29th. Having learnt the balance of life from a story about how his son was born on the same day and hospital that his grandmother passed away, Layers begins with more of a storytelling feel, but one that doesn’t last throughout the entire 17-track project. Sure, he talks about religion and his alcoholism, but most of Layers is still “plenty of rapping about how good at rapping he is”, as described by Sheldon Pierce of Pitchfork, who I agree with that it’s “almost always boring”.
While his lyricism and flow are unquestionable, his rap prowess doesn’t excuse him from narrative, which is all over the place over very heavy production. He also mentions and/or challenges almost every rapper alive, name dropping: Jay-Z, Nas, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Kanye West, Questlove, T.I., Scarface, DJ Khalid, all of A Tribe Called Quest, Drake, Black Thought of the Roots, Elzhi, and probably even more that I missed, which is immensely bold. Dumb skit’s aside however, with tracks like “Dope!,” boasting an MF Doom or even old Lupe Fiasco genre blend type beat by DJ Pain 1, and the amazing ending verse on “America,” it’s entirely possible that Royce could take on most of those names on one of his best days.