“It’s kinda ironic that I’m ridin’ around listening to Nickelback.” Royce Da 5-9 is back with his first solo album since Independent’s Day (sic) in 2005. Fresh off the critically acclaimed Slaughterhouse album, Royce spits with vigor and intensity present on his Bar Exam and Bar Exam 2 mixtapes. Royce has been rapping for 11 years, but I caught on to him only after I heard his work with Slaughterhouse as he quickly became my favorite member of the group. His creative cadences, impressive wordplay, and aggressive mentality were always accompanied by dark, looming backdrops that allowed him to showcase his abilities as a lyricist while hiding his weak hook-writing and one-dimensional voice.
The album opens with the raucous “Gun Harmonizing” in which Royce spits vicious over Crooked I’s best AR-15 impression and sets an ominous but exciting tone for the rest of the album. The next two songs echo the dark, looming soundscape with continued slick rhymes for Royce. The Kid Vishis (Royce’s little brother) verse is a plodding and disappointing addition to the otherwise strong “Soldier.”
After these songs, a stark change in mood and tempo lead to one of the standouts of the album, “Something 2 Ride 2” is one of those songs that you know you’re going to really enjoy when riding around in the hooptie by yourself. Phonte’s ethereal hook and Royce’s smooth rhymes and delivery mesh perfectly and deliver one of my favorite songs of the year.
The next song, “Dinner Time,” a collaboration with Busta Rhymes, who, gets bodied on the track, but does an incredible job slick-talking between verses instead of having a hook. This format makes the collaboration seem really organic and makes the hip hop purist more wiling to forgive the almooooost-irritating staccato flow on the song.
It is after this awesome start that the album hits its first speedbump. “Far away” has a really airy, lazy beat (some would say “chill”, and those are the only people that would like it), and even lazier rhymes with an awful Auto-Tuned hook. This song should have been left off the album.
This song is immediately followed by the stellar “Warriors” featuring Slaughterhouse. In short, “Warriors” is my favorite Slaughterhouse song due to the fact that the chemistry between the 4 members is really evident. It’s nice to hear a collaboration in which all the artists involved were actually in the studio together.
The album hits a lull here due to an inappropriately placed skit (This is 2009, man!), and 4 songs that are pretty much about nothing. They just showcase Royce’s verbal abilities but lack repeatability. A notable exception to this lull is the inspirational “Shake This” produced by DJ Premier. Royce addresses his trials & tribulations like a man and shows that he’s determined to overcome the controversy and poor decision-making that haunted him early in his career.
The album closes with a bang with the 2-part story “On the Run” and “Murder” show that Royce is a proficient storyteller while being able to maintain his lyrical integrity. Nickel performing verbal gymnastics while delivering a detailed and chilling story. “Bad Boy” shows Royce experimenting with the Jamaican “toasting” flow, and the results are brilliant.
“Part of Me” is a single that has been out for quite some time now. The song itself is really chilling, but the video makes the effect 10x greater. The album closes with the stellar “Hood Love” featuring Bun B and Joell Ortiz. All 3 MC’s go in on the track and pledge to remain loyal to their hoods, a fitting closure for an album that is absolutely uncompromising hip-hop.
The strengths of Street Hop are what you would expect if you are a Royce Da 5-9 fan. He definitely seems like he would be comfortable in this cipher. In fact, the cipher environment seems like it would bring out the best in Nickel the way Slaughterhouse did. Every song that he takes on with a capable rapping co-star (Crooked I, Phonte, Busta Rhymes, Bun B, Joell Ortiz) is stellar. Aside from my disappointment with the lack of a Phonte verse, Royce stands as the highlight of all of his collaborations and really shines as an agile lyricist.
The Bottom Line: If you are a Royce fan, you will enjoy the album. If you’re not, you’ll appreciate Royce’s skills on the mic, but it leaves a lot to be desired.