|Layers by Royce Da 5'9''|
The syllable butcher from Slaughterhouse and Bad Meets Evil returns with more technical language wizardry, talking and reminiscing about his past in "Tabernacle" and showing that from one bad thing can come a good thing, a positive can present itself after a negative. In "Pray," he doesn't just pray for himself but for everybody as well and raps about the pot of gold at his journey's end in "Hard." We are invited to hear Royce share personal stories from his childhood and about his past troubles: a collapsed lung as a baby, poverty and addiction in his family, and alcoholism in his own life. Layers is nicely mixed with some skits and interludes that add wisdom and humor and setup for song ideas that come afterward. In "Shine," Royce stresses that for everyone, the pursuit of a good work ethic must replace the obsession with making lots of money. He sometimes drifts into condescending braggadocio and great complex lyrics just for their own sake, but that's his cunning calling card and it doesn't sound dull anywhere at all.
Moving right along, "Hello" serves as the assist for "Misses" featuring K. Young, where Royce documents problems with side-chicks and the general tone relates that the drama and pain that come with cheating are not worth the initial lustful desires. Another setup and assist, "Dope!" revisits the dangerous, ubiquitous drug-dealing culture of the ghetto and leads the way into "America," where Royce deals with a number of America's sicknesses, like the vast lifestyle differences between the black and white races in The States and its peace-crushing decency-destroying commercial consumer culture. Pusha T, Rick Ross, Tiara and Mr. Porter are then given openings in cuts where the greatest contributions are mainly fine strong rap-lyrics. The grand finale of "Gottaknow" and "Off" dedicates and commits itself to instincts, intuition, more good wisdom, a persistent urge to go forward and survive, and commentary on gadget-fixation, over-consumption and other problems prevalent today.
Royce's Layers is serious and sincere with a great variety of topics and awesome lyrics everywhere. If you're at all concerned for example that "Hard"'s expressed joy for women, jewelry, cars and money conflicts with Royce's other non-physical, antiestablishment feelings, that would only make you a caring, cautious hip-hop listener. But knowing the type of person Royce is and his reputation for substance, artistry and meaning in the music suggest that these are just naturally some of the things he likes and that he quests for a secure financial safety-net and a comfortable life. Besides, that is just one song among many better ones. Some forgiveness is in order, and he probably doesn't overdo it materially in real life. Overall, he's a very respectable figure in all the layers of Layers. This is perhaps Royce's best album yet because he is remarkably more mature and conscious in it than at anytime in his past, the music is crisp and very enjoyable, and the guests are perfect all round. Royce said a little while back that he has another album, Book of Ryan, in the works for later this year, and if so, keep the music coming, Royce!
5 out of 5 stars
(Review by Alex originally appeared on Examiner.com on April 11, 2016.)