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Royce Da 5’9” on sobriety, boxing and why he stopped watching NBA games

The Detroit rapper is at his best yet with a new album, ‘Book of Ryan’

In 2002, Ryan Montgomery — who you know better as Royce da 5’9” — unapologetically rapped, If you hate me, you hate the D on track two of his debut. He meant that. “Rock City,” which also featured his best friend and frequent collaborator Eminem, was a Detroit battle cry. It was an anthem for the gritty can’t-stop-won’t-stop hustle of Detroiters everywhere — or, as Royce so eloquently states, his hometown was “a city full of Tommy Hearns thumpers / Grant Hill hoopers / Barry Sanders runners, stunners.” All still true.

His new offering, Book Of Ryan, is a collection of honest and thought-provoking rhymes fresh off of Royce’s viral freestyle moment, during which he rapped for 10 minutes straight on Funk Flex’s show. This new project is his seventh studio album and features guest work from Eminem, J. Cole, Pusha T, Jadakiss, T-Pain, Logic, Robert Glasper, Marsha Ambrosius and others. And in case you’re wondering: 16 years and countless albums later, he’s still unapologetic as he delivers perhaps his best and most reflective album ever.


Who was your childhood hero growing up?

My dad. I watched him do great things. One of the greatest things I watched him do was overcome addiction. I watched that at a young age. I watched him be at that crossroads where he had to pick his family over drugs. And my Uncle Tony [Montgomery, or Dr. Detroit, as he was also known] was a pro boxer. Those two guys were my heroes.

How did watching your dad go through that struggle — and watching your uncle Tony, who quite literally was fighting for a living — inspire you as an artist?

My dad’s was a more mental thing, where my uncle’s was more of a physical thing. … You can do all the training you want. The pads don’t hit back. The bag don’t hit back. But when you get in the ring, whatever you’re naturally made of is gonna show. It’s the same thing as fighting a drug. I watched my dad exercise mind over matter.

“If anything, it’s easier to open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to try to come up with punchlines.”

Where does your courage come from?

My dad! It’s scary, sometimes I talk to my kids and I’m like, Jesus Christ, I just sounded exactly like my dad! You know, even if I’m just like yelling down the stairs.

What’s your favorite sport — and why do you love sports so much?

I grew up in a very athletic family. My dad was a quarterback in high school. He also played basketball, shooting guard. Basketball was my first passion. I like boxing. Obviously, my uncle taught me how to fight — early. And I follow boxing now more than any other sport. Boxing and basketball are very creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. … It’s cerebral, especially when you’re playing point guard. Which probably explains why I traded in my basketball dreams for music dreams, because once I started writing raps, I let go of basketball … like, I don’t watch NBA games to this day.

What’s one album you think is a classic that not a lot of people think of as one?

Shyne — Shyne’s first album. He just dropped it at the right time. … I had just gotten my first car, my Lexus … that I bought when I got into the music business … a Lexus GS300. I got sounds put in the back of it, and the Shyne album is all I used to bump. This is before I started getting into a lot of trouble, and I just associate it with good times.

How do you find out about new music?

When I built my studio in Detroit, there’s a TV that’s in my room … I never turn it off. I keep it on [BET] Jams because they play videos all day. Nobody talking, it’s just videos — only videos. I just keep it on without the sound. … That’s how I found out about Boogie. Like I looked up, video was playing, I see two kids standing there holding a baby, rapping, with a bullet wound in his shirt. … I’m like, ‘What the heck is this?’ I hit the button on the speaker so I can hear the sound, and I’m like, ‘Yo, this is crazy.’ And that’s what made you reach out to him. So that’s how Boogie ended up on the album. And this was before he signed with Shady [Records].

“Boxing and basketball are creative sports. You’ve gotta be visually talented, you’ve gotta be able to see it before you can do it. It’s cerebral.”

What’s the first concert you ever went to?

One that I did, probably when I was opening up for Usher. I’d never been to a concert. … Kids from my generation, we didn’t go to concerts.

What’s the last concert you went to?

Probably one of Em’s shows. I didn’t go to Coachella. The last one that I went to that I didn’t perform at, was … Em and Rihanna. In Detroit. And the New York show.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to listen to generic advice. At that age, the stuff that we hear all the time — ‘Don’t do drugs, kids’ — it sounds so generic that you almost pay it no attention at all, and it’s like you feel like those [people] are just talking to hear themselves talk. Like, ‘Don’t drink.’ That probably could have been one of the most important things I could’ve beat. If I hadn’t done that, it would have been a completely different path, and that’s not even coming from a place of regret. You always wonder, ‘Damn, man, like everything is so great right now, I wonder what would it be [like] if I had been this sharp all through my 20s.’ All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder. Don’t drink … don’t hesitate to listen to the generic advice.

“All of my problems that I had … all roads led back to liquor somehow. I made my job so much harder.”

How challenging was it for you to arrive at this place where you’re very comfortable talking about the demons?

I’ve arrived at a place where … whatever I’m writing down, if it comes from the heart, it really shouldn’t take me a lot of time to think about it. It shouldn’t take so much thought. If anything, it’s easier to just open up and let it flow like I’m in therapy than it is to sit and try to come up with punch lines. I’m at a point now where I’m comfortable in my skin. … I’m not afraid to anymore.

Sounds like this is your most personal album ever.

It’s real personal, but I think it was time. Every artist should have at least one album where you feel like you know the individual you’re listening to after listening to the music. Every artist should just have that, at least one time.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment writer at The Undefeated. She can act out every episode of the U.S version of "The Office," she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.