Royce Da 5’9” hit the jackpot.
The Detroit rapper was garnering attention thanks to the vinyl he’d released with partner-in-rhyme Eminem as the duo Bad Meets Evil in 1998, as well as his appearance on the song “Bad Meets Evil” from The Slim Shady LP, Eminem’s major label debut album that arrived in stores February 23, 1999. Now he was in the studio with DJ Premier about to work on his own material.
As Royce stepped in the room, DJ Premier was working on a beat for another artist.
When we did ‘Boom,’ I showed up to the studio and he was actually making ‘Boom’ for Capone-N-Noreaga,” Royce Da 5’9” says today of the scratch-laded song that helped him break through as a solo artist. “But Capone-N-Noreaga hadn't showed up yet. So he's doing ‘Boom’ and he's playing it. And he was like, ‘Oh. I'm about to do your beat in a minute. Let me just finish this one up.’ And I was like, ‘Well, what the fuck is this?’ He was like, ‘Oh. I'm doing this for Nore.’ I looked around a couple corners like, ‘Nore here?’ He was like, ‘Nah. He ain't get here.’ I was like, ‘All hell nah. You gotta give me that. You can make Nore another one.’ I talked him out of it and I ended up with that one.”
Even though Royce Da 5’9” was just embarking upon his solo career, this type of interaction with producers wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s been a hallmark of Royce’s career, a characteristic that’s helped him as he’s evolved as an artist, which now includes him producing for other acts.
“Boom” was released on Game Recordings, the New York-based label founded by Jonathan “Shecky Green” Shecter, also a founding editor of The Source. Game Recordings also released Bad Meets Evil’s double sided “Nuttin’ To Do” / “Scary Movies” single. Both of those tracks were produced by Rob “Reef” Tewlow, who had worked with Artifacts, Mad Skillz, and Double X.
Royce and Reef bonded while making the Bad Meets Evil material and listening to music.
“Back then, Reef, Alchemist, a whole bunch of guys would just come through with DATS [digital audio tapes] full of beats. We call them bounces now. People come through with DATs full of beats and just play them. I don’t think I ever recall a time where Reef played a beat that I didn't like.”
It was a drastically different story with DJ Premier, who had already produced for Lord Finesse, Jeru The Damaja, and KRS-One, among many others, by the time Royce met him. Unlike Reef and Alchemist, Preemo didn’t just come through and offer Royce options when they started working together, or even after they collaborated on “Boom.”
“Preem would be like, ‘Okay. You want a beat? All right. I'm gonna have one for you,’” Royce says today of his PRhyme partner. “And he’d just do a beat and that's the beat that you’d get. Preem didn't give you options back in the day. That was just his policy. I think part of that was him knowing his iconic status and the other part of it was him knowing that he's gonna nail it.”
Over time, Royce and DJ Premier built a genuine bond and friendship, one that led to deeper musical discussions and eventually PRhyme. Royce also benefitted from Premier’s benevolence.
“I learned so much from Preem ’cause he's very passionate about teaching, first of all,” says Royce, who recently held a production competition with Tracklib. “He tells these cool stories and his memory is impeccable. Like he remembers everything from every era. I think the reason why me and him vibe so well and it's so easy for us to make music together that people like is because of how much we connect just as people. [Initially] I wasn't privy to any of his tricks or anything that he did productionwise ‘cause he was always so private about that early on, until we did the PRhyme stuff. By that time, we were super tight, so he didn't mind me watching him do stuff.”
As both Royce and DJ Premier worked on material outside of PRhyme, which released its self-titled debut album in 2014 and PRhyme 2 in 2018, Royce started fiddling with making his own beats. At the suggestion of one of his collaborators, he bought Ableton. When Royce called DJ Premier enthusiastic about his purchase, Premier told him to take it back and buy MPC Studio. The two then had a two-hour-plus FaceTime call and DJ Premier showed Royce how to use the machine.
Longtime collaborator and fellow Detroit artist Mr. Porter showed Royce Logic Pro production software. Thanks to Royce’s familiarity with Pro Tools and the help from his friends, Royce became enamored with the production process. He handled all the production on his 2020 album, The Allegory, and had some beats that didn’t fit the project. Royce ended up playing one for Eminem. That beat became the soundbed for “You Gon’ Learn,” from Eminem’s 2020 LP, Music To Be Murdered By.
Royce Da 5’9” had another beat, one that he really liked but that didn’t fit anything he was thinking about doing. So Royce sent it to Eminem. A week passed and he didn’t hear back from Marshall. Then Em called him, saying he needed the stems because he had written something to it and that he was going to record it the next day. Royce obliged, setting the stage for what would become “Darkness,” Eminem’s song told from the perspective of Stephen Raddock, the person who fired upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in 2017, resulting in 61 deaths and more than 800 injuries.
As a top-tier lyricist who had graduated from writing rhymes to the beats of his favorite producers to having Eminem write to his beats, Royce was impressed with how his relationship with production had come full circle.
“It's like, ‘Damn. That's my beat. He's rapping on my beat,’” Royce says. “At that moment, I hadn't had any placements. My first placement as a producer is an Eminem album. It’s crazy.”
*HEADER CREDIT: Royce da 5'9" of Slaughterhouse at John Ricard Studio on August 28, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by John Ricard/Getty Images)