I’m feeling good. I’m doing good. I’m in good spirits and everything is going according to plan. It’s a slow, uphill grind for me. I’m feeling comfortable with taking things a day at a time.
Are you happy with the response so far to The Bar Exam?
So far everything’s been good about it. The responses we’ve been getting from the people that have heard it has been real good. It’s been real positive. I’m not hearing too many bad things about it, but minor criticism is to be expected.
Did The Bar Exam come out the way you wanted it to?
Yeah. I’m real happy with it. A lot of the stuff is old. That’s why right away, we’re going to do a new one. Statik put a lot of my vocals in Serato and changed up the beats. A lot of the stuff people have heard already on there. I didn’t have a lot of time to do a new one because there’s so much shit going on. But this project was something that I was working on back in the day before the shit happened to me. Considering the situation, it came out real good.
On “Feelin’ It ’07,” you talk about the different girls you get with as well as finding the humor inside of violence. Do you think the average listener will understand the song?
People are going to take it how they take it. So far, from what I’ve heard, I haven’t heard anything bad about it. It’s not the most positive message that you can put across, but with me, I try not to promote the worst possible shit that I could promote. I don’t try to give the most negative message but I also don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t exist. I talk about the harsh realities of life without promoting it or trying to get somebody to do it. I just talk about what’s out there.
I don’t shelter the listeners just like I don’t shelter my son. There’s a lot of the world that he hasn’t seen and a lot of times I found myself going out of my way to show him how it is. I’m the only person in my house that curses so when he’s around my people, he sees something different. I try to teach him about the world. So when I do my music, I try not to hold back for that purpose. I’m just giving you the real.
There are also times when you’re talking about certain situations and you can tell you’re not being serious.
Yeah. There’s humor. It’s like watching a movie. The key elements when I’m watching a movie, the key elements that I like to see are sex, violence and music. Basically, if you can give me a movie with some rappers in it and have sex in there and people killing each other, you’re guaranteed that I’m going to go see it because that’s how I like to be entertained. Music is the same thing. It’s all entertainment. It’s nothing for you to take personal or take it another way. You’re supposed to listen to it. When you put that ‘Explicit’ sticker on there, you know it’s not for the kids. I know a lot of people don’t look at it as being that simple, especially with the crime rate, but that’s what it is.
Your fans will be able to tell the difference between you being creative on a song versus you being misogynistic. To the casual listener and the mainstream media, they will hear something entirely different. How dangerous is it that a lot of people in positions of power are taking hip-hop so literally?
I think the reason why we’re spending so much time talking about this is because of the Don Imus situation. I was watching Oprah with Russell Simmons and Common on there the other day. I’m thinking, ‘Why is hip-hop taking such a blame for this?’ Who did they blame for my father calling women ‘hos’? Whose fault was it then? I don’t want people to turn their backs from what’s really going on. A lot of people act like all hip-hop records are foul. You choose what you want to listen to and you listen to it. Not all rap is bad and some rap is positive. Some rappers try to not make positive rap because that’s not who they are. Some rappers don’t want to make positive records.
I rap what I feel and what I know. That’s what you get when you hear me. You can’t listen to a mixtape of mine and say, ‘Okay, this is exactly what Royce is.’ They don’t know about a record I have like “Black Girl” where I’m talking about black women in a positive light. Your average mixtape fan wants to hear a particular thing and I don’t think they’re picky enough to say, ‘Why is Royce calling women ‘bitches’ on this?’
On The Bar Exam, you say, “I’m the best rapper alive because I can do what everyone else does, but can’t none of y’all do what I can do.”
A lot of dudes are real good at what they do. I’m the best at what I do. There are a lot of people that are the best at what they do, but I’m the best at what I can do. But what everybody else can’t do, I can do. I might not be able to make a radio record better than some people that only do that, but they can’t do what I can do, period. It’s not a give and take. It boils down to versatility and it comes down to being from Detroit and listening to all different kinds of records.
I’m more confident than I am competitive. I’m confident that I’m better than a lot of people but I’m not looking for a contest with them and I’m not hoping that they stop making money. This isn’t something that I feel I need to go out and prove. I don’t need to tear somebody down to build myself up. I’ve always been confident but I keep my competitive edge to myself. I don’t go out and start shit with people. I would never go out and call names. It’s all hip-hop but I’m down to compete with anybody. I’m that confident in myself.
There are a lot of songs where you shout out the year and then Statik would scratch over it and yell out “2007.” Some artists say it’s good to shout out the year while others say that it should never be done. Where do you stand on that?
It’s kind of like a habit, to be honest with you. Us, as artists, we can’t determine when a song is going to come out or not. We can shoot for making music that’s not faddish and we can say that you can’t put a date on what we’re saying, but at the end of the day, that’s to be determined by the listener. I can shout out “’02” and it wouldn’t matter. I have a track over D12’s “Shit On You” beat and people didn’t believe I did it when I said I did. When I do say the date, it’s kind of like a habit. I’m not that good at talking on records. (laughs) At the end, I like to do the bare minimum like, “’07, Royce da 5’9”.” You know, the usual. I really just like to rhyme.
“Hit ‘Em” is another great collaboration with DJ Premier. Can you talk about your writing process on that?
We did that record awhile ago. We were just going to use it on the mixtapes. I was actually out in New York with Preem and he was making another beat. He played me the “Hit ‘Em” beat and told me that Teflon had passed on it and that he wasn’t going to use it. I heard it and I was like, ‘What? Give me that!’ That was one of the beats he gave me while he was making something else. He was making me something else but I took that beat home and I did it. I called him back and he was like, ‘What the fuck!’ I left the gap open for scratches and he did his thing on it. The rest is history. It’s another one in the can.
You have the line, “I’m a gangster as well as a star/Put ‘em together and you’ll catch me picking up where Guru left off.”
There’s no way that I can even think I can walk in Guru’s shoes with Gang Starr. When I say those lines, it’s just me being lyrical. I don’t have nothing but love and respect for Guru. I hope nobody thinks that I’m trying to take his place. As far as me and Preem, we just vibe. We really fuck with each other and do records together and shows and spot dates together. I don’t know if we can do complete albums considering our schedules. I don’t think Gang Starr is split up. You won’t get Preem to say that. As far as I’m concerned, I feel that Gang Starr is very much alive.
You rhymed over some of Primo’s classic beats on The Bar Exam. How do you approach writing over one of his classics?
You approach it very carefully. You approach it very carefully because if you notice, I try to take, in my opinion, some of the best Preem records that he’s done. What’s better to take from than from his work with Jay-Z and Nas? I tried to recreate that and make it a little more street than backpack, especially with the content because Nas and Biggie had that magical way of making Preem sound much more street than backpack. It’s very easy to go backpack over a Preem beat and there’s nothing wrong with that because I have backpack in me all day. But what I spit on there was what just came out. The way I pronounce my words and the words I choose can be perceived as “backpack,” which is cool because it’s a more intelligent way of rhyming. I try to blend that with the street and that’s what Nas and B.I.G. did in my opinion.
Do you have a favorite Primo beat?
Probably “Kick In The Door” is my favorite Preem beat. Either that or the beat he did for Christina Aguilera. I like that one because he’s kind of stepping outside of his box. He’s kind of stepping outside of his realm so that’s definitely up there. He showed growth on that beat. A lot of people don’t know he did that beat so I have to shout that one out.
How valuable is the DJ Premier cosign in 2007?
That’s probably one of the most valuable things I have going for me right now. I thank him for that all the time and I tell him how much I appreciate it. When I had Em around me, a lot of people were paying attention and now that I have Preem around me, just as many people are paying attention. If a motherfucker really values somebody’s opinion, they’re going to listen to their opinion and I think that’s one of the strengths I have right now.
How’s your new album Street Hop album coming?
The album is coming. It’s coming along slowly but surely. Me and Preem are probably going to go in and record about five more records. Until I completely shake this legal situation, I’m not going to be able to maneuver like I need to maneuver. I can’t travel. Next week I’m going to focus on doing another mixtape. I’m going to go in there in two weeks and knock another one out. I have a real crazy idea for the mixtape but I don’t want to let it out of the hat yet. The album will be done slowly but surely. I have to shake this situation and then find a home for it. You could say we’re shopping it at this point.
How is Nottz helping Street Hop?
Nottz has always been involved. Preem was always executive-producing the album, but I’ve been working with Nottz, Bink! and 6 July. We’re also going to bring in Mario Winans and Havoc.
Is Street Hop your best work to date?
“Best” is an understatement. This is, by far, my best work ever. I’m doing shit that I didn’t even know I could do. I’m telling stories and everything is visual. This is no bullshit. I would not lie to you. I have about 12 songs right now that you can just listen to back to back to back and you can close your eyes and just see everything that I’m talking about.
I have some of the illest concepts and stories that have ever been thought of. Everything is lyrical from front to back. I haven’t even thought about the radio yet. The shit is just straight raw. It’s just incredible. And I have never talked about any of my records like this. These are records that I would never worry about them playing out. I could listen to them and beat myself in the head with them and I still don’t think they would compare to what everybody else is doing. I just think that I’m thinking totally different from everybody else right now.
When will Street Hop come out?
I’ll be out in July. That’ll be when I can travel and sit down in some of these meetings. Ideally, we would love to secure a situation between now and then. If not, we’ll find a home for it, sign it up and it’ll be out hopefully in the fall.
Are you looking for a major deal for Street Hop?
Yeah. I’m looking for a major deal right now. I don’t want to put Street Hop out independently because I don’t want to hold it back from its potential. I want to put it in a situation where it can do as good as possible. I don’t think there’s any better situation for me. I’ve done the independent thing already.
Is Nas’ Jones Experience Music Group still an option?
I would never say it’s not going to happen. Nas is probably busy doing everything that he has on the horizon. All I can really say about that situation, as far as I’m concerned, is that the door is always open. I’m ready to at least talk about it. I haven’t had a conversation with Nas about it and I’ve been real busy doing what I’ve been doing and of course going through the legal shit. That door is always open for me until you hear that I signed a deal. Until I sign a deal, I’ll always be down to talk to Nas about that situation.
You recently worked with Black Milk on the “Sound the Alarm (Remix).” What potential do you think Black Milk has?
I think Black Milk has a lot of potential, especially since he’s a good lyricist and a good producer. The last time I saw somebody like that was Jay Dee or Kanye. It’s good to see somebody with that much talent from Detroit. Hex Murder is behind him and hopefully their shit will take off. When they called me to do the “Sound the Alarm (Remix)”, I had to jump on it. I have to support him. I’m definitely behind him 100%.
How was it recording the “Sound the Alarm (Remix)”?
Shit like that, I do with no problem. For somebody like Black, I’ll do that all day with no problem. As a vet, I see the potential. Somebody with his talent, he should be able to pull out the big guns like myself and Denaun Porter. I’ll do it again too. That’s just me seeing the potential in him. I have nothing but love for the brother.
How’s your little brother Kid Vishis coming along?
Vishis is a monster. He scares me sometimes. He’s been working on a mixtape. He’s been on the low, recording. Some of the shit he’s been coming up with has been crazy. I’m really wondering if I really like him that much because he’s my little brother or because he’s that ill, but when he gets on stage and hits him with that accapella, people can’t fucking believe it. That’s going to be a good thing a year or two down the line when I can fully develop him. I’ll have him to lean on onstage and shit like that. It’s definitely good having your family up there and having somebody that can pull their weight.
How closely do you guys work together?
I used to be all involved. I used to coach him and tell him how to say lines and have him redo shit. I don’t do that anymore. He learns so fast. It’s kind of like when I used to be in the studio with Em and he’d tell me that I should say something one way. It got to the point where he didn’t have to say anything and that's what happened with Kid Vishis. Now he’s recording and writing at a professional level right now. He’ll get amongst his peers and sound like a man among boys in the studio. He’s just really caught on with how he should sound with rapping on a professional level. He’s in the league now.
Juan has been featured on some of your past projects. You also said he was one of the “illest freestyle dudes out” in one of our previous interviews. Where is Juan today?
Juan is a very interesting dude. He comes and goes. He’s at liberty to do that because he has what he has - an unbreakable buzz in Detroit. You can’t break that buzz that he has. He’s already etched in the Detroit history. Whenever he drops a record, it’s going to do what it does. He's going to get what he should get and people are going to buy it.
Juan is a businessman. There are things that I can teach him as far as rhyming, but in terms of just straight up business and taking care of business and maneuvering around and making situations and making money, I go to Juan for that. I’ve become a sponge around him and I’ve been trying to take in some game and see how he maneuvers the situations. He figures out how to make money no matter what the situation is. We’ve learned a lot from each other. It’s a give and take relationship. It’s a beautiful relationship. Whenever you hear of him being quiet, it’s because he’s focusing on getting money.
You got work release at Trusty Camp. How did that happen?
It didn’t happen as early as I would have liked it to. I spent three months over there and one of my judges was just taking her time to grant the work release. She was teaching me a valuable lesson and it’s actually working out better for me. I think if I would have come out earlier, my mind wouldn’t be where it should be. She taught me a valuable lesson. I’m thinking way sharper and I’m way more focused than I’ve ever been in my life. I have to definitely thank Judge McKenzy, who sentenced me, and Swifty (of D-12) for giving me a chance and giving me encouraging words in the process. He came down on me hard as hell but he was fair and I got love for him for that. Stay out of Novi! (laughs) Just kidding...
Both of my judges taught me a valuable lesson in life. I see my past and I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m never going to make another mistake like that. But the fact that I don’t know where I’m going is what makes me want to travel. That’s where I’m at right now.
At least you can see a silver lining through the whole situation.
Yeah. The situation I’m in now, I’m still in jail but at least I can come out and do something. I had enough material when I went in. The people never really missed me because there were freestyles being leaked and as soon as I came out, we put out the mixtape. Now it’s all about making sure I follow up with quality shit and not go through long periods of time with nothing coming out. That shit hurts you.
Although you’re on work release during the day, you still have to go back at night. How difficult is that for you?
It’s not easy at all. It’s hard going back in. It’s hard coming to the crib and seeing my son. He’s 3 months-old. It’s hard seeing him and then having to go to the studio and then go back in. I’m not free by any means. I have until July 18. That’s my official release date. That’s when I’ll be able to travel.
What’s your plan for the mixtape after The Bar Exam?
I’ll probably base it off what the responses are to The Bar Exam. If I feel the buzz from The Bar Exam is dying down, I’ll release the new one. Maybe I’ll just put the whole thing out with no leaks. I don’t know how I’ll do it. I have to keep a strong presence on the internet. And yes, I am a free agent. I’m not signed. I’m totally off Sony Records. I’m looking for a new deal, so hopefully this summer we can secure that.
How valuable has the internet been for you?
The internet has been very valuable to me. Being on work release, it’s hard to even have a street presence. It’s hard to have a presence in the street. The internet is so accessible and it’s so easy to get out there. As long as you have something quality and you know the right sites and people to leak it too, it’s just like having a huge street buzz. And you’re talking to someone who’s new to the whole computer thing. I’ve had my Mac for about a year now. Before that I had never been on computers. I didn’t know what I was missing. All this time, I could have been on the computer and I could have really promoted my other albums in a different way. It’s a lesson learned. The internet is one of the most important things to me right now.
Do you see the game shifting more online?
I think it is. More people are downloading music. The more popular these sites get, the easier it is for people to get albums. I think people are going to the ‘net first to preview your album and there has to be something special about your music for them to buy it. You have to be special too. If you’re not and your music isn’t, they’ll just download it. The industry is definitely shifting towards the internet.
What are your plans for the summer?
Just to stay focused. I have to stay focused because I can do incredible records without being focused and I’m usually the last to know that I’m not focused. I have to go out of my way to stay focused because that’s when I get the most work done. That’s when shit goes right for me. That’s going to be my focus for the rest of my career. There’s never going to be a day when I’m not doing anything. Every day I’m going to do something. I find it gets easier like that. I meet every day with Kino and my team, even if it’s on a conference call. We just hash out what we’re doing and what our next plan is. That’s what we’re doing.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming MCs?
Just work. That’s all you have to do, is work. You’re not going to make it because of one rhyme, 10 rhymes or 20 rhymes. It’s going to be because you’re staying consistent and being prepared when opportunities present themselves. Everyone gets an opportunity in their lifetime and you have to be ready for that. The only way to be prepared for that is to always be working.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Thank you for the love and support. Thank you for the letters, even though they’ve slowed down. A lot of people think I’m out. Thank you, HipHopGame, for supporting me. Just be on the lookout for The Bar Exam. Also be on the lookout for the next mixtape. I’m not going to tell you the title of the next mixtape yet, but Royce da 5’9” is definitely working.