Review Summary: ... or is it ?
Royce da 5'9 feels like his time has come. After a long and storied career in the underground circuits of Hip-Hop, the Detroit native has finally seen the light of mainstream acceptance this year as one half of Bad Meets Evil, his collaboration with long-time friend Eminem. After so many years of delivering quality material to rap heads, it is only normal for Royce to try and make a name (as well as some money) for himself outside of the this elite circle, hence the name of his new solo output Success Is Certain
The feeling of "finally making it" is prevalent throughout the whole LP, which gives the project a certain cohesiveness. Whether he's affirming his place on top of the game ("I Ain't Coming Down"), telling about his troubled path to success ("Merry Go Round") or sharing his frustrations with the music industry and his lack of success in the mainstream spheres of rap ("Where My Money"), most of Success Is Certain
focuses on his thoughts on his current position in the Hip-Hop world, at the border between underground and mainstream success. Add to that songs about the current state of Hip-Hop, tales of street life and more conventional boasting tracks, and you realize that Royce has a lot to say, and has the ability of saying it well. This shifts the focus of the album towards lyrics and stories, with less emphasis put on rapid-fire deliveries and tongue-twisting rhymes. However, this does not mean that the quality of Royce's flow and rhymes has gone down, but moreso that the subject matter is put on top of things, which is only understandable with all he has been going through recently. This makes Success Is Certain
very interesting lyrically for anyone already familiar with Royce, and it is this lyrical greatness that accounts for most of the strong points of the album.
This might be the very problem with Success Is Certain
though, since while the lyrics are clearly aimed towards Hip-Hop and Royce da 5'9 fans, the MC is still trying to reach out to more casual fans, most probably trying to capitalize on the recent success of Bad Meets Evil. This is most notable in two areas of the album : the hooks and the beats. Both are very much reminiscent of his collaboration LP with Marhsall, especially the beats who feel like Hell: The Sequel
left offs. While this might seem like a good idea from a commercial standpoint, they end up way too bland to captivate the listener, and are a clear weak point of the album. This is even more mind-boggling since Royce da 5'9 is friends with some of Hip-Hop's most acclaimed producers, but ends up barely using them : DJ Premier produces only one track, the rather disappointing "Second Place", while fellow Detroiter and critically acclaimed Black Milk is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Royce reaches out to Mr. Porter and StreetRunner to handle most of the production, perhaps aiming for a more mainstream-friendly sound, but eventually creating one undermining Royce's strengths as a lyricist and technical rapper. None of the beats hit hard at all, and it is extremely frustrating as this has the potential of being Royce's best output since 2004's Death Is Certain
That is not to say that some songs aren't satisfying, because there are some gems here. "Writer's Block", following on Royce's success when working with Eminem, sees Royce in its most aggressive form, tackling several issues of modern Hip-Hop, most notably the fact that most rappers nowadays sound the same. It is clearly one of the standout songs on the album, featuring one of the strongest beats as well. The aforementioned "Merry Go Round" and "Security are the other tracks that redeem the album's flaws, the first one seeing Royce telling the tales of his hardships in the music industry, while "Security" is a heartfelt tribute to the late, D12 member Proof.
By trying to reach out to new fans and still holding on to his old ones, Royce da 5'9 ends up doing neither of those, with beats far too uninteresting for his fans and lyrics too specific to attract new ones. Success Is Certain
ends up being something of a hybrid, still a good outing thanks to Royce's lyrical prowess, but ultimately failing to be the album that finally lets Royce da 5'9 utilize his full potential.