Something has been missing from the career of Royce Da 5'9." Sure, he's always been one of Detroit's premier talents, and he has timeless songs ("Boom," "Hip Hop"), acclaimed projects (Death Is Certain, the Bar Exam mixtape series), and writing credits (Dr. Dre, Sean "Diddy" Combs) under his belt to prove it. Still, various barriers — bootlegging, industry clutter, incarceration and, sometimes, just a lack of focus — have prevented him from making the classic LP his fans know he's capable of making. Hopes were high for Royce's latest album, Street Hop, though. It's executive-produced by hip-hop legend and frequent collaborator DJ Premier. And this comes on the heels of the news that Royce's supergroup, Slaughterhouse, is in contract talks with Shady Records, the label owned by Royce's old partner-in-rhyme, Eminem. For once, Royce has talent and timing on his side. What's more, thankfully, he delivers.
While the title Street Hop accurately conveys a back-to-basics theme, Royce doesn't pigeonhole himself here. Showcases of Royce's menacing flow and blistering punch lines ("Gun Harmonizing" and "Dinner Time," which feature Crooked I and Busta Rhymes, respectively) succeed, but the most memorable moments on Street Hop come when Royce slows down his shit-talking to show how ruthless the streets can really be. "Part of Me" narrates a ménage à trois-turned-castration at the hands of a pair of roofie-wielding beauties, with the companion songs — "On the Run" and "Murder" — explaining a friend's bullet-flying betrayal that jeopardizes Royce's freedom and family. But Royce embraces the streets through its ups and downs, so "Hood Love"— which sees him, Bun B and Joell Ortiz appreciating the reverence in their respective hometowns — is a fitting conclusion for the disc.
DJ Premier's stamp and beat selections on Street Hop are rewarding, although poor sequencing — the album's one major flaw — doesn't amplify the high quality of the songs. While fellow Detroiter Mr. Porter (50 Cent, Snoop Dogg) contributes sonic goodness to the disc with "Mine in Thiz" and "Thing for Your Girlfriend," the respective goofiness and womanizing boasting of these songs don't fit in with the rest of the album's serious perspective. But missteps aside, Street Hop is the album that Royce fans — and Royce himself — have been anticipating for a long time.
William E. Ketchem writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.