Artist: Royce Da 5'9"Title: Independent's DayRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Bill "Low-Key" Heinzelman
Fresh off the most successful year of his career, Royce 5'9" is trying to earn his stripes as Hip-Hop's hardest working emcee. While many doubted the rock city veteran, Royce proved the naysayers wrong with Death Is Certain and the M.I.C. Mixtape Vol. 2. Now with his fan base set, Royce is looking to take his career to the next level with his upcoming collaborative album with producer Nottz. In the mean time, Royce's new project, Independent's Day (Make It Count Records), attempts to keep his buzz going strong. While originally a mixtape, the album has now been turned into his third LP. However, the transition fails to be smooth, as the sloppy album suffers from an overload of guest appearances, inconsistent production and awkward commercial attempts.
Billed as a bridge between Rock City and Death Is Certain, Royce moves away from his trademark dark sounds and takes some risky shots with lusterless club joints that pick up where Rock City left off. The x-rated tales of "Fuck My Brains Out" featuring June & Ingrid Smalls is a gimmicky attempt with its bland hook and beat. Similarly, "Lay It Down's" simplistic keyboard production is all too misplaced with Royce's rugged demeanor, while guests Juan and K-Doe falter with their respective verses. "Wet My Whistle" featuring Sara Stokes is another forced attempt, even though the track sees Royce make some progress in regards to writing commercial songs. "Looking At My Dog" is the only other notable misstep on the album, as polar opposites Royce and Yo Gotti struggle to find their connection.
When Royce sticks to his Death Is Certain mold by spitting ferociously over strong beats is when Independent's Day resembles the album fans expected. The title track finds Royce at home over Carlos "6 July" Broady's lively keys and soulful vocal sample. Not to be overlooked is Royce's impeccable flow, as he bobs and weaves out of the beat like a seasoned boxer in the ring. Broady also laces the gritty "I Owe You," where Royce shoots off a variety of strong punch lines. On "Politics" Royce's quotable verses address his struggles in the rap game over the years, while Cee-Lo provides his soulful magic on the hook. Other efforts such as "Ride," "Paranoia" featuring La The Dark Man and "Meeting Of Bosses" also succeeds due to powerful production.
While Royce looks to prove he can make commercially viable music on Independent's Day and be the type of artist Jay-z was, he still has some work to do. Royce definitely has the ability to be a crossover success, but he needs to allow his creative flair to come through. Instead of relying on the type of material that has gotten others on top, Royce needs to find his own niche in the commercial world of music. Until then, fans will keep asking Royce to produce material like Death Is Certain.