Royce Da 5’ 9” checks a lot of boxes on his new album Layers. His flow is powerful and capturing. The beats that surround him are well produced. Royce is a brilliant storyteller, his narratives vividly describing certain events in his life. He also brings a sense of humor, at one point suggesting that he is a Steinway grand piano as opposed to his Casio keyboard friends. Despite all this, it’s hard to say anything on this album came as a surprise. As far as slightly throwback-tinged hip hop albums go, Layers reads as relatively standard and the album seems to stagnate on similar sounding vibes making for an un-memorable collection of tunes.
The album begins with “Tabernacle” a gospel-induced track discussing Royce’s rise from battle rapper to unique artist. This narrative comes with quite the emotional rollercoaster as Royce is driven to the hospital on the night of one of his first shows where his partner is in labor and his grandmother is having a medical emergency. In a particularly personable moment, Royce digresses from his flow to ask his listener if they remember a specific song from a Helter Skelter album. He even sings a bit of the hook an mentions “that was my shit.” “Tabernacle” serves as a perfect lyrical introduction to Royce as he gives insight to his nostalgia, suffering, and up-close and personal style.
Although many of his beats are hard-hitting and fun, they never lead to any well-constructed hooks. Also, Royce’s vocal work doesn’t do him any favors. His chorus on “Hard” borders on the out of tune and it’s not catchy enough to be memorable. This continues for most of the album. Royce continuously struggles to make a convincing refrain, sometimes even ignoring this concept and electing to rap from beginning to end. Considering his lyrical capabilities, this is logical, however, this is part of the reason why the album lacks standout tracks. Even when Royce isn’t making the hooks himself they still come off as stale. On “Shine” and “Misses” overly produced vocal hooks make for a dated sound aesthetic.
When I first listened to Layers I just felt underwhelmed. It’s one of those releases that doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, however, it just isn’t memorable. Royce’s knack for narration isn’t conveyed well as the album is plagued by poorly constructed hooks.