When it came to lyrical themes Dr. Dre’s long-awaited sophomore album, 2001, was what you expected from the one of the originators of West Coast gangsta rap.
Raps about guns, sex, crime, drugs were rampant on the album, with guest verses from artists like Xzibit, Snoop Dogg, Devin the Dude, Eminem, Kurupt and Nate Dogg adding to the content.
Except for the last song, that is. Written by Royce da 5’9″ and produced by Lord Finesse, “The Message” was dedicated to Dr. Dre’s half-brother, Tyree Du Sean Crayon, who passed away after an altercation. When he was writing the song for Dre, Royce revealed that he had no idea about his brother, and was writing from his personal experience.
“I wrote the verses, but I didn’t even know about [how Dr. Dre’s brother was killed],” Royce said in an interview with Complex. “I was rapping about an experience that I had. I just felt like, ‘Okay, maybe it would be dope if Dre can paint a picture that people can relate to.’ I wrote the song and when I went in the booth and laid it, Dre was quiet. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Damn, why is he so quiet?’”
Royce: I was rapping about a friend of mine who got shot in the neck. He was standing on the corner with some people, somebody rolled up and shot him. Nobody knew what it was for. He wasn’t beefing with nobody or nothing. So when I found out about it, I was hitting his pager and everything. Everything I said on that song, I absolutely went through. That’s why I felt like people were going to be able to relate to that.Royce Da 5′9″ Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs | Complex
It was also around this time when Dr. Dre – who had already signed Royce’s frequent collaborator Eminem, to Aftermath – offered the Detroit rapper a deal that included a $250,000 budget and unlimited Dre beats. At the same time, Tommy Boy Records also offered him a deal of $1 million.
“I made a decision to sign with Tommy Boy [Records] instead of [Aftermath Entertainment and] Dr. Dre, back in the day,” Royce explained in a later interview. “Sometimes I don’t really regret it because by saying that I’m basically saying that I regret where I’m at today, which couldn’t be further than the truth, but sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I done that. What kind of music would I have been able to make?”
It’s easy to look back and wonder “what if?” but when you look at the position Royce is in today, with acclaimed solo albums and collaboration projects with his idol DJ Premier, then you compare it with the careers of many rappers who signed to Aftermath that went nowhere – Rakim, Joell Ortiz, Raekwon, RBX – you get the felling that Royce made the right choice.