Emerging from Motor City’s gritty rap battlegrounds, Royce quickly made a name for himself, not just as a lyrical behemoth but as a storyteller capable of painting vivid tapestries of inner-city life, personal struggles, and victories. His initial splash in the scene was amplified by his association with Eminem, another Detroit luminary. Together, as the duo Bad Meets Evil, they showcased a chemistry that was both electrifying and deeply rooted in their shared hometown legacy.

Yet, Royce’s journey was not one solely defined by collaborations. His solo efforts have been equally, if not more, impactful. Albums like his debut, Rock City, laid down the groundwork, presenting a raw talent hungry for recognition. However, it was with Death Is Certain that Royce began to truly delve into the deeper recesses of his psyche, offering listeners a more introspective and darker perspective.

This evolution continued with Street Hop, where, after facing personal adversities, he resurrected with a sharpened lyrical prowess and a renewed sense of purpose. From navigating the tumultuous terrains of Detroit’s rap arenas to grappling with personal demons and emerging stronger, Royce da 5’9″ has solidified his place as not just a rapper, but a true hip-hop artist.

So let’s get into it. From his raw but incredibly promising Rock City to his 2020 magnum opus The Allegory, we rank every Royce da 5’9″ album, from worst to best.

Rock City

Released: November 26, 2002

Label: E1, Game, Columbia

Singles: “Boom”, “You Can’t Touch Me”, “Rock City”

Features: Eminem, Tre Little, Clipse, Pharrell, Twista, Amerie

Now, don’t get it twisted – any Royce project has its merits. But when we’re breaking down the illustrious discography of Royce da 5’9″, Rock City finds its place at the tail end. This is the joint where the Detroit emcee was still finding his footing, figuring out the blueprint of his own legacy in the game. The album has its bangers, no doubt, with tracks like “You Can’t Touch Me” and the legendary “Boom” reminding listeners of Royce’s impeccable flow and lyrical prowess. But let’s keep it a buck: Rock City lacks the cohesive punch and mature introspection that would characterize his later projects. The potential was evident; the sharp-tongued rhymes and vivid storytelling were there. But when stacked against his more refined works, Rock City feels more like a young baller’s scrimmage than the championship games he’d play later in his career. Still, it’s essential listening for those trying to trace the evolution of one of Detroit’s finest wordsmiths.

Independent’s Day

Released: July 18, 2005

Label: M.I.C.

Singles: “Politics”, “Wet My Whistle”

Features: Ingrid Smalls, Street Lord Juan, Big Herk, Blade Icewood, CeeLo Green, Jay Black, K-Doe, Kid Vishis, La the Darkman, Sara Stokes and Yo Gotti.

Coming after the somewhat rocky ride of Rock City, this project was Nickle’s declaration of autonomy, a middle finger to industry politics. The title itself, a play on words, emphasized Royce’s newfound commitment to steering his ship. With tracks like “Politics” and “Wet My Whistle,” Royce seemed more emboldened, more in control, shedding the major label constraints. But while it’s a step up, boasting collaborations with legends like Cee-Lo Green, the album sometimes fell prey to inconsistent production. It teetered between the line of underground rawness and mainstream appeal, not quite locking into either zone. Lyrically, Royce was on point as ever, spitting bars that reminded us why he’s one of the most respected MCs in the game. Yet, Independent’s Day was a transitional phase, the cocoon stage for a butterfly yet to fully emerge. The ambition was commendable, the energy palpable, but Royce hadn’t yet reached that zenith of artistic mastery that fans would come to revere in his subsequent drops. This was the grind before the glory.

Success Is Certain

Released: August 9, 2011

Label: Gracie Productions

Singles: “Writer’s Block”, “Second Place”, “Legendary”

Features: Eminem, Joe Budden, Kid Vishis and Travis Barker.

Success Is Certain marked a significant elevation in Royce’s artistic journey, signaling the point where the Detroit heavyweight began to truly own his lane. With joints like “Second Place” and “Legendary” featuring Travis Barker, Royce wasn’t just spitting bars, he was painting pictures, offering listeners a glimpse into his mind and heart. One can’t overlook the Eminem-assisted “Writer’s Block,” where the synergy between the Bad Meets Evil duo was palpable. Their flows danced around the beat, delivering a lyrical masterclass. Yet, despite these standouts, there were moments on the project that felt a tad formulaic, as if Royce was still wrestling with commercial expectations. However, what set Success Is Certain apart was its introspective nature. Royce started digging deeper, reflecting on his journey, his struggles, and his ambitions. The project was a precursor to the more personal projects that would follow, with Nickle tapping into his own experiences and stories.

Hell: The Sequel (as Bad Meets Evil)

Released: June 14, 2011

Label: Shady, Interscope

Singles: “Fast Lane”, “Lighters”

Features: Mike Epps, Bruno Mars, Slaughterhouse

The much-anticipated reunion of Eminem and Royce da 5’9″ as the formidable duo Bad Meets Evil delivered a seismic shock to the rap game. Two of Detroit’s most ferocious spitters coming together was like witnessing Jordan and Pippen in their prime, a synchronized dance of lyrical prowess and unmatched chemistry. Tracks like “Fast Lane” showcased their rapid-fire back-and-forths, with bars so sharp they’d make a samurai jealous. Then there’s the introspective “Lighters” with Bruno Mars, balancing the project with a touch of vulnerability amid the raw aggression. Their synergy was undeniable, a potent blend of Em’s maniacal intensity and Royce’s surgical precision. Still, as an iconic as this project was, it leaned heavily on its dual star power. While the dynamism between the two was electric, at times, it felt like the project didn’t fully tap into the depth both artists had shown individually. Regardless, Hell: The Sequel was a celebration, a testament to two rap brothers from the same city, once estranged, reuniting to remind the world of their joint potency.

Street Hop

Released: October 20, 2009

Label: M.I.C., One

Singles: “Shake This”, “Part of Me”, “New Money”

Features: Crooked I, Kid Vishis, Iyana Dean, Phonte, Busta Rhymes, Slaughterhouse, Melanie Rutherford, Trick-Trick, Mr. Porter, K-Young, Bun B, Joell Ortiz

After a turbulent hiatus marked by personal and legal challenges, 2009’s Street Hop was Royce da 5’9″‘s phoenix moment. Emerging from the shadows of a 2006 DUI conviction, parole violation, and a year behind bars, Nickle Nine came back with a vengeance on Street Hop. The project was a canvas painted with resilience, determination, and raw lyrical prowess. The production lineup read like a who’s who of hip-hop elite: Emile’s deep cuts, DJ Premier’s classic boom-bap, Nottz’s gritty rhythms, and Streetrunner’s raw energy, to name a few. The album wasn’t just about his skills, but also his journey, his evolution, and his reclamation of a spot in the rap game. In the bigger picture of hip-hop, Street Hop more than a comeback; it was a renaissance. It wasn’t Royce asking for his seat back at the table; it was him reminding the rap world that he never left, he just took a moment to regroup, and came back even harder.

Layers

Released: April 15, 2016

Label: Bad Half Entertainment

Singles: “Tabernacle”, “Layers”

Features: Melanie Rutherford, K. Young, Loren W. Oden, Pusha T, Rick Ross, Tiara

When Royce da 5’9″ dropped Layers in 2016, the title wasn’t just about beats and bars—it was a deep dive into the multi-dimensional facets of the man behind the mic. For many, this project was a deep dive into the psyche of Nickle Nine, giving us glimpses of both Royce the artist and the individual. Fresh from the raw introspection of his 2012 sobriety, the man was peeling back layers, unveiling vulnerabilities, triumphs, and scars. The track “Tabernacle,” for instance, was the embodiment of this peeled-back approach. Here was Royce juxtaposing the joy of his son’s birth with the pain of losing his grandmother, all occurring on the same day. The depth of introspection was staggering. And, of course, the production—oh, the production—was a harmonious melange of soul, funk, and pure hip-hop, all working cohesively to support Royce’s lyrical narratives. With heavy-hitters like Mr. Porter, DJ Khalil, and Jake One laying down the soundscapes, there was no misstep in the auditory journey.

Death Is Certain

Released: February 24, 2004

Label: E1

Singles: “Hip Hop”, “Death Is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)”

Features: Ingrid Smalls, Cutty Mack, Cha Cha, 6 July

2004’s Death Is Certain wasn’t just a record – it was Royce da 5’9″ delivering a soul-bearing confessional to the world. Here was Nickle Nine, post-diss tracks, post-label frustrations, caught in the crucible of his own existential contemplations. This album was the dark night of Royce’s soul, put on wax. The tone was set right from the jump with “Regardless,” a track oozing with raw frustration and defiance, pointing fingers at the industry and its fickle nature. And then there was “Hip Hop,” produced by the one and only DJ Premier, where Royce’s love for the culture shimmered even in his most desolate moments. Carlos “6 July” Broady’s haunting production on “Death Is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)” took listeners down the rabbit hole of Royce’s psyche, while the melancholic “T.O.D.A.Y.” explored the pitfalls of fame and the cost of success. This wasn’t the braggadocious Royce; this was the introspective poet grappling with mortality, purpose, and the fickleness of the industry.

PRhyme 2

Released: March 16, 2018

Label: PRhyme

Singles: “Era”, “Rock It”, “Flirt”

Features: 2 Chainz, Big K.R.I.T., Dave East, Rapsody, Roc Marciano, Yelawolf, Chavis Chandler, Brady Watt, Novel, CeeLo Green and Denaun Porter.

When Royce da 5’9″ and DJ Premier decided to double back for another round with PRhyme 2 in 2018, the streets were watching. The initial PRhyme project had set such a colossal standard that diving into the sequel felt like unwrapping a golden ticket. And man, did they deliver. From the first track, “Black History,” Royce’s lyricism was razor-sharp, cutting through the beat with tales of culture, pride, and perseverance. This was a Royce matured, both in content and delivery, proving that age in hip-hop can indeed be a wine-like refinement. But what made PRhyme 2 such a behemoth was the synergy between Royce and Premo. Premier, with his uncanny ability to sample and flip, gave us bangers like “Era” and “Rock It.” You could feel the golden era’s nostalgia fused with the new school’s vibrancy, creating a timeless sound.

The Allegory

Released: February 21, 2020

Label: Heaven Studios, eOne

Singles: “Black Savage”, “Overcomer”, “I Don’t Age”, “Upside Down”

Features: Emanny, Cedric the Entertainer, Ashley Sorrell, Grafh, Oswin Benjamin, DJ Premier, Westside Gunn, Kid Vishis, Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, KXNG Crooked, Sy Ari da Kid, White Gold, Cyhi the Prynce, T.I., Vince Staples, G Perico

If The Allegory proves anything, it’s that Royce da 5’9″ isn’t just an elite MC, but a philosopher and a storyteller in his own right. Dropping in 2020, amidst political unrest and a world grappling with its own truths, The Allegory served as Royce’s most profound and introspective project to date. From the very beginning, with “Mr. Grace (Intro),” Royce pulls no punches, diving deep into America’s systematic issues, race, and self-worth. The genius in The Allegory isn’t just in the lyricism, but in its production – which Royce took upon himself for the entirety of the album. This gave it a personal touch, a direct line from his soul to our ears. Tracks like “Black Savage” become anthems of empowerment, while “I Don’t Age” plays like a mantra for Royce’s timeless prowess in the rap game. And who could ignore the raw emotion of “Thou Shall” featuring Kid Vishis, where Royce’s rhymes feel like a sledgehammer of truth to the gut? The Allegory is a cerebral experience, meant not just for casual listening but for deep reflection. It’s Royce da 5’9″ at his most vulnerable, insightful, and revolutionary, crafting an opus that pushes hip-hop into new territories of consciousness and awakening.

PRhyme

Released: December 9, 2014

Label: PRhyme

Singles: “Courtesy”

Features: Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, Dwele, Common, Jay Electronica, Schoolboy Q, Killer Mike, Slaughterhouse

In 2014, the hip-hop universe shook to its very foundation when Royce da 5’9″ and the legendary DJ Premier collided to drop PRhyme. It was like witnessing two titans from different realms joining forces to remind the world of rap’s golden standards. Premier, the illustrious beatmaker who’s given us classics with Gang Starr and a roll call of hip-hop royalty, infused PRhyme with his signature boom-bap flavor. But these weren’t the typical Premo beats; these were samples exclusively from the catalog of composer Adrian Younge, making the project even more unique. Now, let’s talk Royce. Nickle, fresh from the Slaughterhouse saga, penned some of his tightest bars for this opus. “Courtesy” served as a head-nodding introduction, while “Dat Sound Good” had heads reeling from the verbal acrobatics. And when he linked with Jay Electronica on “To Me, To You”? Man, it was a lyrical exercise like no other. More than anything, PRhyme was a testament to authentic hip-hop, to bars over beats, to the essence of what makes rap such a profound art form. It was a reiteration that when two maestros like Royce and Premier come together, history is made. Pure, undiluted hip-hop – that’s PRhyme for ya.

Book of Ryan

Released: May 4, 2018

Label: Heaven Studios, eOne

Singles: “Boblo Boat”, “Stay Woke”, “Dumb”, “Caterpillar”, “Amazing”, “Power”, “Cocaine”

Features: Eminem, J. Cole, Pusha T, Jadakiss, Fabolous, T-Pain, Logic, Robert Glasper, Chavis Chandler, Agent Sasco, King Green, Ashley Sorrell, Melanie Rutherford, and Marsha Ambrosius.

When we delve into Book of Ryan, we’re navigating the labyrinth of Royce da 5’9″‘s psyche, a place rich in anecdotes, introspection, and deeply-rooted sentiments. Released in 2018, this project is more than just an album; it’s an autobiography of one of hip-hop’s most underappreciated legends. The greatness of Book of Ryan isn’t just in the bars – though, trust, they’re sharper than ever – it’s in the vulnerability. It’s Royce laying himself bare, sharing tales of his father on “Cocaine,” delving into his own struggles with addiction on “Boblo Boat,” and reflecting on the realities of life and the fragility of success on “Amazing.” The depth here? Immeasurable. Production-wise, the album is a tapestry of sonics. From the boom-bap nods of yesteryears to soulful melodies, the soundscape shifts seamlessly, mirroring the ebb and flow of Royce’s storytelling. And speaking of stories, “Power” is a magnum opus, a heart-wrenching tale of family dynamics and the realities of growing up in a tumultuous household. Book of Ryan isn’t just Royce’s best work; it’s a brilliant showcase of the power of hip-hop as a storytelling medium. In an era where substance often takes a backseat, this project drives it right back to the forefront, proving that hip-hop, in its truest form, is about narratives, experiences, and the raw, unfiltered truths of life.