Part of what makes DJ Premier one of the best producers of all time is his adaptability. He knows how to be both the tree and the forest. Throughout the last three decades, when needed, he’s been the guy who can throw and lace your favorite emcee with one or two of the hottest tracks on their album (see: his work with JAY-Z, Nas, the Notorious B.I.G., Common, Bun-B, etc.). And of course, he can put together a distinctive soundscape that defines an entire album. His chemistry with Guru as one half of Gang Starr is the foundational, and he brought out the best in artists like Jeru the Damaja and Group Home.
Over the last eighteen years, the musical relationship between DJ Premier and Royce da 5’9” has gone through both stages. Starting with “Boom,” DJ Premier provided the beats for some of the best tracks on Royce’s early albums, and then served as executive producer on Royce’s Street-Hop in 2009. The two finally collaborated to form PRhyme in 2014 and released a self-titled album. It was one of the best albums of that year, not to mention one of the finest LPS to emerge in the current decade to date.
The “concept” of PRhyme is that Royce kicks his vicious lyrics over beats that Premier creates using samples from one artist. It’s designed to create a cohesive sound as well as eliminate sample clearance costs (the pair work out a deal with the particular source ahead of time). For PRhyme, Premier sampled music exclusively by Adrian Younge, the producer/composer known for his scores of the Black Dynamite film and Cage TV series, as well as entire albums with Souls of Mischief, Ghostface Killah, and the Delfonics.
For PRhyme 2, Premier uses the palette originally created by Antman Wonder. Antman has worked with artists like Statik Selektah, Skyzoo, Action Bronson, and Royce himself. The music that Premier creates from Antman’s work is dope but distinctly different than the first PRhyme album. Whereas Adrain Younge’s sonic footprints made for a vintage, gothic soul backdrop, Antman’s creations lend themselves to more melodious, orchestral production. The resulting album isn’t as good as the first installment, but it’s still dope on its own merits, and is reminiscent of Gang Starr’s later albums.
Whereas PRhyme was a brisk nine tracks and ran about 35 minutes, Royce and Premier spread things out a bit with PRhyme 2. The album runs a little under an hour and 17 songs deep, allowing Royce to shine both on his own and with a myriad of guests. It begins with “Black History,” a track that was previously released on Royce’s 2016 mixtape Trust the Shooter. Royce describes his and DJ Premier’s origins in broad strokes, outlining the trials and tribulations that they’ve gone through to make it to this point, as well as their impact on hip-hop as a whole.
Royce spends much of the album demonstrating his ample abilities over grandiose Premier tracks. Songs like “1 of the Hardest,” “Do Ya Thang,” and “My Calling,” demonstrate Royce’s status as one of the best emcees currently rapping. Reinterpreting A Flock of Seagulls never sounded as dope as it does on “Streets At Night,” where Royce kicks ballistics over a shimmering synth sample. “Sunflower Seeds” is a smooth highlight of the album, featuring Royce using a laid-back delivery on top of a percussion and organ-heavy Premier creation.
PRhyme teams up with Dave East on “Era,” the album’s first single. The old school sounding track is evocative of mid ’80s classics like Whodini’s “I’m a Ho” and The Cold Crush Brothers’ “Other MCs.” The beat fits in with the fierce verbal displays by Royce and Dave East, purposely suggesting a throwback to an era when emcees’ lyricism was central to their identities. The two hammer the point home with the chorus of “Sometimes I feel like I’m in the wrong fucking era,” suggesting they’re aware that many listeners don’t value lyricism in today’s musical climate.
PRhyme explore the other side of the coin with “Everyday Struggle,” a piano-driven song where Royce ponders what is considered “real” hip-hop these days. It’s not a coincidence the song shares a title with the online talk show that Royce’s Slaughterhouse compatriot Joe Budden once hosted, as Royce cites the argument that occurred on the show between Budden and” Lil’ Yatchy back in May 2017. Here Royce argues that older artists and hip-hop heads need to be more understanding of the younger generation of emcees, since Golden Era emcees went through the same issues when they were making names for themselves, stating, “I’m about the youth moving, not them against us.”
PRhyme also explore relationship dynamics and struggles between genders on a couple of the album’s tracks. “Loved Ones,” one of PRhyme 2’s best songs, features Royce and the always dope Rapsody playing the roles of co-dependents. After discovering Royce’s infidelities, Rapsody lambasts him for his backwards moral code: maintaining loyalty to his homies, but not remaining faithful to her. “Flirt” is less successful, as Royce explores the differing courtship habits of men and women in their attempts to build a relationship. However, hearing the steadily improving 2 Chainz rapping over a string-heavy DJ Premier production is an unexpected treat.
Primo and Royce are at the point in their careers where they can do whatever they want. Premier still does spot productions for both mainstream and underground artists, and Royce releases his solo albums through his own label and as a part of Slaughterhouse through Eminem’s Shady Records. They both can thrive on their own, but have shown that they can put together an excellent body of work when they decide to team up. The collaboration isn’t Gang Starr and it doesn’t try to be. PRhyme is on its way to becoming its own fully-formed entity. Here’s hoping they continue to record these albums, because it feels like PRhyme are on the path to achieving their full potential.
Notable Tracks: “1 of the Hardest” | “Loved Ones” | “Streets at Night” | “Sunflower Seeds”