PRhyme – Courtesy ft. DJ Premier, Royce Da 5'9"

PRhym

e’s “PRhyme” is a no frills, beats and rhymes buffet anchored by the duo’s undeniable chemistry.

 

 Royce Da 5’9” and DJ Premier are cut from the same
cloth, frequent collaborators from overlapping generations of rap
culture, the former inspired heavily by the latter. They are both proof
of rap staying power; Premier is practically a symbol and Royce is a
savvy veteran who has managed a lengthy career without settling.  The
two stumbled upon the works of producer and composer Adrian Younge separately — primarily his work with Ghostface Killah on last year’s terrific Twelve Reasons To Die
—and upon suggestion from Royce, set out to make a full collaborative
project, one that both Royce and fans have been after for quite some
time now. The three artists have a shared vision, and together they seek
constantly to reinterpret the soul and funk that Hip Hop was built on.

 

 Adrian Younge fills in the margins for PRhyme,
which is both the name of the duo and the name of their first project
as a unit, but the palpable chemistry between the pairing at its
epicenter is what’s prominently featured. This is no frills Hip Hop with
a blue-collar, workmans approach to craftsmanship from two artists of
the same ilk with the same devout belief in rap conservativism. Younge
provides the ingredients and Preemo constructs labyrinths wherein Royce
works. The Detroit rapper is the type of emcee born to spit over vintage
Premier
loops — an artisan with a level delivery who unpacks tightly
constructed raps in the pockets in boom bap beat breaks. When given his
space, like on the eerie, tempo-turning “Wishin,” it’s easy for him to
exercise his dexterity and he is at his best when rattling off as many
bars as he can fit in a 4/4 time signature in a given phrase (“I walk by
a so called tough guy, watch him tuck his chain in / No snatching
though, watch what you put my fucking name in / Kind of like an armless
actor playing an action role / I’m out on the west copping like Axel
Foley, ask the police / But at least I’m active though”). Comparatively,
slow-flowing guest Common serves
as an unofficial gauge of his words-per-minute. DJ Premier had a hand
in creating the Rap standard that Royce so heavily abides by, and he
knows how to replicate it. The two are a match made in Rap purist heaven
making Rap that is an endless nod to the Golden Age.

 Part of the magic of PRhyme lies in its
murky depths, which come courtesy of Younge’s soulful live compositions
sampled by Premier in a rare deviation from his typical exploratory
tactics. Premier has always had a penchant for sampling whatever he
stumbles upon, but the refined selection of this endeavour, despite
mildly restricting the great producer, makes for a cohesive listening
experience. While there is no diversity in source material there is in
sound, and Younge’s wide-ranging works make for a dark, gritty soundbed.
The sounds pop crisply beneath evenly measured flows, both from the
album’s leading man and a host of very capable guests, creating harmony.

The rich soul sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s is
repurposed by Premier with deft chops to create a stage that allows
Royce Da 5’9” to be the lyrical exhibitionist he is. He balances
cadences and routinely flips schemes from the opening tip on the title
track: “Me and Chris we veterans, but when youngins call you vet / You
start to feel like Hardaway with that UTEP, two step / They come in the
league like A.I with they new look and that crossover / move, and they
make that old shit seem useless”. On “Microphone Preem,” he showcases
his signature charm and matches it with insane assonance like, “But all
jokes aside like I ordered fries / I’m liable to store somebody’s corpse
in the closet, I’m organized / Before police was interrogatin’, I was
livin’ the story of my life / And Morgan Freeman was narratin’.” Royce
is a student of rap with a natural gift, and when partnered with one of
the greatest producers of all-time he is in rare form, even by his lofty
standards.

Rap history plays a major role in the framing of PRhyme,
shaping its sound and its texture — to quote Royce, the project was made
to “make Hip Hop history” —  and this intrinsic “throwback” quality
makes it simultaneously endearing and sometimes remarkably out of touch.
On the lead single, “Courtesy,” the Detroit emcee is both incredibly
self-aware (“I used to rap about death; now I’m only concerned to live /
I value relationships — still, I keep it competitive / Chances are if
you see throw the match it ain’t to lose the fight it’s to walk away
from a burning bridge”) and incredibly disconnected (he condemns radio
success as a breach of uncompromising Rap ethics like he wasn’t a part
of “Lighters” or DJ Premier didn’t make a song with Limp Bizkit) all at
once. “You Should Know” is a lecture on what should be consider
substandard. There are features from third eye rappers Jay Electronica
and Ab-Soul.
The whole thing is a monument to Rap’s idealized past. At times it
reads like an act of aggression, like Rap classism. Both Royce and
Premier know what they are and they must play to their strengths. But
even then, at times, PRhyme is limited by its closed-mindedness.

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 That isn’t to say that PRhyme isn’t a marvel that
begets nostalgia and recalls some of the best qualities of classic Rap
music. When most in sync, PRhyme is a hive mind conjuring up projections
of the past, a well oiled machine producing a brand of ‘90s Rap
revivalism that never sounds dated. When Royce Da 5’9” raps alongside
ScHoolboy Q and Killer Mike
(who stands on all the same Rap principles as Royce, but with a more
inclusive attitude) on the brilliant “Underground Kings” he is
comfortably right at home. He raps with swagger: “They call me The Benz
Owner / I put Lorenzos on it / Then go and pick your chick up in it and
friend zone her.” There are punches set up perfectly, many of which
unfold over several bars, some of which — like a gun bar from “U Looz”
that references The Expendables cast — would transition perfectly as
filler in a battle. “To Me, To You” peppers schemes with bits of
double-time. The entire project is a testament to great, knotty Rap,
even when dismissive of the modern rap climate. Together with one of the
architects of Hip Hop, one of the most gifted technicians ever curates
an album that doesn’t compromise. PRhyme can be closed off to the Rap of today, but their rendition of the Rap of yesteryear will always have a place in any era.