Royce Da 5’9” botched his best shot at fame a decade ago, when a feud with mentor Eminem cost him his place in the Shady/Aftermath dynasty, leaving him to fend for himself on a succession of increasingly obscure independent labels. Since hitting bottom with a one-year prison sentence for a DUI in 2006, though, Royce has been living out one of rap’s great comeback stories. He recaptured his early buzz with 2009’s vital Street Hop, joined the rap crew Slaughterhouse, and most prominently, buried the hatchet with Eminem, which paved the way for their collaboration this summer as Bad Meets Evil.
Where that album felt like Eminem’s attempt to introduce an underground hero to a mass audience, Royce’s latest solo effort reassures longtime fans that his commercial instincts are as nonexistent as ever. Success Is Certain is a rapper’s showcase first and foremost, unconcerned with such formalities as logical sequencing or professional mastering, and worlds removed from Bruno Mars hooks and Top 40 production. There’s no real order to the album’s hodgepodge of gonzo battle raps and tell-all accounts of Royce’s failings and addictions, but he raps with fitful vigor over any track he’s given, whether it’s a DJ Premier banger or a Rick Rubin-esque rocker from Travis Barker. He’s the rap equivalent of the office slob with the cluttered desk who nonetheless outperforms his more systematic coworkers. Disorganized as it is, this is the environment he works best in, and Success smartly just lets him do his thing.