Royce 5’9’s Most Powerful Song Of His Career Is A Call For Solidarity & Pride
In 2018, Royce 5’9 delivered his magnum opus in the form of Book Of Ryan. That remarkable display of lyricism, personal storytelling, and song concepts culminated to a release that fans will forever use to understand one of the great MCs of the 21st century. After previously dropping the “Cocaine” video, Nickel Nine starts the 2-0-1-9 with his first new song. It builds on that momentum and shows that nearly 20 years after “Boom,” Royce’s most explosive lyrics are in the present, not the past. This unbelievable track elevates Royce’s rhyming, his writing, and his commentary all at once.
At nearly six minutes, “Field Negro” pulls zero punches. The song begins with the kind of blunt lines that made Book Of Ryan so striking. He traces the journey from poverty to fame, and how art and principles can suffer in that trajectory. Royce looks at gruesome racism in history and then brings it right to Hip-Hop. “Rob a man, kidnap him, take him for all his rights / Degrade him all his life / Rape his daughter, his wife / Nine months later, use the baby as piranha meat / We wasn’t even allowed to pray, let alone read or write / People like Cube opened up them doors, and politically-correct Negroes like you close ’em, and keep your ice.” The flow is complex, but executed perfectly.
The beat changes (as it does several times), but the motif stays the same. Nickel laughs at the industry, from its relationship with the same circles of women to false ideals of fortune and fame. Royce attacks those, especially in the Black community, sitting silently at a time to stand up for rights. While challenging others, 5’9 owns his greatness. “They said I couldn’t do it so I went out and did it, they said they gave it to me, so I ain’t ask for more / I stayed active every time a door slammed in my face, I stayed at the door / I stayed knockin’, I stayed rockin’, I did it my way! / Without all the complainin’, and all the whinin’ all day / Like Kanye and Wale / For the validation of all the bloggers, and the same gay-ass awards / F*ck y’all, and all them gay-ass awards.” Entering Grammy weekend, Royce uses barbed words to highlight his career while dismissing those who have been vocally dissatisfied.
Moments later, Royce declares, “I’m not here for the crown or Tory Lanez’ cheddar / I’m here for respect, or else / I’m willing to take off the belt / And whoop a young ni**a’s ass with it, like ‘James Evans,’” at least partly referring to a diss from the Canadian rapper late last year.
The motif returns to Royce’s poor upbringing, in a way to can apply to more than just his experiences. So many rappers come from so little, only to settle—for institutional racism, a flawed industry, and to keep the job intact. Royce lets it be known that he is one of the best at his field. He calls out false narratives in Rap, from loyalty to illusions of grandeur. The wordplay nods to JAY-Z, The Fat Boys, and Gang Starr in broad brush strokes of brilliant bars.
The beat and the thoughts change abruptly. It is as if Royce has gotten away from his point. He gets to a razor-sharp thesis. “Children is dyin’ / Women is dyin’ / We’re under attack, fool / What a time to be famous, Black, and impactful / Name somethin’ better / Then come together / As one to react to / Sh*t, we still comin’ back / From a checkered past / Like lumberjack suits / You play for the NFL, I just want to ask you / If you don’t kneel with Kap’, it’s simple math, can I run it past you?”
The flow picks up as Royce tears into racist institutions, including professional sports leagues. He raps to no drums, perhaps knowing that his bars are what pounds the listener’s ear. “I hate you ni**as / ‘Bout figgas / The misappropriation of wisdom / Got you slaves to your own alienism / To pay a few bills, house ni**a / I’d rather get hit with a patriot missile / Than to be out here with’cha exhibiting patriotism / They say a broke clock is right two times, but it’s never accurate / Truth time: Okay, bet / If some of us don’t have time, some of us have time / Some of us are performing at Halftime / Some of us boycotting Halftime / Some of us standing up, some of us sitting down / Reparations’ll never get back to us / They’ll just laugh at us / I think I found a way for you ni**as to face your truth / Go ‘head and try to trace your roots / That sh*t is rather miraculous / Dem’ ni**as took away the message / And messed with the message in it / Embellish it just to spit it / Just to sell that sh*t back to us.”
As is the case throughout the song, the series of bars ends with the crack of a whip.