Royce 5’9 Speaks About Ownership & How It Divided Slaughterhouse
Royce 5’9 has found success as a gold-selling major label artist as well as an independent stalwart. After 25 years in the professional Rap space, the Detroit, Michigan MC has been acquiring his catalog. Over the last seven years, Nickel Nine has also released some of the best music of his career—independently, and without any compromise. That is evident on his latest release, The Heaven Experience, a six-song EP that features Redman.
This month, Royce spoke to Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast about why owning his art matters so much. He also explained why understanding value is very important, and often subjective to the individual artist. “A lot of times, you can be having a conversation, as an influential person and not be knowing how much that that’s worth. And then somebody can come in with a little bit more wisdom than you with a couple dollars, and put value on it—and can put you in a position where they can collect off it and give you what’s left. And what’s left of that may be more than you had, so you look at it like a come-up.”
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Royce described his desire to become an owner. “I’ve never heard of anybody being a part of something [of] having to give their life to something that somebody else has ownership of, and that person be happy in that situation. I don’t care of it’s a lease on a house, a lease on a car; it’s just always easier when you can make decisions. You can make decisions and do stuff. Because it’s hard to stay on the same page with people. I went in partnerships with people, and sometimes you just grow in different directions. And that affects you.”
The artist then compared fallout of ownership to the end of a marriage. “Divorce is just one big disagreement in ownership. Two companies [are] going in two different directions, and now you’re trying to figure out who gets what. Often times, you can’t agree on it and you’ve got to find a mediator who’s gonna relegate things. When you own whatever you’re a part of, it just cuts all of that out—whatever may come up. Back in the days, it was the label taking your master [recording] and putting it on soundtracks without having to talk to you, or putting it on those late-night [music compilation] infomercials.”
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5’9 said that he refuses to accept what past generations considered “standard practice” in the artist/label business dynamic. “Things become standard in a moment when the people in the moment are signing those pieces of paper don’t have an idea of how to fully utilize their talent and get the most out of it. Like, you just look at your left and your right and go, ‘well, he signed it, he signed it so it must be okay.'” What’s The Headline explained that business practices are changing, as technology changes. The conversation moved to describe Dres and Black Sheep’s $750 million lawsuit against Universal Music Group surrounding streaming royalties.
At 11:00 in the clip, Royce was asked how much ownership had to do with the 2022 events surrounding Slaughterhouse. KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz released a two-man Slaughterhouse-themed project the same week the four founding members had an online argument. During the time, the four founders revealed that Slaughterhouse had asked to leave Eminem’s Shady Records, and now owned elements that allowed for a group relaunch. “I don’t want to speak for anybody else, but value of ownership in that moment was the most important thing to me, besides the brotherhood,” responded Royce. “I had a vision, and a lot of my visions were rooted in being excited about the newfound ownership in that moment, which came from us asking for a release from the label—Shady [Records]—and being granted that release. So that was done. So we had it. Outright. Done.”
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Royce said that all four members owned equal 25% stakes of the group’s artistic property. “We hadn’t been able to say that since the first eOne album. So after all we had been through, Joe [Budden’s] success in the content space, his understanding of ownership, the value of it, his history of doing—not just one deal, but many kinds of deals.” Having done up-front deals in the past, Royce said he understood other opportunities. “We’ve also been in a situations where we’ve been fortunate enough to find out what it feels like to reap the benefits of back-end money. So we’ve seen it both ways. So now, it’s like, at this point in our careers, do we want to just do a record deal? We can talk about it; it’s something to discuss. But knowing that you have options, and talking through those options, and figuring out what works best for everybody isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do when you have people involved that aren’t communicating as well as others that are involved. We’ve had our most success as a group when we’ve been able to communicate through things. We’ve had many disagreements; there’s never been a time where somebody wasn’t having [an issue] with somebody [else]. So Crooked’s issue with Joe, this is not a new thing.”
In March 2022, things got heated online over several weeks. But Royce alleged that those public conversations could’ve been handled previously, in private. “Our last few conversations as a unit to discuss business is when I feel like any issues should’ve been brought to the table. They were not.” The Michigan MC says there were productive conference calls between the four MCs. “Those conversations put me in a certain mood just in terms of the way that I’m looking at my brand and what my next moves are gonna be. We were having really in-depth discussions on relaunching the brand, relaunching the site, relaunching merch—a lot of other things to consider outside of just making the album.” The group was discussing plans surrounding its unreleased third album, Glass House, as well as possible studio and producer collaboration plans.
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“When everything kinda came to a head is when [KXNG Crooked and Joell Ortiz] put out the project, The Rise & Fall Of Slaughterhouse. That project was basically them making an announcement to the world that Slaughterhouse was over. My reaction to that, to answer to that—to answer your question—my overall outlook on ownership and the importance of it—played a huge role in why I reacted to it that way. That was one element, and the other element was just feeling betrayed—the brotherhood being mishandled. For whatever reason. It happens. And when it happens on a public forum, and it gets done in such a public, loud, whistle-blow, pull-the-trigger-type way, when you do stuff like that, there’s gonna be a reaction.” Royce also reflected on that situation. “I’m not necessarily proud of the way I handled it. I’m working on being more in control of my emotions. But it’s very hard to treat this sh*t like it’s just business, because it’s not.” He added, “Anything I do in the artistic space, I’m always gonna have an emotional investment in it. That’s kinda like the same place that I pull from when I’m actually creating it. So how can I not be attached to it?”
At the end of the clip, Royce pointed to a specific band-mate and friend. “I’m still disappointed in Crook. I still just think that his actions and the way that he handled that was just not characteristic of the way that I’m he’s shown me over the years. It was a letdown. I felt betrayed, and I felt let down. I feel like I understand the way that he feels, in terms of like with Joe; I’ve never asked Crooked to feel differently about Joe. I’ve never done that with any of ’em. I can’t tell you how to feel; I can’t tell you how things should affect you. How you feel is how you feel. You tell me how you feel. And my job, as your friend—and a lot of times, the mediator [is] to be as fair and objective as possible. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do; I’ve never taken any one’s side. Ever. But just in terms of relationship, me and Crook’—well, my perception was—me and Crook’ were closer than any of us. I consider all of ’em friends, but me and Crook’ just talked more frequently—especially during the pandemic. So a lot of my reaction was a personal reaction. It was being hurt on the personal side.”
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#BonusBeat: The full Royce 5’9 interview: