In the world of hip-hop, it’s still a constant struggle with a great deal of uncertainty to stay relevant, but for Royce 5'9", his battle to stay relevant made him who he is. Born Ryan Daniel Montgomery, the veteran MC has seen his fair share of turmoil in his quarter-century career.
In Detroit, Michigan, he was first introduced to music through his parents: his father’s instrumentation and the music his mother would play when his parents argued. “My earliest memories of music were always to feel something. That was my connection to music,” the 42-year-old rapper recalls. “It was almost like I felt that was its purpose – just because of the way it got introduced to me.” Montgomery eventually displayed a certain affinity for hip-hop as his older brother would share the latest music with him; the two would rehearse their favorite records and perform them in front of their parents and family friends. Soon after, he began writing his own rhymes in his notebook, never to be seen or heard by anyone. “Maybe I was self-conscious, you never know at the very beginning,” he shares with a laugh.
After high school, he tried his hand at Detroit’s legendary Hip Hop Shop, the clothing store and rap battleground famously highlighted in 8 Mile. During the ordeal, however, Montgomery felt inferior to other rappers he was surrounded by while future Detroit icons – such as Eminem, Elzhi, Slum Village, Obie Trice, and Proof – were present to witness him getting the mic but not getting a reaction from the crowd. “I took that leap of faith, and I was almost done with rapping,” he acknowledges. Montgomery then honed his skills at an open-mic event at the Ebony Showcase Lounge, citing it as a pivotal moment in his career (“I started getting a little bit of a reaction, I started building my confidence up, I started feeling accepted, and I fell in love with it”).
The reinvigorated rapper went around, took meetings with labels, and recorded songs in New York City. After working on Dr. Dre’s 1999 album, 2001 – one of his notable writing credits to this day – his career started to take shape: a $1 million deal with Tommy Boy Records. “I had met them already, they had passed on me. I played them the same demo that they had passed on. When I played it this time, they loved it,” Montgomery adds. “At the very beginning, I wanted it all. I was shooting for it all – whatever that took, I was going to do. What I learned through that process was that anything that had me reaching wasn’t natural for me.”
Upon learning that it wasn’t his notoriety that would help him make his mark, he began carving out his own niche in hip-hop as his Tommy Boy deal dissolved. Montgomery’s latest project showcases his own self-improvement and artistic growth as a lyricist extraordinaire: The Allegory. On the album, he discusses the music industry and black history – warning young entertainers about the pitfalls of not producing quality music and teaching listeners about Sarah Baartman. “I just feel like it’s an obligation we have as OGs,” he says proudly. “It’s like a brotherhood, I want them to be of that thinking.”
Writer: Alain Clerine
Photographer & Videographer: Catherine Asanov (@catherineasanov)
Stylist: Sybs Speck
Stylist Assistant: Justin Hauffen
Men’s Grooming: Phoebe Dawson (using MAKE UP FOR EVER)
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Madre! (@madre_losangeles - madrerestaurants.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)