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Detroit rapper Royce feels like he's in his prime

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Halfway through "PRyhme," his new project with DJ Premier, Royce da 5'9" raps that "I used to rap about death, now I'm only concerned to live."

And life is as good as it's ever been for the veteran Detroit MC.

Clean and sober for the past two years, Royce -- real name Ryan Montgomery -- is producing at a heady clip. Still enjoying the profile bump from "Hell: The Sequel," his chart-topping 2011 collaboration with Eminem as Bad Meets Evil, Royce is maintaining his own career as well as being a member of the all-star rap group Slaughterhouse. The quartet has two new tracks on the "Shady XV" compilation from Eminem's label, and Royce was point man for the all-star anthem "Detroit vs. Everybody," corralling the likes of Eminem, Big Sean, Danny Brown, Trick Trick and others into the track.

And this week he launches PRhyme, a fresh project with another longtime collaborator, DJ Premier Gang of Starr fame.

He's busy and successful, and Royce says he isn't taken any of it for granted.

"I'm at a point in my life where I'm turning a little bit of a corner," acknowledges Royce, 37, who's also survived feuds with the late rapper Proof and his group, D12, as well as a one-year prison sentence for DUI in 2006. "I don't drink anymore, and there's a lot of changes that I made. I just decided I wanted clarity in life in order to be able to focus on my music."

And with PRhyme -- pronounced "prime" -- Royce is comfortable, and even proud, to be rapping clearly and transparently about his status.

"Y'know, you can't really feel like you're in your prime and honestly look yourself in the mirror and feel like you're in your prime and reaching your full potential if you're allowing yourself to be distracted by all this different (stuff)," Royce explains. "So I'm clear-headed, 100 percent clear on my business, and I just feel sharp as a track.

PRhyme, whose self-titled debut album comes out Tuesday, Dec. 9, is just the latest team-up between Royce and Premier (real name Christopher Martin), dating back to the late 90s and includes the rapper's 2002 album "Rock City (Version 2.0)" and his 2007 comeback mixtape "The Bar Exam." "We've had a long, long working relationship," Royce says, "and we've always said to ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity, we would do something together, some type of full-length project. Once I started seeing a lot of success with Slaughterhouse and Bad Meets Evil and my solo stuff, it brought us to the point where it made sense for us to just form a group."

The third component of PRhyme is Adrian Younge, a composer and producer who's worked with Jay Z and Ghostface Killah, among others, and whose old school musical sensibilities -- "He pulls from the era of 1968 to 1973, which he feels is the golden era of recording," Royce says -- provided original music for Royce and Premier to sample and blend with their contemporary approaches.

"it's probably one of the most exciting things I've had an opportunity to work on," Royce says of the nine-song set, which features guest appearances by Slaughterhouse, Killer Mike, Mac Miller, fellow Detroiter Dwele and others. "It's not, like, five different producers with five different scattered sounds; it's one cohesive sound, and it's raw hip-hop -- beats, rhymes and scratches, content and lyrics. That's the foundation of hip-hop."

PRhyme will make its live debut on Monday, Dec. 8, in New York, and Royce says the duo plans to tour starting in February. And the rapper promises we'll be hearing more from this particular group in the future. "We can do whatever we want to, whenever we want to do it," he says. "We've got our own money. We don't need a label. We don't need anything. We basically just play it by ear, and we're just having fun with it."

Royce has plenty of other musical endeavors to enjoy, however. He says that after spending much of the year on their own work, the members of Slaughterhouse are "about 60 to 70 percent done" with the follow-up to 2012's "Welcome to Our House," with plans to finish it up in early 2015 for release possibly later in the year. The group's two "Shady XV" tracks, "Y'All Already Know" and "Psychopath Killer," were plucked from sessions for the new album, in fact.

And Royce is sure we haven't heard the last of Bad Meets Evil, which also recorded a new track, "Vegas," for "Shady XV."

"When we got together to do that the only thing (Eminem) and I spoke about was how fun it was to be able to get back in again and challenge each other," Royce says. "It's always fun, and there's nothing to plan; it's just a built-in thing that's already there, so we don't really discuss it. If there's an opening and it's meant to happen, it will happen, I guarantee you that."

"Thing normally turn out for me that way," Royce continues. "They go great for me when I don't over-think them. If I just allow things to happen and I go in with a clear head and jsut focus on the art form and let everything fall where they may, they work out very well for me.

"It's taken me a long time to learn that, but that's my complete focus right now."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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