Eminem and Royce Da 5'9'' reunite for new 'Bad Meets Evil' EP
At the time, Eminem was the underground hero made good when the term "underground" didn't need to be put in scare quotes. He was a battle-scarred Rap Olympics and Scribble Jam vet who had clawed his way onto the Interscope roster and managed to become both America's sweetheart and national nightmare. Songs such as "My Name Is" and "The Real Slim Shady" cemented his spot as a pop sensation and guest spots on the "Soundbombing" compilation and Sticky Fingaz's record secured his status as an expert at making big records without selling out.
In the early '00s, Slim Shady began introducing D12, his crew of Detroiters that included local hero Proof, well-known producer-rapper Kon Artis (Mr. Porter) and diaper-rocking weirdo Bizarre. Boosted by an Eminem cameo, the group's "Purple Pills" cracked the top 20 of the Billboard charts.
At the time, Detroit also boasted several other hip-hop artists making noise, most notably the members of Slum Village and a rapper in his early 20s named Royce Da 5'9". Born Ryan Montgomery, the MC quickly gained a rep off the strength of the stellar "Bad Meets Evil," the only non-Dr. Dre guest spot on Eminem's debut. Along with the "Scream"-sampling "Scary Movie," Royce catapulted to the shortlist of rappers good enough to best Eminem in head-to-head competition.
He became a staple in the studio with Shady -- famously doing ghostwriting work on "Chronic 2001" (hear the Royce-penned "The Way I Be Pimpin,' which ultimately became "Xxplosive.") He was even on the original version of the now-classic Eminem and Jay-Z collaboration "Renegade."
However, a falling out with Dre, Eminem and D12 soon found Royce barred from the gates of Aftermath. He released a spate of albums and mixtapes throughout the 2000s, including the cult classics "Death Is Certain" and "The Bar Exam 2," but none failed to have much commercial impact. But over the last 24 months, Montgomery has raised his profile by joining the battle rap super-group Slaughterhouse, which recently signed to Eminem's Shady Records.
The rapproachment between the two longtime friends reflects a strategy that almost reflects the "one for you, one for me" approach of Hollywood actors who make big budget movies to support their yearning for more artful underground fare. His most recent record, "Recovery," found him making pop moves that he would've deemed unthinkable in his younger and wilder days. Yet such moves as signing Slaughterhouse and doing an album with Royce reveal that the rapper born Marshall Mathers hasn't fully repudiated his past, that he's anxious to preserve his raw roots even as 40 creeps closer.
The EP is tentatively slated for a June release, and whether or not it's any good is obviously to be determined. But it's hard to dislike the idea of two great rappers and longtime friends heading into the studio in the hopes of recapturing the rare chemistry they once had. At least, we can be almost certain that this record won't have any Pink guest spots.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times