Published Mar 15, 2018Sunflower seeds may not spring to mind when most of us think about compelling fodder for a rap song. And yet, Royce da 5′9″ not only makes munching on that snack compelling, but also chews it into a metaphor that's downright gangsta on PRhyme 2's most irresistible song.
It doesn't hurt that the heralded Detroit MC has flavourful, drool-inducing production courtesy of his PRhyme partner, the inimitable DJ Premier. The veteran beatsmith gives "Sunflower Seeds" rattling conga-like percussion and spongy bass notes that are clearly live and oh-so vintage-sounding. That latter attribute is due to Primo's sampling of Philadelphia composer/producer Antman Wonder exclusively throughout the LP (à la his sole sampling of LA virtuoso Adrian Younge on the prior PRhyme instalment, a motif that the producer explains like a manifesto on the album's intro). But even without that gorgeous musical backdrop from Antman Wonder and Premier, Royce would be enthralling enough to make your head nod on his own, what with his nimble flow, triple entendre and inventive rhymes.
The duo may be at their best on "Sunflower Seeds," (which will go down as one of 2018's best rap tracks thanks to its clever overarching metaphor alone), but PRhyme 2 is rife with such gems. DJ Premier's instrumentals shine on tracks like "Streets At Night," (anthemic thanks to its '80s-tinged, church choir-like keys), the knocking "Rock It," (which sounds foreboding thanks to its wheezing synths and heavy slapping percussion) and "Everyday Struggle," (its smoothly elegant jazz instrumental, loungy piano, and singer Chavis Chandler's hook all exuding smoothness).
Royce, meanwhile, rises to the occasion time and again with stunning one-liners ("weed like the Koran/ Burn it and you can get stoned," on "Rock It,"), evocative imagery ("Seen a fiend so high/ I thought he caught the Holy Ghost," on "Era,") and sing-along hooks (his chorus on "My Calling," bordering on self-fulfilling prophecy).
Best of all, however, is Royce's fearless candour on "Black History," where he opens up about his parents' substance abuse, his son's autism, and more. Same goes for "Loved Ones," on which Royce and rapper de jour Rapsody go toe-to-toe and up each other's ante. It's a concept track about a deadbeat cheater breaking his lady's heart, and the two MCs have undeniable chemistry throughout — Rapsody pushing against decades of hip-hop misogyny with heart-wrenching lines that somehow eschew preachiness, while Royce's pinpoint specificity reveals a rapper woke enough to own up to years of indiscretions.
At 17 tracks, PRhyme 2 lacks the razor focus of its far shorter predecessor. That means missteps like the laughably clunky, brutally sexist "Flirt," and the plodding closer "Gotta Love It," (which is dragged down by a cloying hook from Cee-Lo Green) most certainly should've been cut. The good news is that even without Adrian Younge's luscious music to draw from, Premier has found a clearly ample replacement with the more eclectic, less retro up-and-coming composer Antman Wonder. All that, along with Royce's ambitious spitting, make PRhyme 2 a prime contender for the best hip-hop LP of 2018. (PRhyme Records/Shady Records)