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5 songs that changed Royce Da 5'9"'s life

Del Cowie

While Royce Da 5'9" spoke with CBC Music about the music that changed his life, the longtime Eminem collaborator's life has also changed his music. His latest single is a stunning affirmation of this fact.

Entitled "Tabernacle," the song from the Detroit hip-hop artist's latest album, Layers, is about the overwhelming day of Dec. 29, 1997. On that Monday, Royce was going to the hospital because his partner was in labour. Little did he know that his grandmother had been in a car accident that same day, and was in the same hospital. Amidst the emotional turmoil, Royce was contractually obligated to perform a show that night — where he met Eminem, his now longtime close friend and collaborator, for the first time. Later, he returned to the hospital to find out his grandmother had passed away and his son had been born.

Editor's note: strong language warning

"I wasn't worried how the song would be perceived, because it's such honesty and it's so true to the story," says Royce Da 5'9", describing the song. "It wasn't one of those songs that I did and I wondered to myself, 'Oh I gotta play this for someone to get their opinion. It was more so I did it and I was like all right, this one is a keeper.' This is special to me, there's no way I'm not using this song."

While the events happened almost 20 years ago, it's taken the veteran hip-hop artist until now to feel ready to discuss it on record. The main reason for the delay is because Royce is now sober after years of alcoholic abuse, and he credits Eminem, who ensured Royce received the medical help he needed to support his decision to become sober, as a pivotal person in his recovery.

"[Eminem's] a very crucial part of my life as far as my career," says Royce. "He pretty much put me in the music business and he ended up being instrumental in my sobriety. All of these things shaped me into the person that I am. It was kind of like what a big brother would do, so I will be forever grateful to have someone like that in my life who is going to push me in a positive direction."

Now, building on his veteran presence as an MC in groups like Slaughterhouse, PRhyme and Bad Meets Evil (with Eminem), Royce is focused on his solo career and being a mentor to artists drawing on his recovery experience.

"I started helping other people. I started talking about it in the music and I started doing press talking about it and I started getting feedback from people saying that it's helping them and it started making me feel better about it," Royce says. "Now I'm just like, I'm all in. It's easy for me to do and it helps me out a lot to talk it out and get it out to the universe and help people out. It's easy."

While Royce Da 5'9" is tangibly changing the lives of people he connects with, CBC Music asked him about music that changed his life. His selections are below.

Eric B. & Rakim, 'Paid in Full' (1987)

"Just his use of syllables and that monotone voice he came out with, it was my first time hearing anything like that, it was like playing all over the radio all of the time it was a huge success. I mean it just shaped me in terms of what I wanted to hear. With Rakim I started to look for things that were different."

LL Cool J, 'I'm Bad' (1987)

Royce: My dad used to have people come over, to watch the game or whatever and my dad would have me do the [video] routine for his friends. That's how well I knew it. LL was a fly MC. He took MCing to the level where girls were screaming, and that shaped me.

CBC Music: Did you have you shirt off [like LL did in the video]?

Royce: Yeah, I did. We were kids so [my abs] were cut up by default. I was an athletic kid.

Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)

"The whole album changed my life because I was closer to when I wanted to be an artist and sonically what they did on that album — it was like nothing I had ever heard. I know [Dr. Dre] was pulling from the whole P-funk era but it just hit way harder. It hit way harder than any P-funk music and it hit way harder than any hip-hop music. It was the first time I heard just live instrumentation on a hip-hop album. I think [Dr. Dre] changed the landscape of rap with that album. It just changed my life because it made me start realizing that I'm starting to know what I'm hearing sonically. I'm learning to differentiate what I'm hearing in terms of sound, not just lyrics and bars."

Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982)

"The Thriller album is, in my opinion, in the top three of albums ever recorded, period. You can't really skip a song. [Michael] and Quincy [Jones] captured a moment, man. Lightning in a bottle. It just came in at the right time. There's a reason that it's transcended so many generations; it's timeless. It never sounds old. It doesn't sound like the '80s. You know sometimes when you hear something and its sounds like the '80s or '90s 'cause it matches the sound back then. Michael's shit don't sound like that, bro. His shit just sounds like it's supposed to be there forever. It changed my life as it's the soundtrack to anything. It can take you back to any memory at any age, you know what I'm saying? That album can take you back to any time.

Busta Rhymes, 'Woo Hah!! (Got You All in Check)' (1997)

"That was the first time that I heard someone come with a delivery that was animated that had so many colours to it, while still being lyrical at the same time. [Busta] was like a personality within his lyrical style, he was like a character, but it wasn't corny and he came with all the crazy suits and stuff. Busta was just like a one of one. You hear it, you can't really duplicate it. You can copy it, but you can't duplicate it. That's the first and probably the last. 'Woo Hah!!' was something I used to play over and over and over. When I first got with my girl in high school, we used to ride around and listen to 'Woo Hah!!' just over and over again. I definitely don't talk about that song enough, but that song is definitely one of those ones for me."