For an artist with only one full-length to his name and no substantial commercial success to date, Royce da 5'9" went through a lot of rap-star drama, enough to fill his second, Death Is Certain, to the brink with his thoughtful reflections. It's a very personal album, shadowed heavily by his much-publicized beef with the Shady Records camp. If you don't know the story, here it is in brief: once billed as the next big thing from Detroit, following Eminem's breakthrough, Royce went from someone to no one as his big label deal with Columbia fell through, followed by an ugly war with Eminem and company that culminated in July 2003 with a street fight that got both him and D12 member Proof arrested and booked with concealed weapons charges. Royce thankfully has moved on and put aside his beef, for the most part at least. There's not a pointed dis to be found here (sans a few subversive ones about someone whose "wife is sniffin'"), just a lot of well-produced tracks with a refreshingly optimistic outlook. In fact, Royce sounds a lot like Cormega circa The True Meaning (2002) -- a talented, once-hyped rapper looking to get his career back on track after a fruitless war that had unfortunately sidetracked him and left him empty-handed. Like The True Meaning, Death Is Certain is a solid, lucid album chock-full of personal insight and forward-looking. As such, it's cathartic -- Royce has a lot of frustration to vent, and he does so at length here, reestablishing his once-lauded credentials in the process: "Beef" and "Bomb 1st" are seemingly conclusive epilogues to his war with Shady ("I'm against all this name-calling sh*t"), "I Promise" and "T.O.D.A.Y" are humble musings of self-awareness ("Am I a young MC or a one-hit wonder?"), and "Throw Back" and "Hip Hop" are mission statements of integrity (the latter another on-point DJ Premier production). There's nothing lighthearted about this album -- it's dead serious from beginning to end, accentuated all the more by Carlos "6 July" Broady's chilly throwback beats, which grace roughly half the album. In the end, Death Is Certain is certainly an underground album for the heads, one that's intended to clear the smoke and set the stage for the big comeback.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Ingrid Smalls