Finally arriving with a full-length after appearing on records with Eminem, Dr. Dre, Method Man, DJ Premier, and even Willa Ford, Royce da 5'9" makes the most of his growing exposure on Rock City [Version 2.0]. The disc was meant for release in 2000, but after label intervention and multiple problems with the final product, it took a massive overhaul of the tracks and production to arrive at the final version of Rock City, hence the subtitle [Version 2.0]. But the wait was worth it, as Eminem's old hype-man steps out of his friend's shadow on the awesome tracks here. Boasting a voice like vintage LL Cool J but without the grit, Royce tells intriguing tales of self-reflection that have become a staple of Detroit MCs. His smooth delivery is complemented by the liquid funk production, carrying his vocals over a bed of bouncing beats and sensual synths courtesy of DJ Premier and the Neptunes, among others. The rollicking hometown anthem "Rock City" includes Eminem on the snappy chorus, but the verses are pure Royce as he waxes philosophical his role in the Motor City scene. The funky "Mr. Baller" brings the Clipse and Pharrell Williams into the picture, and Royce holds his own and more against the production mastermind and his protégés. And "Boom" was fantastic as a single, but the new album version reveals what a multi-layered masterpiece DJ Premier put together for the Detroit MC. But most tracks don't necessarily stand out on Rock City; instead they act more as a pieces of a complete picture of an MC that is still actively connected to the underground. From the beats to his rhyming style, Royce rarely attempts to do anything that resembles commercial rap. The awesome "Take His Life" is a perfect example; the harsh beat and sparse piano samples carry Royce's thoughtful defense of his murder fantasies with an eerie clarity, but despite being one of the best songs on the album, it could never survive as a single. This is rarely a detriment, although a few tracks suffer from being indistinct because of his attitude towards hooks and poppy touches. But when the songs are as powerful as "Soldier's Story," it's hard to argue with his method. Royce had been unfairly labeled as an Eminem creation in the past, but Rock City [Version 2.0] reveals an exciting voice that has little in common with his former running buddy. Instead, he brings the underground to the mainstream and crafts an album that isn't perfect, but is an endearingly gruff, dense, and promising debut.
AllMusic Review by Bradley Torreano