What Artists Can Learn About the Industry from this Interview with Royce Da 5'9 - De Novo Agency

What Artists Can Learn About the Industry from this Interview with Royce Da 5'9

Hip-hop heavyweight MC Royce Da 5’9 shares insights and perspectives on the evolution of the music industry, the hip-hop scene today, what it takes for a present-day artist to really make a mark and more…  

One of the biggest challenges that musicians face today – aside from the obvious one of maintaining a consistent stream of creativity – is in finding good advice and reliable information on how to make headway in the music industry.

From ill-informed well-wishers all the way to unscrupulous businesses targeting artists as ‘easy meat’, there’s a whole spectrum of dubious messages out there that are ostensibly meant to help musicians navigate the business side of music. The reality, however, is that many, if not most of these messages could mislead artists into making poor choices or even costly mistakes resulting in stagnant instead of starry careers.

Cutting through this noise (or “the b.s.”, as Elliot aptly terms it) is “Cuttin’ Thru”, a podcast hosted by Elliot Tousley of the DeNovo Agency. Cuttin’ Thru is aimed at helping musicians really make sense of the commercial aspects of music marketing, including promotion, distribution and PR. 

In this episode, Elliot invites one of the stalwarts of hip-hop, legendary Detroit MC and rap icon Royce Da 5’9 to share insights and perspectives on the evolution of the music industry, the hip-hop scene today, what it takes for a present-day artist to really make a mark and more. Royce Da 5’9 needs no introduction to hip-hop fans. From his early ‘Bad Meets Evil’ (1999), all the way through to his recent, critically acclaimed compilation, ‘The Heaven Experience’, rap lovers have been chilling to his music for over two decades.

The Cuttin’ Thru episode with guest Royce Da 5’9 is a veritable treasure chest, filled with nuggets of hard-won wisdom generously shared by an industry veteran. Readers can listen to the complete podcast on Spotify, or watch the full video on Elliot’s YouTube channel. This article condenses the most valuable ideas that emerged during the discussion into an 8-minute read for the busy artist.

At the outset, Royce describes how he landed his first record deal in the industry. After meeting with every single music label in New York and being rejected by nearly all of them, Royce shared his demo tape with friend Marshall Mathers (Eminem), at the latter’s recommendation. This led to an invitation for Royce to visit Dr. Dre’s studio, where Royce began collaborating with Dr. Dre and Eminem. When the news (inevitably) got around that Royce was working with industry biggies, he was invited to follow-up meetings with the very same labels that had earlier shown him the door. What’s more, they now expressed very positive reactions to the exact same demo tape that they had earlier passed over as unworthy of attention.

The most powerful takeaway from this story is summed up by Royce himself, who says, “This is a self-preservation business. Nobody's gonna put their sh*t on the line for you… I feel like if you can go into the situation understanding that, you won't hate it.”

Bashing record labels has become almost a fad in the world of music today. However, Royce’s advice contains real wisdom. All said and done, signing a deal with a record label still represents one of the best ways for a musician to achieve greater outreach and visibility. In approaching this goal, artists would definitely be better served by a deeper understanding of how the music business works, instead of naïvely expecting that their talent alone would make record labels eager to sign them on. 

To most fans, the name Royce Da 5’9 brings up memories of many incredible tracks and albums—“Success is Certain”, “Hell: The Sequel”, “Welcome to: Our House” and more recently, “Book of Ryan”. But whether or not a confirmed Royce fan, everyone who’s ever listened to hip-hop associates Royce with the dazzlingly brilliant ‘Bad Meets Evil’ (a collaboration with Eminem that formed part of the album “Hell: The Sequel”, released under Eminem’s label, Shady Records). When asked when and how the idea for ‘Bad Meets Evil’ was born – whether it was planned all along, or if Royce and Eminem just came up with it on the fly, Royce candidly confesses that it was just a spontaneous spark of creativity, adding, “When we [sic] recorded the song, we did it as a demo... neither one of us was thinking about signing a record deal.”

Royce’s answer is thought-provoking for many reasons, the most critical among them being that it so clearly illustrates something that all artists would do well to remember: Creativity comes first. At least, that’s how it should ideally be… many artists today are so caught up in trying to create the next viral moment, or to latch onto the latest, trending video on TikTok or Triller, that they are in danger of forgetting that the most important ingredient in success is their own, original, creative idea!

When it comes to original creativity, no one can deny that Royce Da 5’9 has it in spades. What is especially insightful, though, is Royce’s take on what makes an artist original and unique. In his opinion, “You don't have to look outside of yourself”... because, when it comes to music that resonates with an audience, “There’s no set way to do it [sic] – the key is to find your way.” Citing examples of young rappers like XXXTENTACION and NBA Youngboy, Royce reminds us of how they’ve been trendsetters, rather than followers. Driving home his point, Royce declares, “Bro, classics are not current!”

A very important part of originality and creativity, according to Royce Da 5’9… and this is so true as to be inarguable… is the need for an artist to be authentic, comfortable in his (/her/ their) own skin. The perfect examples of this, Royce suggests, are living legend Snoop Dogg and the unequaled Tupac Shakur. As Royce aptly puts it, part of what makes each of these artists outstanding is that, “he didn’t break himself up into different people”, trying to present a different image to different segments of the audience. Instead, they have stayed true to their core selves, whether they were talking to a bunch of schoolkids or addressing a circle of old ladies!

The creative process, though, is one that requires an artist to experiment, to keep trying new things, learning along the way. And in this, Royce is clear that it’s essential for an artist to be OK with failure. As he sums it up, “You gotta embrace the Ls, man... the Ls are great! You gotta take losses... that's how you learn!”

An important point brought up by host Elliot Tousley at this juncture is that, for artists who are still building their profile, it makes better sense to try their marketing experiments with music that they have already created (and released), rather than investing time, effort and money in creating new music to be used for testing. Agreeing with this, Royce observes that, “You just have to understand when it's time to focus on the consistency of releasing new music... [sic] before that step, there's a build...  you know you're at that step when people are expecting your music”.

Clearly, this industry veteran has a handle on the process involved in building a fanbase, gaining a reputation… and knows that there are no shortcuts! This is why it pays for an artist to be mindful of the platform that s/he is on, as well. Anyone who disrespects the (written or unwritten) rules of the platform on which they are playing is likely to pay the price, in terms of their standing with their fans and followers. Making this point, Royce emphasizes, “You gotta follow [sic] the ways of the world and understand how to read the room…” and adds that the old advice that ‘all press is good press’ is simply not true. It all boils down to right and wrong, as he sums it up: what is wrong is simply wrong.

By any standard, Royce Da 5’9 has enjoyed an enviable career, churning out hit after hit and working with the who’s who of hip-hop, including Eminem, Dr. Dre, Pusha T, Rick Ross, DJ Premier, Logic… the list goes on.  When asked what his wish-list looks like in terms of other artists he’d like to team up with, Royce shares what he terms his “bucket list”—rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z and Nas, with whom he hasn’t yet had an opportunity to collaborate.

But what is truly humbling is hearing Royce say that, for him, one of the greatest attractions of working with these other artists is the chance it gives him to grow, both as an artist and as a person. This is clearly very important to him, as he declares that, “If you can work on you [sic]... if you keep improving on you, then everything about you will improve, including the music.”

As the chat draws to a close after this rather profound statement, host Elliot asks if Royce has any word of advice or message he’d like to share with musicians. In parting, Royce Da 5’9 leaves readers with a strong yet succinct message. “Try to show up as your highest self everyday,” he recommends. As a mantra for success, it’s hard to beat.