Death Contemplation 2: Death is Certain Album Review

To summarize my understanding of the album up in one sentence: It is a contemplative self-reflection by Royce based on his experiences growing up in Detroit pursuing an independent hip-hop artist profession.

Given the album title I expected Death to play a prominent role in the piece and I was not disappointed. A pleasant discovery I made while annotating the lyrics on paper was that Royce used Death in two different contexts-professional and personal. 

The profession context led Royce to reflect on his impending Death as a music artist. Hip-hop frequently produces “one-hit” wonders that have their moment in the limelight and quickly vanish into a blackhole. Royce in his song “T.O.D.A.Y.” asks his fans will that be his fate as well? He struggles to cope with the fact the media and fans can metaphorically kill his career at any moment.

[Pre-Hook: Ingrid Smalls]
If I was to die today
Would you pick me up because I'm down and out?
Na, na, na

[Hook: Royce ]
"T" represents the time when my hope fades
"O" is just a sign on my mind on my broke days
"D" is for the dangerous way that the flow stray
"A" represents the answer to the question I'm askin'
"Y" is it today I should (die)
- Royce Da 5'9", "T.O.D.A.Y."


Preface: This is the second post of a ten part series where I explore the contemplation of death through art, philosophy and spirituality. I am hoping to achieve two things with this work: (1) a better appreciation of life by fully accepting Death-the only certain event in our lives-and (2) to experience the Deathless described by the Buddha.

To call Royce Da 5'9" just a hip-hop artist or rapper is a huge disservice to his work. When I think of Royce I actually think of several labels before rapper: storyteller, wordsmith, philosopher. Royce is a Detroit based rapper who has been producing independent music for 25 years. This post will summarize my review of Royce's 2004 album titled DEATH IS CERTAIN.

Before I go any further I would like to say I had some difficulty in reviewing the album because I am not used to reading imaginative literature. Since I can't say I fully understand the entire album at the point, I am not going to waste time in criticizing it. Instead I will try to summarize the work and explore the themes that resonated with me.

[Pre-Hook: Ingrid Smalls]
If I was to die today
Would you pick me up because I'm down and out?
Na, na, na

[Hook: Royce ]
"T" represents the time when my hope fades
"O" is just a sign on my mind on my broke days
"D" is for the dangerous way that the flow stray
"A" represents the answer to the question I'm askin'
"Y" is it today I should (die)
- Royce Da 5'9", "T.O.D.A.Y."

Thankfully, Royce rises above the impending death of his music career by de-coupling his motivation for the art from the validation and accolades he receives for his work.

"I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining' me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for I
I do this music for me, I take time and put pride in it
This music is me, it's no ruining me
I'm the truest MC, as hot as you need me to be, as cool as can be
If you was true as me, then this for you, but I do it for me"
- Royce Da 5'9", “I & Me”

As we reach the end of the album, Royce’s contemplation of Death fittingly focuses more on his own personal morality.

"Everybody goes
Why all you front? The big picture stays the same
You can change the frame all you want
You can pretend all you wanna pretend
It's all gon' violently come to an end
Everybody goes
Die soldiers, try to live for the moment
We all borrow tomorrow, this is what God hones us
The biggest Indian giver, he gon' take it back
Erase you, I'm statin' facts to everybody"
- Royce Da 5'9", Everybody goes

"Death is certainly gon' catch you
Whoever special to you will be left hurt
This is the cold, harshness of life
Just when it unfolds, you lucky to grow old, life"
- Royce Da 5'9", Death is Certain Pt. 2 (It Hurts)

My takeaways: I really enjoyed the album and appreciate Royce for discussing an unpopular topic in a mainstream media.

Reviewing his album has helped set a good foundation for me to take this topic even further. In future posts I want to explore how contemplating on the inevitability of death can create the motivation to search for the miraculous: a meaningful life.

Thanks for reading and please check of the album on any of the streaming platforms!
Royce Da 5'9" - Death is Certain