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“FROM HOT SIXTEENS’ TO MULTIPLE STREAMS”

Interview with Rhyme Majesty, Jay Royale

BY HAIKEEM STOKES

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This exquisitely sunny, yet crisp mid-morning finds me traveling the scenic route from the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection to Charm City for an interview with ferocious lyricist, Jay Royale. The similarities between Philadelphia and Baltimore neighborhoods are truly uncanny to say the least. Areas of east and west Baltimore City strongly resemble south and north Philadelphia, which may be the reason Baltimore felt like home to me from my very first visit too many moons ago.

Hip hop is somewhat the same in many instances, whereas it’s vastly the same yet different from the days of my early adolescence, but it contains the same context and relevance. Most songs are heavily criticized by the older generation, and there’s a rebellious tone to most pieces, and style/culture is dictated according to the artist. But no matter what label is attached to rap music or drastic measures come with its evolution, there’s always some familiar element within hip hop that attracts us to it.

The Young King and I are meeting for brunch at Miss Shirley’s Café, which is nestled in the city’s Roland Park section. Upon arrival, Jay Royale’s brilliant smile greets me at the door as if to say, Welcome to Baltimore, the greatest city in America. As we exchange pleasantries, we proceed inside and are lead to our table. I order a Maryland omelet, and he gets a garden omelet.

After a few sips of cranberry juice, I ask, “Where were you born?”

Jay Royale sips his ice water then responds, “I hail from East Baltimore. I grew up around East Belvedere Avenue, a block hidden behind Eastern Parkway; for all intents and purposes, they consider that more or less Northeast Baltimore. We also lived on Swartz Avenue. I consider that area to be my essence because it taught me how to navigate through life. One of the earliest lessons I learned was to keep your mouth shut and yours eyes open.”

“How was it growing up in Baltimore?”

After consuming a fork full of his garden omelet, he wipes his mouth then responds, “It was exceptional. My city has always been the same, whereas it pulls no punches, and for this, I love it dearly. Being an 80’s baby, I grew up in a time of discovery. Rap was getting radio airplay, music videos were becoming popular, and video game systems were coming out. There were BMX bikes, remote-controlled cars, and very active imaginations. If the water plug was on, we’d race Popsicle sticks down the gutter. Or, if your best friend didn’t have a bike, you’d let him stand on the pegs of your wheels so you two could ride out. I love the era that I came up in. It was a phenomenal time in history for so many reasons, and I got to live it firsthand.

“What’s your most fond memory of that particular period as it pertains to rap?”

“Being downtown on Baltimore Street around a place called Crazy John’s for those legendary cyphers! Friday nights were like the Mecca of everything, meaning your gear had to be fresh, originality was a must, and your rhymes had to be impeccable. At that time, only the most talented cats congregated there. It seemed like once the Job Corps buses unloaded there and the last dude from around the way pulled up, it was on! What amazed me the most was when I saw the gangsters, hustlers, and players getting down, too. I would’ve never figured that was in their repertoire, but apparently it was. Many thanks to this older brother name Rasheed, who felt my rhymes and pushed me to step into the cypher my first time, which is what made me believe I could rock with the best. Also, O-Goon for holding me down for the first time in studio sessions and shows. And last but certainly not least, Dirt Platoon for showing me love and letting me see that Baltimore brothers can make an impact worldwide.” 

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 “Considering I’m an 80’s baby, the cats that wowed me around the time that I was getting on are AZ, Nas, Sean Price, Big Pun, and Ghostface Killah. I do have to give honorable mention to Big L because he was incredible. Those dudes said things that people are still trying to figure out to this day. I think those individuals were serious about their craft.”

“What is the very first rhyme that caught your ears?”

To my surprise, Jay Royale replies, “To be perfectly honest, the first rap that I paid attention to as a child was Run DMC’s, “Christmas In Hollis.” I forget the name of the show, but it was an annual special on television, and when they performed, that did it for me. The way they rocked on the mic and had control over the crowd was incredible to me. It wasn’t so much what they said, but how they delivered it. Seeing that as a kid made me believe I could do that, too, because they looked like cats I saw around the way. I believe that hip hop’s relatable for that reason. I also remember rocking out to basically any rap that was in a movie at the time. Most rappers back then became huge by having their song on a movie’s soundtrack; if they appeared in the movie, then their popularity became global at the time. Cats claim that they didn’t listen to this rapper or that rapper, but you didn’t have much choice but to rock with them because their songs were everywhere.”

“How did your particular style come to be?”

“Just from studying myself and wanting to present the best production of me to the masses. I didn’t strive to be the second coming of this one or a duplicate of that one; the goal has always been to be the best Jay Royale I can be. In saying that, I do strongly believe in paying homage to those who came before me, but I gotta be me.”

“What motivates your style?”

“When I want to write or have ideas, I’ll hop on a cross-town bus and bang something crazy in my earbuds then zone out. By the end of the ride, I usually have a masterpiece all created by the world outside my window.”

“How did you and Ill Conscious meet, and did you all ever think of becoming a duo?”

“One time, I went to a citywide rap contest just to observe fellow Baltimore MC’s, and Ill actually won that night. Afterwards, I approached him just to congratulate the brother, and he said he knew who I was and that he liked my style, too. From there, we just connected. We respected how each other was moving and supported one another accordingly from then on. We’re unofficially a duo called The Tutelage.”   

After taking an intermission to devour the rest of our vittles, we continued this session with the question,

“For the sake of argument, who are your top 5 lyrical MC’s?”

 “Considering I’m an 80’s baby, the cats that wowed me around the time that I was getting on are AZ, Nas, Sean Price, Big Pun, and Ghostface Killah. I do have to give honorable mention to Big L because he was incredible. Those dudes said things that people are still trying to figure out to this day. I think those individuals were serious about their craft.”

 

 

“Give the world a peek into The Baltimore Housing Project and The Ivory Stoop.”

Brother Royale flashes his gold fronts then offers,

“I’m very proud of the work I put into both of these efforts. The Ivory Stoop was up first, which is a metaphor for hip hop itself. Like ivory stoops back in the day were status symbols more or less, whereas you exhibited great pride in yours. People would wash it down every week and properly maintain theirs, but eventually the next generation or two just took it as a thing and didn’t treat it special. Each song is like a movie so to speak.

When you listen to it, just sit back, close your eyes, and it will literally take you on a lyrical tour throughout the heart of Baltimore. Now, The Baltimore Housing Project is a play on words as well; it give folks a perspective of something more. It also gives you a bird’s eye view of what is seen for better or for worse in the gritty city that’s not always so pretty, yet at times it is.”

“How did you come about working with Griselda?”

“Me and my squad went to a show and casually approached them afterwards, and after busting it up for a long while, we agreed to do multiple projects. Real definitely recognized real on that chance meeting, and those brothers kept it a hundred with us. No matter how large their movement becomes, they still show mad love, and we respect them for that and all of the jewels they dropped to help keep our movement strong.”

“How did the From Baltimore, With Love Tour come about?”

“That was a brainstorm of the brother Greenspan. That was actually his baby, and he brought me and Ill Conscious along after he and I had a few conversations. Everything happened just that fast. We only got to do Philly on that tour before Ill was called to tour in Europe for a few weeks, and the opportunity came up for me to begin The Ivory Stoop. Now that I have two solid solo efforts under my belt, I’d love to do another tour when the world permits.”

“Finish this sentence: if it wasn’t for rap…”

“I would probably be in prison or lost somewhere in the world. Hip hop was a saving grace for me. It allowed me to become focused on something positive and let me see that there was something real in the world beyond all the negativity.”

“What does Baltimore mean to you?”

“It’s not what it is to me, but what I am to Baltimore. I love everything about it and hate everything about it simultaneously. Sometimes, I want to divorce it, and sometimes, I want to remarry it. Baltimore is absolutely everything to me, and I’m everything to it.”

“What do you like least about the rap business?”

“Disloyalty, bad business, and when folks aren’t straight up. I don’t know how you can live with yourself knowing you stifled someone’s creativity. Most folks become so disenchanted due to the trickery of this ‘business’ that their effort never sees the light of day, and that’s sad. There’s enough money out here for all of us, and you shouldn’t have to accept the pennies they throw at you. All I ask is to be paid what I’m worth.”

 

“What advice would you give a young inspiring lyricist trying to get into the game?”

“Don’t go backwards, keep applying pressure. Never dumb down your bars—whichever way you swerve your pen, let it ride. Never be afraid to be yourself, and don’t let anyone change your mind. Keep your pen game strong and read as much quality literature as possible. Eat right and stay healthy.”

Follow @JayRoyale on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Bandcamp

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Haikeem Stokes is a critically acclaimed author, poet, and journalist. A serial entrepreneur, you can shop his books and merch www.asophilabooks.com (A proud sponsor of Intellectual Ink Mag)

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