Every region has its premier rhyme spitters that are feared by opponents and worshipped by fans. Judging from their promotional EP, Cleveland’s Rime Royal must have their city pretty much sewn up. As soon as I say it, I’ll have a dozen locals mail me how Cleveland has much better rappers to offer than Rime Royal. If we just would all allow ourselves to be impressed every now and then, you wouldn’t hear about ‘haters’ in every other rap song.

Originally known as Ripsquad, partners Furious and Speed got together in 1995, released a 12″ called “Ice Water” in 1998 and the full-length CD “IllaGodz” in 1999. Gradually leaving their battling days behind, they were looking for a name more in tune with their artistic growth. Thus Rime Royal was born.

They still got a jones for ripping shit apart, that’s why “The Royalties” comes complete with the requisite set of battle rhymes. Employing highly recognizable flows, Rime Royal bring the pain on cuts like “Down & Dirty” and “Lights Out”. And they ain’t too stingy to share either, welcoming guests on both tracks. It’s debatable what makes a good battle rhymer, but Furious drops a clue in “Lights Out”: “We both rhymin’, it’s only me shinin’ – the key is timin’.” Indeed these two are well versed in making their words have a proper effect on you. For lack of a better reference, Rime Royal could be compared to Punch & Words. But especially Speed has a lot more going on in his flow. I believe it’s called charisma. His partner Furious might use a more straightforward rhyme scheme and score more points line for line, but Speed is the type of rapper that has a personality that accommodates the listener. Which is a rare quality indeed.

While battle raps are always fun, they don’t measure up to a thought-provoking song. “Freedom Writers Pt. II”, laced with the Common line “fightin’ for freedom, writin’ for freedom,” is a carefully crafted track divided into two parts, the first more poetic, the second more determined. Producer TIX lines up everything from percussion and ethereal singing to scratches, and it all falls into place. On top of that, Rime Royal got the lyrics to compliment the conscious vibe:

“I scribble ‘freedom’ on a page and then I burn it in flames
from the ashes it’ll appear on your skin like David Blaine
I speak my mind like Coltrane speak with the tenor sax
you intolerant to lactose facts, I’m similac
cause my word is the truth, and if you need it translated
come and see me if you wanna get free and emancipated”

The same type of revolutionary urgence is felt on “Ready Now”. While a choir of children chants the title, Furious spits:

“I had dreams of bein’ free but got visions of me in prison
they yellin’ “Free Furious!” writing, signing petitions
Me and Peter Tosh wailing out: “Fuck the police!” and
me and Fred Hampton lampin’, I’m smokin’ that old reefer
Got the soul of a dreamer, the appearance of a soldier
I cold crush and I’m cold-blooded with cold shoulders
I square up and box you with the microphone in my hand
and everybody in the crowd can hear every blow as it lands”

Rime Royal further prove they’re movers and shakers with “Motion”, where they take up the most noble task of an M.C.: moving crowds. In a live environment, they might succeed, but on CD these tracks (both produced by Furious) lack that special punch that the opening “Theme Music” packs, where the MC’s rap to a calm but confident beat strolling along.

Rounding out the “Royalties” experience are two cuts that couldn’t be more different. “A Girl Named Nikki” pays tribute to Too $hort’s classic “Freaky Tales” format, while “Circle of Life (Reborn)” shows how hard it is to break the vicious circle of fathers and sons continually getting caught up in street life.

Since there’s always room for improvement, Rime Royal might start right at the end, as some of the tracks could do with a few finishing touches. While they do that, gearing up for next year’s “Dynamic” LP, you’re invited to download “The Royalties” for free at DeepThinka Records.

Rime Royal :: The Royalties EP
6.5Overall Score