Jay Royale interview: living Hip-Hop in the town of “The Wire”.
The East Baltimore Mc, Jay Royale told us how he grew up in the tough streets made famous by the TV series “The Wire”, how he collaborated with the Griselda crew, about his latest projects and the “renaissance” of the underground rap scene…
First of all, as we really loved your last projects,(“The Ivory Stoop” in 2018 and 2020’s “Baltimore Housing Project”), and we think MCs like you deserve more recognition we’d like to thank you for the space of this interview. Can you tell us something about your journey in the Hip-Hop scene? How did you start to fall in love with this Culture and when and how did you realize that this would have been your life?
Awww man, I really appreciate that and I’m very blessed to be here! It’s a real honor to be part of this platform! Hip hop has always been my entire life: every element of it has always played a substantial role in my upbringing, from writing rhymes during class to actually having full blown cyphers in cafeterias man! You name it I was all in it!
My participation in the actual rap scene could be a whole movie bro ! Me embodying hip hop goes far beyond a rhyme book! One day I’ll have to write a book but it’s still a work in progress lol”
Here in Italy, it’s sad to say but it was only ‘cause of “The Wire”, one of the greatest Tv series ever made, that people have started to know the city of Baltimore, and its tough reality. It was really how the series depicted , wasn’t it? Is it still like that? Can you share with us something more about this city and your life background? How was to grow up in such an environment ? How did you find your way to stay safe and escape the bigger problems?
The funny thing about “THE WIRE” is a lot of people from Baltimore actually chuckle at HBO’s depiction of the city, like none of the actors were actually from here, except one (Snoop), which was the most authentic character in the series for sure! A few local emcees and boxers made cameos as well but that’s it! The way the actors would say certain street names and other small things made us laugh a little, but it was watered down a lot!
The actual streets of Baltimore are definitely way worse than what they depicted for sure: I think being born and raised here you kinda learn the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” early on ! Knowing how and when keep your mouth shut and mind your own business is key!
I think at a younger age I was chasing the street and the crazy shit that was in them, but they will eventually slow you down or take you out …But, on God, if you can shake and move in a city like ours, you should pretty much know how to navigate through any ghetto and that’s a fact.
Sticking for a sec on Baltimore city and ‘’The Wire’’ series; I remember that time watching it. I was blown away by the episodes where the Baltimore Police, unable and failing to contain the drugs and the violence problems of the city, left a free drug dealing and assumption area, where all the fiends could go like zombies to buy crack and heroin. I don’t know if that’s the reality there, but unfortunately, here in Italy we have such areas or hoods where something similar happens.
From your experience or point of view how can we, you or the community contribute to solve these problems and offer a better future for our youth? In which way Hip-Hop culture could better help the hoods communities?
Ummmm at one point of time, in the late 80’s, we did have a mayor named Kurt Schmoke and he was trying to win the war on drugs by actually legalizing them, so creating a place like “Hamsterdam” wasn’t far fetched at all! I don’t know exactly how true it was, though! I think mostly everything about “THE WIRE” was based on actual events. And, although I feel like my city has lost the war on drugs I can say that the actual dealing of drugs itself is far from what it used to be: I think there are so many more new creative ways to create a lucrative hustle that we didn’t have as kids. So as long as we keep them focused on knowing how to create revenue with their talents I’m sure they will explore more with studios , shipping and handling merchandise and things of that nature . The squeegee boys are even marketing and trademarking their brand different.
As we mentioned before, we met your music with your 2018’s debut album “The Ivory Stoop ”, but what has been the artistic and career path that brought you to this project? What are the most important projects for you compared to this one?
I think I can say that “The Ivory Stoop” is my defining project although it didn’t start there: I had a very long run of putting out various mixtapes and “street albums” within my city as “The Crown Royale” mixtape, “The Decline” and “The Collab Work”, but this is way before I was really taking my music career serious!
It was just Bars in bars on bars ! Then I was like man I need to make a full length conceptual cohesive project. I knew exactly what I wanted to do !”
Certainly, “The Ivory Stoop” put you on the map of the underground movement , also, outside of your native city. What’s the story behind the “The Ivory Stoop” title? You had also incredible rappers as Benny The Butcher and Conway The Machine from the Griselda Records. How did you link up? How important is this album for your career? What doors did it open to you?
Ummmm, early on in Baltimore the row homes had marble steps (stoops) which is historic ! Every Sunday the homeowners would clean them to keep up the property value and later down the line the homes became vacant and dilapidated and the stoops became a hang out place where a lot of drug dealing would happen (the trap). So I looked at the stoop as being synonymous to HIP HOP ! At one point of time, it had substance and it was kept clean and then it turned into “THE TRAP” (trap rap) so I wanted to wrap my story around what I knew and that was East Baltimore living and hip hop.
I think creating this album was more rewarding than the success of it all: We rounded up some of (in my opinion ) the best emcees out there to create this opus !! Of course “Griselda” being part of the story was a blessing but it was all organic: We were in tune of their movement early and linked with Conway first and then we met Benny and crew later at a “LOX” show and next thing you know we were running around Harlem shooting a movie ( “The Iron”). R.I.P DJ SHAY !
This year, you released this dope “Baltimore Housing Projects” Lp: Which are in your opinion the main differences with the previous album? In which way Do you feel evolved from an artistic point of view? Once again, You “sparred” with some of the greatest pens of the game, such as Ransom, Willie The Kid, Termanology or Skyzoo…How did you start these collaborations? Do you have some anecdotes about this album that you’d like to tell us?
I think my approach with “The Ivory Stoop” was just kind of like the introduction to Baltimore. Like showing a tourist around for the first time seeing the beautiful sites and views and then “THE BALTIMORE HOUSING PROJECT” is more or less the gritty grimy side of things. The story that is told in “The Stoop” was a school kid who turned into this dark hearted hustler and “The Housing Project” picks up right where the stoop is left off!
I just wanted to play with the different perspectives of The “PROJECT MENTALITY”: just because it seems like every rapper is supposed to be this guy from the projects but nobody ever elaborates what that means!
So I wanted the whole album to be project themed. I feel like my pen on this project was a little more brash and disrespectful and I knew the names who we were going to link with to make this a spectacular movie so I knew what I was up against.
I really just appreciate that all of our features were professionals. They all played their parts very well and saw the vision that me and my man Ray Sosa had in mind and it came out to be great! Maybe One day I’ll write a tell all book about how dope it was working with all these dudes lmao until then it’s for the VH1 behind the music shows.
We can say that your music has a golden era vibe: it is distinguished by some vivid lyricism, storytelling and “ classic “ hip hop hardcore beats. Why did you choose to stick to this formula and differentiate yourself from most of the actual rap music? Which are your biggest inspirations? In the underground movement, you also belong to, the word “Renaissance” has been circulating for a few years…What’s your opinion about this “wave”? Would you like to collaborate with any particular rap artists or producers?
Ever since I’ve been rhyming there has always been rules to follow: You gotta have a hit record, you gotta have a dance, you gotta have a gimmick etc etc ….. everything except being dope !
I’ve always been a fan of Dope shxt ! And I’ve always stuck to what we enjoyed in the streets: just pure dope lyricism and relatable witty punches and metaphors with some sort of substance.
I myself am an eighties baby so most of the milestones in hip hop I’ve witnessed first hand so I’ve seen the ups and downs of “THE GIMMICK” and fuck all that shit, lmao !
My inspiration comes from the music I deem as classics: a little Sean Price, a little Mobb Deep, a little Nas and a whole lot of AZ lmao Wu Tang, Pun , the list can go on for days…
The new renaissance thing has so many meanings to it! I’m just glad that real hip hop is alive and well and I’m able to speak my piece to whomever is willing to support! I’m a huge fan before I’m anything so yeah I’ve been having a lot of fun collaborating with those who are willing to work and are professional about it man! These guys are hungry just like I am and they are very talented as well.
Can you tell us something more about the “B-more” (Baltimore) rap scene and your partner in rhymes, with whom you often collaborate, Ill Conscious ? We also know Jamil Honesty is a dope Mc from your city…but Who else do you recommend us to tune in?
Yeah my bro, Illcon ( ILL CONSCIOUS ed’s note) and Jamil ( JAMIL HONESTY editor’s note ) are very dope emcees from the city who also go crazy with the rhyming: man they a very talented I swear! It’s a whole lot of talent coming from my city. Way too many to name, I just don’t wanna leave anyone out you know! You will hear about us for sure though because we are all grinding hard to put our city on the map because as far as Boom bap Baltimore has yet to get the flowers it deserves. It’s up to us to change that!
As a Graffiti and Hip Hop Culture Magazine, we mainly cover the graff scene around the world and we’d like to ask you something about the graffiti art there ..Do you have any sort of connection with it?
Actually I do…Before taking any of this rap stuff serious I used to cut class and go to my best friend “Bones” crib because he had turntables and I would just freestyle over the shit he would spin. And it just so happens he is one of the best graffiti artist coming out of my city by far ! I’ll be sure to introduce you to his work !!!
What should we expect from your next projects and plans for the future? What’s your biggest ambition?
Our next few moves have to be really calculated due to all this covid stuff so we are trying our best to still deliver great music and still tip toe around all of the madness to shoot dope videos as well! But physicals , vinyl & merch are still being created and the support helps out a lot through it all ! I’m just having the most fun I’ve ever had with it so just expect more bars and hooks from me and mine! And again I appreciate the opportunity!
Jay Royale is definitely putting on for The City ! I give props to him and his whole Staff for bringing dope shit to the culture. I also wanna give props to y’all at Throw Up. Baltimore Boom Bap is definitely going global. Check out K Mack of KnokVille Entertainment,Bloonz Billionfold and Dirt Platoon. These artists are definitely part of this Hip Hop Renaissance.