5-foot-9 and rising 

Music videos have been filmed in Detroit in the past, but they’ve tended to be low-budget, independent productions. Credit Detroit native Royce da 5’9” for doing his part to reverse the trend of native artists who blow up, then fail to show up when home calls.

Detroit, Detroit, big city of dreams,
We on Linwood and Pingree,
doin’ big things.

It’s Saturday, Sept. 22, and this journalist covering the video shoots for the first two singles from Royce’s Game Recordings-Columbia debut, Rock City, is thinking about how far dude has come since 1996, when they met in a “basement rhyme cipher” (the hip-hop equivalent of a jam session) in Oak Park. That scene was hopeful. This scene is similarly charged. Royce has fought his way to a pivotal career moment. If his debut sells well, it will probably seal Detroit’s reputation as a city whose hip-hop talent pool is not to be taken lightly.

Royce is a local celebrity. One of the two vids he’s filming is for his current single, “You Can’t Touch Me.” It was done on Friday, out at Jerry Stackhouse’s crib. The producers need to hurry it to market, because the single’s currently burning up the radio.

The “Rock City” shoots take place on Saturday and Sunday. The treatments are almost standard for hip hop, with formats that concentrate on good times and neighborhood love. Stack’s house was a party scene. The “Rock City” story line is a little different. The party starts in the neighborhood and snowballs into something huge.

“I hope it cheers people up,” Royce says, recognizing the nation’s somber mood following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Discussing the Linwood locale, he says, “I think this is the ‘Big Mama’ scene. She throws on a record and it starts spinnin’. And the whole video is based on different people comin’ from different parts of Detroit, going to this big show that me and Eminem are doing.”

Royce has spent the past few years building relationships with some of hip hop’s elite names. One, DJ Premier, produced “Boom,” the underground smash that was the lead single on Columbia-MTV’s Carmen sound track.

Chief operating officer of Game Recordings Eric “Ric Riggler” Rhea, and manager Kino, who introduced Rhea to Royce, see big things on the horizon for him. Both men agree that Royce’s hometown shoot is a special thing.

“It’s Royce introducing the world to his city,” says Rhea. “We’re near the area he grew up in. So he’s taking it back to his upbringing. I think it’s good for Detroiters, because it allows the people in the neighborhood to come out and see it, and appreciate it.” Rhea’s Game partner, John Shecter, founder of The Source magazine, chimes in with another thought on Royce’s hometown appeal: “There haven’t been a tremendous amount of rappers coming from Detroit,” he says. “Royce is more clever and polished. And that sets him apart. This is where his support has to begin. This is his foundation.”

“It’s a big Detroit party,” says Kino. “You have the unity between not only neighborhoods, but between blacks, whites, Chaldeans. If you have pride in Detroit, that’s what ‘Rock City’ represents.”

Sunday, Sept. 23, at Chene Park, the scene is much different. Half of Detroit’s hip-hop community seems to be present. Eminem and partner Proof arrive early for setup. They’re not famous today. They’re respected as the homeboys from the Hip-Hop Shop, the Rhythm Kitchen and St. Andrew’s Hall who’ve laid a blueprint for local artists. And it’s just cool to see them supporting their homey.

“This shit don’t really get to happen in Detroit,” says Proof of the video shoot. “It’s a good thing that people like the Royces and the D12s can do that. Even Slum Village did a little somethin’. Me and Royce always doin’ shit. That’s my man.”

An hour after nightfall, thundershowers come down, but the crew works through them. Protected under Chene Park’s huge canopy, the stage boasts vintage cars that look flashy for videos. But the average Detroiter can catch any of them cruising Belle Isle come spring.

Extras are prepped. Their role tonight is to be the concert crowd. When the brightest lights since the burning bush go up, the second verse to “Rock City” booms. Royce and Eminem, along with D-Elite members Tre Little and Cha Cha, bounce slowly from the back to the front of the stage. Throughout the weekend, each scene has required in excess of 10 takes, until Swedish director Anti J finds the shot he likes.

Royce has been working 16-hour days. But what will air on most music channels in the coming weeks will be a finished four-minute product, and the country’s first good look at the hometown cat who made good.

Khary Kimani Turner collects the beats and rhymes all in one place for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com

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