Nearly twenty years ago, Royce da 5'9" inked his stage name across his stomach, an idea he and many others got from Tupac's infamous 'Thug Life' piece. That tattoo is long gone, covered by a mural of his three children on his right side and a purple heart covering his left pec. But Royce hasn't stopped there.
One half of Bad Meets Evil with Eminem and one fourth of Slaughterhouse, Royce da 5'9" has inked some pretty legendary pieces on his torso, neck, and even a fresh face tattoo in honor of his daughter, Lyric. He will never tattoo his legs and won't leave his artist, Grin Stylez, whom he met through Slaughterhouse artist Joe Budden.
Royce visited Complex last week with the Slaughterhouse crew to show off his fresh ink, detail his plans for future tattoos, and talk about he's completely content with being the 70-year-old tattooed dude because, well, everyone else will be too.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
When did you start getting tattoos?
My first tattoo was ‘Royce’ across my abdomen. I was 16, I was pretty obsessed with Tupac’s "Thug Life" tattoo so I got Royce in different colors-red, black. I tattooed over it now. I covered it up with a mural of my kids faces and I got a purple heart where my heart is. It’s actually a picture of a human heart but it’s purple, and it says ‘Purple’ in stitches to the side.
I was listening to an interview you did where you said you were addicted to getting inked and got multiple tattoos in one day.
I got six tattoos in one sitting from open to close at the tattoo parlor but that was before I was messing with Grin.
The more tattoos that you get, the more that you realize you don’t want to bounce around with different tattoo artists. It’s like finding someone who can cut hair real well and you don’t want to go to a whole bunch of different barbers.
When did you start getting tattooed by Grin Stylez?
I met Grin through [Joe Budden.] I had the privilege of meeting someone who is not only a tattoo artist but who is an artist, he can draw. Once he started designing stuff for me, I just went with him. The more tattoos that you get, the more that you realize you don’t want to bounce around with different tattoo artists. It’s like finding someone who can cut hair real well and you don’t want to go to a whole bunch of different barbers. That’s where I’m at with Grin Stylez.
How many tattoos has Grin done for you?
He’s done everything for me except those first six.
Can you run through the tattoos that you have now?
I have a ‘King of Detroit’ tattoo, just fancy letters my wife designed it on my left arm. On my left hand is the Detroit ‘D’ which is standard in my city. On my left wrist is the infinity symbol and on my arm I have a 5’9” with a crown on top of it in the form of a torch.
I got a grenade on each side of my chest and I have M.I.C across my chest, which is my company. I have a mural of my kids on the side of my stomach, I have my purple heart on my chest. I have a mural on my back which is a skeleton with a suit on with his tie blowing in the wind. The skeleton has the same Slaughterhouse on his hand that I have on my hand.
I have a nickle right around my kidneys which is my nickname, it’s an actual coin. I have Artegia, my wife's name, across the top of my back. I have headphones on my neck, a microphone on the side of my neck. I have ‘Bad Meets Evil’ on my wrist. This is a life changing project to me.
Tell me about your new face tattoo.
The face tattoo is Lyric, it’s my daughter’s name. She’s 3 years old now. I’m a Montgomery, that’s my last name. I’m genetically predisposed to not be able to make girls. All we make in my family is boys. My girl is the golden child in my family. I love her so much, I didn’t expect her. She gets the royal treatment and I’m obsessed with her.
I decided to get her name on my face just so she can look at my face as she’s growing up and realize no other guy will ever love her like I do. So far she doesn’t have an opinion on it. I don’t think she realizes how significant it is. Right now, she’s just looking at me like the guy in the house that’s all marked up.
What do your tattoos mean to you? You said you trust Grins to create designs for you but what do they signify?
They all signify something. When you start out getting tattoos young, you generally start out with just your name somewhere. That’s this one, it says Royce. My wife actually designed my first couple of tattoos, she’s an artist as well. She designed my name on my arm, I was 17. I’m 34 now so that was a long time ago.
The Slaughterhouse tattoo on my hand Grin did. He didn’t design it, this is basically our logo. It’s so significant for me because it’s one of the most important decisions that I’ve made in my career. Slaughterhouse, us forming a group, that’s a turning point in my career. It’s definitely a staple in not just my career but my life. I have hip-hop on my fingers on my right hand. Hip hop is obviously self explanatory. I also got it on the neck.
I have hip-hop on my fingers on my right hand. Hip hop is obviously self explanatory. I also got it on the neck.
It seems like you have a lot of different scripts on your arms, your chest, and your back.
Yes, it’s really random. I’ll sit down with Grin, he’s ran ideas by me where I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do that.’ It’s for life. I’m not going to do the 50 Cent and just start getting things removed like crazy, I’m keeping this forever. My mother always says, ‘What are you going to do when you get old?’ Well my answer to that is, ‘I’m going to be old along with a whole bunch of other people that are old with tattoos.’ It’s just a new thing. I’m not going to stick out like a sore thumb at 70. God willing I’ll make it to that age. It’ll be a common thing. I don’t think that tattoos are important to hip-hop at all, I don’t look at them like that. I think it’s a personal preference.
In terms of tattoo trends, a lot of artists in hip hop are getting tattoos in specific places. You said you took inspiration from Tupac and got the stomach tattoo. A lot of artists starting getting chest pieces, then knuckles and forearm pieces. What new trends do you see with tattoos in hip-hop?
I think there’s new trends. I get a lot of ideas from watching TV and just looking at people. Somebody might just decide, ‘I want to be the first person with a tattoo.’ I don’t need to set the trends, I like following trends. I’m not a follower but if it’s something that I like, I’ll get into it.
The reason I got addicted was because once you get one on one side of your body, you feel like this side is missing and it has to be equal. I’m very obsessive compulsive.
Who has inspired you to get certain tattoos?
Like I said, it was Tupac but no artist of this generation. I’ve been around for a minute. Tupac was one of the first hip hop artists that I’ve seen with tattoos like that. The more marked up everybody became, the more dope it looked to me. I started doing it.
The reason I got addicted was because once you get one on one side of your body, you feel like this side is missing and it has to be equal. I’m very obsessive compulsive. If I made up my mind that I have to do it, I have to do it. I’m crazy like that.
Me and Marshall [Mathers] sit and have these conversations all the time. We do it with records. If it’s a beat, and I can’t think of nothing to it today, it’s going to be on my mind until I can think of something to it. Then I obsess over it. I obsess over the snare, the kick, this is too loud, I nit pick everything. That’s why I drink so much because I let my inhibitions go when I don’t over-think shit.
What do you think are some regional differences with tattoos - New York, Detroit, the South, West Coast?
Grin has flown to Detroit, he’s done some at the studio. I personally feel like maybe it’s because New York is a bigger city but it’s a lot more cutting edge artistically, the kids there get better opportunities. I think the tattoo artists generally are better in New York. It’s a whole different style in Detroit. I personally have always been an individual that likes to look non-regional. I like to talk non-regional. I can imitate a New York person’s accent and I can also imitate a Detroit person’s “accent.” I try to have non-regional dialect as well as style.
Were you actually getting tattoos done in the 'Microphone' video?
We weren’t really getting tattoos. You didn’t see Grin Stylez there.
Who was the female artist in that?
I personally feel like maybe it’s because New York is a bigger city but it’s a lot more cutting edge artistically, the kids there get a lot better opportunities. I think the tattoo artists generally are better in New York.
It was just a tattoo parlor, the director John Colombo had an idea for that and we thought it was a cool idea. We were like, ‘Fuck it, we with it.’ We have tattoos galore so it’s nothing to make it look like we’re getting one. I don’t think I would ever actually get a tattoo while I’m filming. It’s a whole different focus for me.
What is your ritual when you’re getting tattoos?
I've got a ritual. I don’t pop pills but when I’m going to get a tattoo I will take a percocet and sometimes I’ll drink depending on how I feel to take the edge off. That’s only when I’m getting something done near my tailbone or on my side near a bone, I can’t stand that shit. I can’t sit for six hours having somebody beat my body up. Grin has his own rituals. He needs music to get in his zone. I’m listening to whatever makes him comfortable. My main concern is to keep him as comfortable as possible.
Speaking of that video and the women in the video, what is your take on women with a lot of tattoos?
I love them as long as they’re done in good taste. I’ve seen females over do it.
In what sense?
Just too many. Too many on the arm, I don’t think that looks right. Depending on how it’s done. If it’s a sleeve, and she has a retro or goth look or something like that, I’ll accept it. Regular girls just walking around dressed regular with a whole bunch of random shit all over, I don’t really like how that looks.
That must be tied in with your OCD. It’s not equal.
Yes absolutely. [Laughs]
Do you have a great tattoo story? Whether it be place, or what you got done?
When I got my mural on my back, Grin thought that I wouldn’t be able to sit there for the whole time. It was eight hours straight. We had this big joke in the tattoo parlor like, ‘You’re not going to be able to do it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m thugging today.’ I like to get them out of the way, I don’t like coming back two or three sessions for one tattoo. That’s probably my fun tattoo story in terms of me showing Grin how I am. A lot of that has to do with how Joey tattoos with him. Joey wouldn’t be able to sit there so he thinks I wouldn’t be able to sit there. I’m like, ‘I ain’t Joey. I’m sitting here for the whole thing.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah we’ll see Nickel.’
Do you have any bad tattoo stories? I know you’ve had some covered up.
Yeah I had another one covered up but this isn’t really a bad tattoo story. It was just an old rap group that I was in that I’m not in anymore. I didn’t feel the need for it to be there anymore. It was just old school. It looked like some Wu-Tang shit, it’s a W and an S connected. The W kind of looked like the Wu-Tang ‘W’ and we were Wu-Tang fanatics back then. We kind of bit their style on that one. Now, it’s covered up with a municipal statue in downtown Detroit on my shoulder. The statue sits real tall. It has these balls in its hand. It says things on him that represent Detroit. So what I did was I took the balls out of its hands and put guns in each hand.
We had this big joke in the tattoo parlor like, ‘You’re not going to be able to do it.’ I’m like, ‘I’m thugging today.’ I like to get them out of the way, I don’t like coming back two or three sessions for one tattoo.
Do you have any on your legs?
No I’m not going to do my legs. I’m just not into it. I’ve seen some that look cool on other people but I don’t feel like it’s my style.
What’s next to be inked on you?
I have to finish my whole sleeve-that's my OCD. I have to figure out a way to do it so that I don’t cover up what my wife designed. I don’t want to shit on her designs.
Is she going to design any other tattoos for you?
No I’m going to stick with Grin from now on. I’m going to get a whole sleeve done as soon as he comes up with an idea for it. I’m going to leave her tattoos there but I’m going to fill up the rest of my arm.
Do you feel like there are artists that are on par with Grin’s work?
I think Mister Cartoon is big. He’s always so booked up. I’ve never seen something that he’s done that hasn’t been great.
Would you ever get something done by him?
No I don’t think I ever would. Only Grin. If Grin died-God forbid-I would probably switch over to Cartoon.