You've been tricked. That's what Royce da 5'9" is telling us in his new video for "Tricked," the latest release from his highly-acclaimed new album The Allegory. The song finds Royce and former Slaughterhouse groupmate Kxng Crooked (also known as Crooked I) discussing the ways in which we've all been fooled by the powers that be.
One of the ways the people have been tricked, Royce believes, has to do with vaccines. He posits a link between vaccines and autism in the song, as he raps, "From day one at the hospital they target our children/Say they gonna immunize 'em they somehow get autism."
This is an idea that has been discredited by medical authorities. The Journal of the American Medical Association points out that "a substantial body of research over the last 15 years has found no link between the MMR vaccine and ASD [autism spectrum disorders." But Royce stands by his position. Royce's son has autism, and he discussed the relationship between that and his controversial beliefs in a short discussion with Complex. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. You can see the video for "Tricked," which Complex is pleased to premiere, below.
Tell me about the concept behind "Tricked." Who is being tricked, who is doing the tricking?
I think we're all being tricked with the information that we've been taking in, and the powers that be are doing the tricking. For the majority of my verse, I'm speaking about being a black man coming up in a hostile environment, and doing as the Romans do. Like a lot of things, that's been indoctrinated into us. I use Crips and Bloods as an example. It's a taught behavior. And by the time we reach a point of elevated consciousness, oftentimes we're in it to too far to get out of it. So it takes a special kind of person to be willing to unlearn a lot of the things that he or she has learned. But it's to re-learn the right way to do things, and re-learn the truth about certain things.
How do the lyrics in the song about record labels fit into that concept for you?
Record labels are always going to push you to do what's best for them, which is nothing personal. It's just business. The thing about coming into the game as a young artist is having as much information as possible, so you can join forces with a record label in a way where you continue to build a brand. That way you know you won't get taken advantage of. You won't be just creating things where they're making money, and you are making records that's killing your brand. That's what your whole central purpose should be as artists. It should be to come into the business and figure out ways to continue to develop, grow your brand, grow your base, and create something that can be self serving for life.
You have a whole section elsewhere on the album where you're talking about how owning your masters is great, but if you're not making timeless music, that's going to be worthless.
Yeah. Owning your masters, that's a new wave now. Don't join that wave if you're making the art secondary, and you make music on your way to go do something else. You have to put all of your efforts into the music itself, the art, and then through that all things are possible. Then it makes sense to do meetings. Then it makes sense to do politics and all the other things we get told we've got to do in order to be successful. No use of doing these things if there's no good music attached to it.
Owning your masters, that's a new wave now. Don't join that wave if you make music on your way to go do something else.
One more thing about "Tricked." On the list of people doing the tricking, you have the Centers for Disease Control and the authors of other medical studies who say there's no link between vaccines and autism, when you rap, "From day one at the hospital they target our children/Say they gonna immunize 'em they somehow get autism." Why did you include lyrics saying there is?
I have a child on the spectrum. All of my kids have been vaccinated. Within the last couple of years, I started being just real, real information junkie. I started doing a lot of fact-checking and a lot of reading—a lot more reading than I was doing.
You got the regular facts that get presented to you, and then you have the other facts that you got to go research. Well, I found that I was able to draw a correlation between autism and vaccination. I found vaccinations link back to autism in many ways. And my wife is not anti-vaxx. So if I was ever going to have any more kids, we'd probably have to figure out a way to meet halfway. So I'm not in any way trying to encourage people to not get their kids vaccinated. I encourage you to believe what you want to believe.
Isn't there a danger, being a public figure and bringing up this disproven link between autism and vaccines, that you might be discouraging your audience from getting their kids vaccinated?
It's not a danger, because I'm speaking the facts. People who are against the anti-vaxxers, where are their facts at? What facts do they have? Was there something that America told them? Because I operate under the edict that America is guilty until proven innocent.
There are studies from many different countries. It's not simply America. It's not just the CDC.
Okay, well, I study what I want to believe. You just go ahead and believe what you want to believe. How about that?
This is a belief that has been consistently disproven.
Do you have any kids on the spectrum?
No, I don't.
So how are you going to tell me how to feel about my son?
I'm not telling you how to...
It hasn't been disproven. It hasn't been disproven. You're telling me what you want to believe, and I'm telling you what I want to believe. It's just that simple. You don't have any facts that can say that I'm wrong. You're just telling me what you believe, and I'm fine with you believing that. But don't try to tell me what I can say and what I believe. I believe what I want to believe. And I say what I want to say. So you feel like I can believe it, then it shouldn't be anything else to talk about. What's the next question?
One person who is only mentioned in passing on the album is Tekashi 6ix9ine. But it seems like there's something about him and what he did hanging over the record a little bit. Am I right about that?
No, you're not. I don't have anything personal against Tekashi 6ix9ine. There's nothing hanging over the record. What I do have a problem with is the idea that kids feel like they can't be themselves. Kids subscribing to this idea that you have to paint a certain picture of yourself in order to be accepted. I think that's a problem. And I think that's a problem that falls not just on that generation, but it falls on us too as OGs. We have an obligation to give more attention to the kids, and give them more information and protect them more. Make them feel more confident, make them feel more accepted.
They're marketing certain kinds of things to the kids. And that fame is a drug. That same fame, that same drug is what makes them so willing to do things that are outside of their character in order to get it. Because ultimately, it's something that they think is going to fix whatever the problem is. You know how you hear somebody go, "Man, this shit is going to be all better once I get rich. Once I blow up, we going to be straight"? We're not going to be straight. Because as soon as you blow up, problems heighten. It never fixes the problems that you think it's going to fix. I think that's where a lot of the mental health issues come from. So it's speaking to that. Not necessarily having an issue with Tekashi 6ix9ine per se, but that thing that gets represented when you think about him. And that's why we use that image in the video [for "Overcomer"].
The album has an interlude with Eminem. How did that come about?
It was a conversation that he and I were having. We were talking on the phone about a few big issues. When we were done talking, I was like, "Yo, man, if I sent you a beat, you think you can re-say everything that you just said to me?" And he was like, "Well, I don't really remember everything I said, but I could try." I sent him a beat, and then he just started talking on it. I told him, "Be free with it. Jump all around if you need to. Just be as scatter-brained as you are when we're talking on the phone."
Me and Marshall, we have a lot of deep conversations. He's at that level of fame where it seems like sometimes people forget that he's human, and forget how normal he is, and forget how much respect he has to the craft and for the art. And just how socially aware he is. As a very important white artist in hip hop, he realizes the social responsibility that he has. And I think he expressed that.
[Eminem] is at that level of fame where it seems like sometimes people forget that he's human.
It was fascinating to hear him puzzle through issues about race and music almost in real time. He was thinking about, what if I was coming from this point of view or that point of view?
Yeah. And throughout the album, I wanted to bring across a lot of different perspectives, a lot of different ideologies, whether they be mine or not. Just putting things in front of you to be talked about, to open up certain narratives. Maybe we disagree, maybe we agree. But just to put things in front of people, to get certain conversations started, so people start moving in the direction of becoming more aware, leaning towards wanting to believe something, and not just being tapped out of everything that's happening. Not just letting the universe just kind of push them around. Like, just doing whatever the powers that be, whoever is controlling the narrative at the time, say you should do. Because there is always going to be an agenda there.
One last thing. You had a really nice reference to The Naked Gun on "I Play Forever." What is your favorite of the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker movies? Do you like The Naked Gun or Airplane!?
Oh, I think I like The Naked Gun a little bit... No, well, I don't know if I like it better than Airplane! though, bro. Man, that's a tough one. That's a tough question. I think I would say Airplane! 1A and The Naked Gun 1B. Especially the first Naked Gun, man. That's just classic, bro.