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Music Review: Royce da 5’9″ – The Bar Exam 3 (2010) (Free Mixtape)

This is maybe the weirdest thing I've ever heard.

This is a free mixtape, not an album. Go here to download. If you’re someone like me who gets annoyed when all your tags aren’t right, make sure to change the artist’s name to Royce da 5’9″ (with quotes after the 9). For whatever reason, the tags for this have two apostrophes after the 9 instead. On to the review…

I have basically been anticipating this mixtape for about 18 months. Royce’s last official mixtape, The Bar Exam 2, is what made me a big fan of his. I think that mixtape alone has something like 800 plays on my LastFM, and Royce as an artist has more plays than any other artist (for me) thanks in large part to that mixtape. So after all the hype I had for this mixtape, the first time I listened to it I was pretty much thinking “What in the world am I listening to right now?”. I really didn’t like it. But then after a second and third listen, it grew on me more than almost anything else I’ve ever listened to — I think the first time I didn’t know what was about to happen. I wasn’t ready for something this over-the-top ridiculous.

When Royce actually decides to rap on here, the rapping is probably the best I’ve ever heard from him. I’m still not sure he’s reached his full potential yet; with each Bar Exam, he’s improved drastically. He opens this tape rapping over Outkast’s Bombs Over Baghdad — there aren’t many rappers that can keep up with that beat, and I didn’t think Royce was one of them…but he does a great job on it.

So Royce opened the mixtape up with that, but then at the end of the mixtape he decided to go for something on the COMPLETE opposite side of the spectrum. I don’t think any other rapper has done something like what he did for the last track. I won’t even bother explaining it; just watch this.

I didn’t believe that actually happened the first time I heard it. But really, I should have seen it coming with how the rest of the mixtape went. There are 29 total tracks here, but that number is really misleading. Only about half of those are actual songs that you’d expect from Royce…there are some skits (most of which are thankfully short, with the shortest coming in at 8 seconds) and then there are some “songs” where Royce “sings” about how much he hates your pants. Make no mistake; this is the funniest mixtape (or album for that matter) that I’ve heard in a long time. Some of the things Royce says on the Bar Exam 3 are so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh.

People who have been fans of Royce’s previous mixtapes really don’t have anything to worry about either — there are still enough normal Royce songs here to make you happy. If you still expect Royce to take shots at other rappers, there’s no shortage of that on this mixtape. He disses Drake on the “Over” freestyle and Saigon on “187 (Response)”…those are pretty much expected, but he also took on fellow-Slaughterhouse member Joell Ortiz at the end of the Airplanes freestyle. Royce has always just said whatever’s on his mind and doesn’t hold anything back, and that’s the case here.

Speaking of that Airplanes freestyle, it’s probably my favorite song on the mixtape. At first I was a little bummed that he completely eliminated the chorus instead of doing his usual thing where he keeps the chorus but changes it up a little bit; but after thinking about it, there’s no way that chorus could work with Royce’s aggressiveness. Hayley Williams with B.o.B is one thing, but Hayley Williams and Royce would be the weirdest combination in the history of the universe. Royce turned a song about making wishes on Airplanes into an aggressive song with a lot of bragging in it, but it unexpectedly works.

I really like the uniqueness of this mixtape, but there’s one thing I can do without — DJ Whoo Kid sucks. He overuses airhorns, he REALLY overuses gunshot sound effects, and he also overuses his stupid “Whoooooo” thing that he randomly puts in songs. Not only that, but it seems like he randomly edited out some words in the songs. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s really noticeable when it does happen. What in the world is the point of that?

Usually when I do a music review, I go through every track and rate each one. That will be impossible to do here, because to be honest I have absolutely no idea what a song like “I Hate Your Pants” or “Spark Yo Brain” would get. On one hand those songs could get 10s, but on the other hand they can also get 0s. This mixtape is really something that you have to listen to straight through; with a few exceptions, you can’t just pick out single tracks. The final product here is better than the sum of its parts. 8.5/10

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