Royce da 5'9" on surprise Grammy nomination: 'It's surreal'

Rapper is one of several Detroiters to receive nominations for 63rd annual ceremony

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Detroit rapper Royce da 5'9" wasn't sure why his phone was blowing up Tuesday afternoon with phone calls, text messages and DMs, but then he finally heard the good news: his 2020 album "The Allegory" received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. 

The nomination marks Royce's first in his long career, which stretches back two decades.

Rapper and songwriter Royce da 5'9", Ryan Montgomery, in concert at the Garden Theater in Detroit.

"I was shocked. It was by far the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me," says Royce, on the phone Tuesday evening, adding he didn't even know Grammy nominations were due out Tuesday. "It's surreal. I’m still taking it in. Somebody needs to pinch me. I feel like someone’s going to come and say 'nah, psyche, we're just kidding.'"

It's real. Royce was at his Birmingham recording studio on the phone with his doctor, discussing plans to take a COVID test before Thanksgiving, when his phone started to buzz with activity. The first person to get through to him was rapper Joyner Lucas, who gave him the good news. 

From there it was phone calls from fellow artists, his management team, his parents and his wife. "Everyone is beaming with pride," he says. 

"The Allegory," which was released in February, was entirely self-produced by Royce, his first time trying his hand at producing. It's his eighth solo album, and was inspired by Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” the Greek philosopher’s study of education and its correlation to nature.

"This album is my brainchild," says Royce, 43. "This is the album that has a lot of my ideologies, a lot of me wanting to point people in different directions, and getting them to see certain things and being able to place perspective on things for people. It's me putting the black mirror up to the world, and forcing the world to look at itself, (and asking) 'what do you think about what you see?'"

More: Turmoil behind him, Royce da 5'9" finds his slice of Heaven 

"The Allegory" was released just a few weeks before the pandemic hit, which Royce — born Ryan Montgomery and raised on Detroit's West Side — says gave his message on the album added meaning. 

In the Best Rap Album category, "The Allegory" is up against D Smoke's "Bad Habits," Freddie Gibbs and the Alchemist's "Alfredo," Jay Electronica's "A Written Testimony" and Nas' "King's Disease." 

Come Grammy night, "of course I want to win," Royce says. "But I’m not gonna bang my head against the wall if I don’t. I don’t pretend like I’m not used to being overlooked in this type of scenario. I look at it like it’s a win already. One of the things about it is I really respect everybody that's in the category with me, so a loss is not a loss. A loss is still a win, for the culture."

Royce says he was already thankful heading into this week's Thanksgiving holiday, "but now I'm double thankful."   

Royce's frequent collaborator Eminem congratulated Royce — as well as Alchemist, his live DJ — on the nomination via Twitter. 

"So happy for @Royceda59 and @Alchemist on their Grammy rap album of the year noms!" he wrote. "Seems like @RecordingAcad might be starting to get it right."

Big Sean is also nominated in the Rap category, for Best Rap Performance for "Deep Reverence," his collaboration with the late Nipsey Hussle. Detroiter Kierra Sheard is up for Best Gospel Album for her album, "Kierra."

Elsewhere, Bettye LaVette's "Blackbirds" is nominated in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, and Ann Arbor's Ghostly International is nominated for Best Box or Limited Special Edition Package for "The Story of Ghostly International," an eight-LP box set that was released in October 2019. 

Beyoncé led all nominees with nine nods, followed by Taylor Swift, Roddy Ricch and Dua Lipa, who each received six nominations. 

The Grammys will be hosted by Trevor Noah and air on CBS Jan. 31.