Such is the strength of this record that Zilla Rocca had to break his hiatus to write this column.
Marcberg, the debut album from Roc Marciano, feels like Tical. You’re transplanted into the room that spawned the album. Tical sounded like a hazy basement in Staten Island, blood-shot eyes, half empty 40 bottles filled with dead cigarette butts, rhyme books and blunt guts on the floor, kung-fu flicks on VHS playing on the mute in the corner. Marcberg sounds like a living room set up with mismatched furniture, crumbed bills on the table, Timbs on the carpet, Styrofoam takeout rotting on an end table, Newport boxes vibrating from the speakers, records stacked up with no sleeves, a glock under the couch, fitted hats and polo’s on the backs of chairs, weed smoke under a 60 watt bulb, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song muted on DVD. There’s Roc Marciano alone, scribbling shit on a notepad, oblivious to everything, impressing himself with witty bars of pain and pizzazz.
“Push your burrito backwards, had to learn to use those guido tactics, made n****, rock those DeNiro in Casino glasses”
Roc Marciano has had a strange career. His first splash on the hip hop radar was in 2000 on “The Heist” from Busta Rhymes’LP Anarchy. Alongside Busta, Raekwon, and Ghostface extolling the virtues of cracking safes for flawless jewels, Roc Marci relished in his weekly task of speaking through a Ronald Reagan mask pulling off luxurious robberies and ducking down Africa. As a new artist on a track next to Ghostface, fresh off Supreme Clientele, Roc Marci made his mark as the smoothest and the strangest rhymer on the joint. I can picture all these guys in the lab hearing him lay down his verse, screwfaces tight, looking at each other mouthing, “He’s nasty!”
What followed were co-signs from Pete Rock, Large Professor, and the aforementioned Trevor Smith, stunning guest verses the past five years on albums from the P Brothers, Marco Polo, DJ Babu, and Wu-Tang’s Think Differently compilation, hefty checks from Steve Rifkind that never resulted in prolific recordings, and an overlooked album through 456 Entertainment called UN or U Out as a member of The UN.
Who owned 456 Entertainment?
“Got keys like gatekeepers, pitbulls on short leashes, Portugese divas feed us, my Adidas, don’t put your stank feet in, peep game like mind readers in my wifebeater”
There’s a reason why one decade after replacing Lord Have Mercy in Flipmode Squad, Roc Marciano is getting love from Q-Tip, Madlib, and Just Blaze. If you listen to Roc Marci’s inclusive killer style, you can understand the excitement that has propelled lifelong rap industry vets to keep the kid in the picture. Marci’s favorite album is Critical Beatdown by Ultramagnetic MC’s. You can hear the Kool Keith influence – a street illustrator who dabbles in psychedelic wordplay that is stirring, intelligent, visual, and goofy. Like Beatdown-era Keith and Supreme Clientele-era Ghostface, Marci’s stone-cold-ain’t-a-damn-thing-funny delivery sells the linguistics. Marci’s use of imagery, like Raekwon and Camp Lo, pull you into his world where his narrative skills portray himself as a killer, a pimp, a hustler who is always doing something specific: answering phones, stealing chlorophyll, stashing guns in guitar cases, delivering cheese pizza, etc. Listening to Marcberg is like watching a great black comedy with no laugh track. The listener ends up deciding which parts are funny, which parts are scary, which parts are scary funny, and which parts are no longer funny because they are now scary. He stays “dipped like sour cream”, which is hilarious. But then he’ll shoot clips “at your coward feet”. Painful.
“I’m standing nude in the tanning room, I hand the tool to my man the goon, my hands are groomed like a pampered Jew, not to mention I’m one handsome dude, hold a candle to who? You’re just a can of food”
The smartest decision Marci made was producing the entire LP by himself. In numerous interviews, Marci confides that he never owned a drum machine until now and how Large Professor urged him to unleash the twisted sounds in his brain without any outside production. He has assassinated beats by Pete Rock and The P Brothers (check “Outta Control” from their album The Gas), but rappers have a leg-up when rhyming on their own beats – rhythmically, he plunges ruby handle dagger raps into every pocket with ease. Instead of twiddling nobs or freaking Abelton Live and midi controllers to impress other producers, Roc Marci approaches beatmaking like RZA and DJ Premier by making beats that make you want to rap over them without getting in the way of the vocal performance. His hollowed out, sample heavy production is reminiscent of Hell on Earth-era Havoc, where creepy 2-4 bar loops of somber soul and haunting keys kept the listener on edge. Tracks like “Pop” and “Snow” would’ve competed with “G.O.D. Pt. III” and Eastflatbush Projects’ “Tried by 12” for airtime on the Stetch and Bobbito show for months back in ’96. The thickest and most hectic track is “Panic”, the soundtrack to being thrown off a bell tower after getting chased by the cops. Roc vocally counters the hammering bells and floating synths by becoming more low key and choosy with his phrasing rather than matching the track’s monster drum kit. It’s like walking on tight rope while doing yo-yo tricks with both hands.
“Cocaine rap, my way up in a Maybach, mack and lay back, lemonade glass, spank ass, and put crack on the ave, n***** I’m stacking that cash, but who knew it would happen that fast?”
It is beautifully built headphone music with quotables for days. It is not a perfect album, but it has the feel of a classic hip hop record because it plays to mid-to-late 90’s east coast strengths completely with cassette tape charm—sometimes it’s a pain in the ass to fast forward the lesser cuts, but Roc Marci rewards you for trudging through because he is always entertaining, unable to be pinned down, liable to say anything on beat.
“I hear voices at the fortress, I hold the bomb detonator like a joystick, blow up a bitch and her boyfriend in the toy Benz, destroy in ball point pens, enjoy shrimp”