Craig Jenkins delivers like an 80-lb. baby.
You’ve probably read a heap of prose glowingly anointing Roc Marciano’s Reloaded as one of 2012’s best hip-hop releases (true) but quietly intimating that this was achieved in part by Roc adhering to a style and standard of rap whose last hurrah on terrestrial radio was 1997 (not quite as true). Reloaded shares DNA with mid-90s street rap classics like The Infamous and The War Report, sure, but that ancestry mostly manifests itself in the paranoiac kingpin dreams that plague the lyricism. There’s much more going on here than Golden Era-revivalism and hero worship.
Reloaded finds Roc cutting a figure pitched squarely between comedy and menace. On “76,” he shoots an adversary until their “physical being turned to creamed corn.” “Death Parade” extends the death threats into the occult as his spirit is called back for more killing after death. He slides in to “stimulate the whore’s clitoris” on “Flash Gordon,” noting that “It tastes like porridge.” Marciano’s funny as shit, and his placid deadpan renders his megalomania all the more hilarious.
Marciano’s war stories are delivered in a stream of gob-stopping internal rhymes. Roc knocks out each verse with the focus and precision of a master, and word origami like “Create freebase/ He bakes pies and cakes/ While fiends form lines to taste” from “We Ill” and the aforementioned whore/clitoris/porridge couplet are reminders that this dude was trading verses with Busta, Ghost & Rae when most of 2012’s breakout stars were pissing up Buzz Lightyear underoos.
Roc has made great strides as a beatmaker since he adopted the “Fuck it, I’ll just produce myself” tack with 2010’s Marcberg. The beats on Reloaded abound with darkly psychedelic and brashly odd sample flips. “76” snatches the clearing in the middle of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” and turns it into foreboding boom bap. “Thug’s Prayer Pt. 2” and “We Ill” both flip slow, lumbering psych, leaving the unusual drum patterns of the source material fully intact. A handful of outside producers contribute beats, most notably Q-Tip and Alchemist, but they mainly stick to Roc’s rubric of gonzo loops, hypnotic minimalism, and, as Rob from Unkut recently pointed out, church mouse quiet drums.
Roc Marciano pulls inspiration from classic New York rap and underground loop wizards like Edan (whose psychedelic Beauty and the Beat is like the Abel to Reloaded’s Cain), sex-crazed blaxploitation flicks and hubristic mafioso masterpieces and weaves them into a magnetically insular patchwork. Reloaded is a mammoth artistic leap forward, one of those moments when an artist suddenly “gets” it and proceeds to immolate records until the fire within dies. It’s the sound of everything clicking into place. After a decade of paying dues as a satellite in various famous MC’s goon squads, Roc Marciano has finally arrived. All hail.