Joel Biswas does all of his business out of a Miami penthouse.
Evoking the psychology, thrill, and menace of the rap game is Roc Marciano’s reason for being. While the field of this particular aesthetic persuasion isn’t as large as it once was, no one does New York thug revivalism with such a classicist’s mastery. Extraordinarily gifted in all the ways that mainstream rap isn’t that concerned with, the Long Island native is a virtuoso formalist of the Nas/Jay/G Rap lineage who makes soundscapes worthy of RZA, Madlib, or Dilla. His lengthy gestation as part of Flip Mode Squad and then the U.N. meant that by the time of his 2010 debut, Marcberg, he was already a New York vet.
In an era when both P’s have passed on, Ka supplements studio time by being a firefighter, and Action Bronson is equally famous as a TV star, Roc is like a phlegmatic jazz veteran doubling-down on classic ideas and motifs in search of fresh nuance. His realness is at once stylistic and existential, nostalgic and novel. It’s also overwhelmingly solitary. His finest moments come when he raps over desolate samples with minimal percussion, pushing each bar to a surgical extreme of language, consonance, imagery, and metaphor
The Bitter Dose delivers epic new chapters in a sprawling crime saga that continues to favor anecdote and observation over narrative coherence. Sonically, it’s less baroque than its predecessor and benefits from a much fuller mix. “Muse” showcases the vision of rap he first perfected on “Thug Prayer (Part II).” “The Sauce” matches the stark experimentalism of “No Smoke” and “Gunsense” with a doomy art-rock synth pulse courtesy of Peter Hammill.
“Bed Spring King” revels in Donald Goines pimp stylistics and features quintessential Roc lines like “The Stan Smiths roam an annex, romantic/ The roof on the Maclaren’s transparent/ you stand there enamored/ I’m obviously handsome and well-mannered/ my bitch sing acapella in Spanish,” laced over a symphony of Seventies’ horns, strings, and squeaking bed-springs. Cameos are used shrewdly—Knowledge the Pirate offers a Biblical refrain on “Bohemian Grove,” which is the closest anything here comes to a verse-chorus structure.
The Bitter Dose is a welcome return to an impressionistic criminal underworld where every detail gleams as if covered in aspic, from the opening couplet of “Fox-fur on my evening coat/ I gave these heathens hope,” to the gospel cries of “Power” that closes the album. His music is the sound of 3AM kush-fueled paranoia in a Miami penthouse; whispered threats in a project staircase; or mournful Courvoisier-drenched communion with the ghosts of bygone hustlers, pimps, and jazz cats.
Roc is a rapper and producer with the purist instincts and historical knowledge to be a self-anointed guardian of tradition without ever being derivative. “I know how Satchmo felt,” he muses at one point, as the last supper of the last Don plays on an endless loop, suspended in time.
Rosebudd’s Revenge 2 is not yet available on streaming networks. It can be purchased at RocMarci.com