“I’m Always Trying to Keep Pushing Myself”: An Interview with Roc Marciano

Madeleine Byrne chats with Roc Marciano about always improving, 'Rosebudd's Revenge 2,' and his tight knit community of collaborators.
By    March 29, 2018

Roc Marciano saves his sharpest darts for wax. In conversation, the Hempstead MC wastes few words,  offering up extremely focused replies to all questions. He’s not unfriendly or hostile, as much as he’s ultra-pithy, always getting to the heart of what he is trying to express without any excess.

None of this comes as a surprise when you think about the music that Roc Marci has released, starting with 2010’s Marcberg, an album that ushered in his MO of putting out largely self-produced projects defined by a singular vision.

In this universe, not much happens lyrically. Marciano’s trademark style depends on the layering of images and super dense wordplay. The rhymes are obscene, poetic, and violent, yet frequently marked by a kind of nostalgia, while enacting codes of the street.

Tracks like “Bedspring King” on the latest Rosebudd’s Revenge 2: The Bitter Dose marks out new territory, thick as it is with the narrator’s lust and maybe more subtle emotion, operating in a way that resembles “Pray 4 Me” (on the first RR).

It’s rare for musicians to be 100% comfortable speaking about their work in an abstract way; they’re musicians for a reason, not theorists or writers. Their music speaks for them. In this sense, Roc Marciano’s reticence is also to be expected, and yet despite his persona and the hyper-controlled nature of his rap style (barely shifting from his trademark monotone), there is an exuberance about his music as well.

Take, for example, “Herringbone,” from the first Rosebudd’s Revenge, with its dramatic build and unexpected beat-switch that completely transforms the track’s mood. This experimentation and interest in breaking with convention is a key aspect to Marciano’s art and one of the reasons why he is a key influence for so many younger MCs/producers. —Madeleine Byrne


You often don’t have drums or have minimal drums in your tracks. Why is this?


Roc Marciano: For me as an MC I enjoy the space. Sometimes the drums, you know, the program takes over the groove and doesn’t allow me the same space. A track with no drums gives me the space to do more.


I want to talk about “Tent City.” I was wondering if you could talk about it in more detail. It’s an extremely intense track.


Roc Marciano: “Tent City” yeah, I just knew when I found it, immediately I knew I wanted to do something with it. I thought the sample was real ill with the horn in the background, and I was reading Miles Davis when I was making the album so a lot of the horns are sticking out, they’re like the most important sounds. It’s like a mixture of soul and jazz, I really enjoyed making that track.


It’s a totally different sound for a hip-hop song. Were you conscious of the fact that you were doing something so new?


Roc Marciano: Nah, not really, I mean usually I’m just doing what I want to do I don’t really care if it’s new or not, I’m always trying to keep pushing myself and trying to find more inspiration, doing the same thing is boring, so it’s interesting to find stuff like that.


You seem to be quite intuitive with the way you work. You often use the word “organic” when describing your work process and once said you “don’t like to force music.” What did you mean by that?


Roc Marciano: I don’t like to make music “just because,” you know, ‘cause I get bored. I have to feel it, I’m always looking for stuff, you know, that makes me want to be creative. It’s not just me. It’s also the music, we’re doing it together, so that when I get music that touches me it makes the process a lot smoother.


It’s still primarily sample-based, isn’t it? You’re not using live instrumentation, right?


Roc Marciano: No, I’m not but I’d like to start. I’m going to use live instrumentation in the future.


I saw in an interview that you said you’d love to work with musicians. You mentioned Funkadelic, Ohio Players, and Isaac Hayes as inspirations. All these great artists from the ‘70s. Talk to me a little bit more about that.


Roc Marciano: Well, you know, I really admire those musicians, those artists made some music that’ve done a lot to inspire me, so I feel like to pick it up where they left off would be a great thing. That’s some of the greatest music ever made in my opinion, I would love to be able to follow in their foot-steps.


Something else I really like about your work is that you place the samples in a really creative way, the vocals are really low in the mix a lot of the time and there’s a very, very strong contrast between the vocals and the music. You’re also often leaving the samples quite raw, they’re not mixed to merge with each other. How conscious is all of this when you’re making your music?


Roc Marciano: I’m conscious…I’m just enjoying what I’m doing. When you hear it that way it’s mainly me creating music, you know and still having fun. I try to make sure that I’m still having fun. Me doing it the way I want to do it allows me to keep having fun.


When you’re listening to Funkadelic, and artists like this, are you thinking about how they positioned the sounds in their music?


Roc Marciano: Yeah, yeah that’s pretty much what I am doing. I don’t want to mess up anything, my goal is to work with the sounds from the samples. I feel that what they were doing was already live and dangerous enough, all I’ve got to do is get in the middle.


Can you speak to me about the song “C.V.S” from the latest Rosebudd’s Revenge?


Roc Marciano: My guy Don Cee made that beat. I feel like that’s a continuation of what I was already doing, it’s a progression. When I heard it I was like, ‘That’s definitely going to fit in with what I’m doing.’ I think that track is real ill.


Let’s talk about the producers who have worked on the album with you. The guys from Arch Druids have come back to work on this. You’re quite a loyal collaborator, you have guys you work with repeatedly. What is it about those producers that you admire so much?


Roc Marciano: I mean we all see eye to eye with what we’re trying to do musically and we’ve been working together for so long. They’re like brothers, it’s like you continue to make music with your family. You’re in your comfort zone you get better results that way.


You’ve also got Action Bronson and Knowledge the Pirate on the album. Do they feel close to you like family as well?


Roc Marciano: Yeah, definitely. But not only that. It’s ’cause it’s fun, everyone is where they’re at because that’s where they belong. Like I was saying earlier, it’s organic.


Your music often has dramatic shifts. Sometimes, about half way through a track, it completely changes direction. What are you aiming for here?


Roc Marciano: To keep it fun. I don’t want to bore the listener, it’s already hard to keep it entertaining when it’s just one man and one voice, so to keep it entertaining you have to have all those elements in it to surprise you. It’s not just my voice over and over and I’m not just rapping and rapping through the whole project.


Could you speak about Alchemist? You’ve done lots of work together and I read how he’s been important as a supporter keeping you going when you at one point were thinking about stopping music. How has he influenced you and your work?


Roc Marciano: I always just thought that Al was dope, you know what I’m saying? He’s a good friend, not to mention, but he’s just super ill. I knew of him before we started working on Reloaded. I was always just a fan. I admire his work ethic. He’s a beast.


Some time back you chose five beats/hip-hop tracks that were your favorites and all were from the late ’80s/early ’90s. How would you compare your style with that of the Golden Era MCs from New York?


Roc Marciano: Probably in terms of the lyricism, you know the way I focus on the lyricism. With my lyrics, I’m pushing the culture forward from what the guys in the ‘90s were doing. In the Golden Era that was considered to be a big part of making music.


You’ve said that you think it’s important to update your style from what the MCs were doing back then. What do you mean by this?


Roc Marciano: Pushing it forward, making it better and better and to improve, so that’s pretty much what I mean by updating it. By updating it you are constantly improving it. It’s like an operating system on a computer, even though you buy a new computer it’s constantly updating the operating system so the computer runs better. I feel like that’s what I do with the music myself, you know, the style and production and choice of samples, just keep improving.


What’s interesting about your lyricism is that you have lots of images, you layer them and focus on setting the scene, not really story-telling so much. You’ve talked about how you’d love to work with DOOM and mentioned Kool Keith as an influence. Have those two MCs inspired your lyricism?


Roc Marciano: I would definitely say Kool Keith. I’m a fan of DOOM, I caught on to DOOM late, I was already doing what I was doing. As far as Kool Keith, he’s definitely somebody who inspired my style. With DOOM, as soon as I heard his music, yeah, this dude is ill.


Kool Keith has a similar style to you in some ways, in terms of layering lots of words that rhyme together that are kind of absurd or surreal. What do you think?


Roc Marciano: Yeah, yeah, I always thought that Kool Keith was pushing the feeling of being in an uncomfortable state and I liked that.


What do you mean by an “uncomfortable state?”


Roc Marciano: Not doing the same thing over and over. If you keep doing the same thing, if you keep picking the same beat over and over that dates, a lot of people are like that beat’s hard—that’s hard, that’s hard, well that attitude dates. I would like people to hear songs and be like that’s kind of strange, what’s that? That’s what I mean by being uncomfortable.


Which song from Rosebudd’s Revenge 2 would you say conveys that feeling?


Roc Marciano: Most of the album from “Tent City” to “Kill You” to “C.V.S.” So many. It’s not like every day hip-hop, you know what I’m saying? A lot of it is strange, risky, edgy.


New York is extremely important for you in terms of your work and what you do. You grew up in Hempstead, Long Island. Can you talk about where you grew up and how it connects with your work?


Roc Marciano: Well, I grew up in Hempstead, Long Island. It’s a hard question to answer ‘cause I feel like wherever you come from it’s going to be a huge influence, it’s like your culture. It’s pretty much all I know so that’s why it feeds into my music. It’s like anybody else’s hometown would.


You’ve said that this place had a rich culture. What do you mean by this?


Roc Marciano: Everything. From the people from Long Island hip-hop culture, from Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy, De La Soul, you know what I’m saying, and just the people. It was like a melting-pot of people from all these different places, especially in my area. It was definitely interesting, very rich.


You’ve said that you’d love to work with Ghostface Killah, what is it about his work that impresses you so much?


Roc Marciano: It’s super ill. From the stories, some of my favorite bodies of work come from that brother, Supreme Clientele, Iron Man, he’s a monster of an artist.


when you were asked who you would like to do a full album with, you said Cormega…


Roc Marciano: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always been a big fan, we have worked together, and we’ve got more work that’s yet to come out. He’s definitely somebody I’ve always admired as a lyricist. It seems pretty natural to me.


One thing that’s really great on the latest Rosebudd’s Revenge is the way the songs are placed side by side, how they work together. When you are creating a record what’s running through your mind in terms of what you want to achieve?


Roc Marciano: Just to make a great body of music. That’s always the plan, it never changes. No theme or concept would ever change the aim to make an album that sounds good from beginning to the end.


You often say how important it is for you to develop as an artist and to progress. How do you think this record is a development in terms of the first Rosebudd’s Revenge?


Roc Marciano: As I say, I think everything’s improved, from the beats to the rhymes. Everything is improving.