Hempstead, Long Island’s Roc Marciano has been rapping since the ’90s. He was a member of Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode Squad around the turn of the century and appeared on a Busta album cut with Raekwon and Ghostface, but later left the dreaded shadows to form the underground rap group The U.N. in 2001 (not to be confused with Cam’ron’s U.N.). He’s been a background staple of New York rap, appearing on a random Wu-Tang compilation and a some Pete Rock records all the while deepening his voice and sharpening his writing. Since 2010, he’s put out two albums that are fantastic if you love dense lyrics, no features and New York rap that sounds like it was made 15 years ago. Because really, who doesn’t?
Roc just dropped a mixtape in anticipation of his upcoming December 10 album, Marci Beaucoup. Old forgotten blaxploitation movie clips and funk and soul samples set the scene while Marciano’s words populate the album with dope fiends, drug dealers, prostitutes, ratchets, guidos, missing witnesses, dirty cops and the material possessions they all fight over. It all recalls an earlier incarnation of New York City than that one golden age. On “Sincerely Antique,” the vocal sample throughout almost sounds like doo-wop. It’s not tape hiss, it’s vinyl crackles.
There’s more features and outsourced production credits on this tape than any of Roc’s albums, but when it’s Madlib, the Alchemist, and Evidence making beats, there’s not going to be any EDM or screw music. And more than half of the features going to Marciano compadre Knowledge the Pirate and Action Bronson, the subject matter hardly diverts from the rest of the dreggy non sequiturs. On “Velvet Rope,” Roc puts his feet up, “Used to play the lobby with crack/Wally’s is black/Pontiac’s quality rap/Tapping punani from the back off the ‘yak/My bitch is built like a yak/My kicks is a rack,” while Bronson references the original CSI and Queens rapper Mayhem Lauren opens a bottle of Goldschläger.
Besides the screeching choir on “Take Me Over” and the violin on “German V’s,” the guitar loops and funky drums rarely drown out the rapping, instead settling themselves into grooves for Roc to rhyme a bunch of words with each other over. On his own production, with a looped vocal and some other noise that sounds like Clarence “Frogman” Henry on “I.D.K.,” he spits, “Blue Peugot/It ain’t what you know it’s who you know/Still play in the snow like a 10 year old.” The best song, “Ten Toes Down,” sounds like it could’ve been one of the meaner beats on Alchemist’s album with Prodigy from earlier this year, and on it Roc murmurs with comedic timing, “Austrian-made/Lady Marmalade/Chain cost an arm and leg… look retarded on the neck.”
There are some ridiculous one-liners here, ones which Riff Raff’s Versace absurdism or Action Bronson’s Food Network poetry can’t touch, like “slick lingo got me shittin’ out in Rio like Ringo/talk greasy like a spring roll” or “Vietnamese appeased by the deities.” It’s at times great dry humor, but it’s also full of the dirty underbelly that necessitates a sense of humor. The punchlines don’t clean the mud and the samples of the ’70s never transport the present. Roc’s still talking about $200 Dsquared2 t-shirts on a song with Cormega and when he mentions the Jamaican saying, “We run things, things don’t run we” on a Lord Finesse-produced track, I can’t help but think of Miley Cyrus. Marciano is an endangered species in our age, one which hopefully won’t die if they keep making music this good.