Killing Them Softly: Roc Marci is back
What constitutes a classic album? The question seems more important now, in this social media climate of live Twitter reactions and fanboys instantly declaring anything the Greatest Thing Ever. To me a classic album is surely not just a really good album, or even a really great album. There has to be something special about it beyond the quality of the music. Impact and influence are key. Illmatic is not just a really great album. Its influence and impact on the rap genre has been unquestionable, on multiple levels. The formation of a classic album is a process, one which takes time to measure; it doesn’t happen overnight, or after an hour of trending on Twitter.
In 2010, Roc Marciano released Marcberg. At the time its dusty sound, minimalist percussion, and near complete aversion for hooks stood in stark contrast to the direction of the genre. While Kanye was making stadium rap, Marciano provided the soundscape for dark, cold winter nights with no AC. Shortly thereafter New York’s rap scene saw somewhat of an underground resurgence as artists such as Ka, Action Bronson, and Maffew Ragazino expanded Marcberg’s glacial vision. Influence, impact? Check.
Flash forward to 2017 and Roc Marciano has returned from a three year solo album hiatus. In that time frame there has been no absence of minimalist rap to choose from. From Ka’s introspective projects to the street dreams of Griselda Records, the sub genre has been thriving. Move Dope, the intro track, provides a brooding bass and piano loop that sets the mood immediately. Roc declares himself “Ice-T times three” and backs it up with vignettes of calmly delivered threats.
“Read the bulletin, you just some shit to put some bullets in”
The pen game hasn’t lost a step. Meanwhile the production is largely kept close to the vest, a mixture of self produced tracks and some heat rocks from the always impressive Arch Druids. Knxledge drops in with the standout No Smoke, which sounds like theme music for a street king. The strings on History are some of the grimiest I’ve heard since Cuban Linx’s Knowledge God. Many of the samples and loops throughout the album provide a hazy, off kilter vibe that’s hard to anticipate. The title track conjures the spirit of Madlib, and the beat flip on Killing Time is one of the nastiest things I’ve heard this year.
Unfortunately some of the album is marred by some incredibly poor mixing. The vocals are often too low, and this especially becomes a problem on busier tracks with vocal samples. The result is a frustratingly muddy sound that almost ruins some tracks. Marksman should be a standout but becomes annoying to listen to due to the mix; that being said, the Ka feature it includes provides another tantalizing preview of the long promised/delayed “Metal Clergy” album between the two titans of reserved raps.
Still the album was well worth the wait. The horns on Pray 4 Me provide an emotional climax as Marciano confesses his sins: “crack tore the fam apart but it paid for my first apartment.” On the last track, Pig Knuckles, Roc unleashes the drums alongside an infectious soul loop. And like a vengeful god dressed in velour he inspects the fruits of those he influenced, and is not impressed.
I inspired your flow
Give a black man back his science and gold
The minimalist rap landscape is more heavily populated than it was in 2010, but nearly a decade later Roc Marciano still owns the block.