Long Island rapper Roc Marciano is a throwback to a specific hip-hop moment – the drug-slinging detail, blacksploitation beats and sleek self-mythologizing of New York in the Nineties. But his second album will thrill anyone who loves hearing a great writer in any genre do not-nice things to the English language. Roc dolls out psychedelic syllable clusters over sumptuously heavy-lidded beats by local producers like A.G.
NYC's Roc Marciano follows up his 2010 critically celebrated solo debut, Marcberg, with a sequel nonpareil in its originality and craftsmanship. Marciano produces nine out of the 15 tracks, weaving through a precise arrangement of piano, guitar and gangster samples. "Tek To A Mack" leads with crescendoing strings over subdued drums; Marciano begins each rhyme above the surface of the beat, only to submerge himself, muffling sound and dropping ironic jewels where the punch line should be.
On the first single from Reloaded, Roc Marciano threatens to "push your afro back to 76... those were some good years, baby." He was born in 1978. It's not the first time the Long Island rapper has ignored the calendar year. After spending the 2000s in the major label hinterlands as a forgotten member of Flipmode Squad, he went Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on that entire decade with the release of 2010's Marcberg.
Roc Marciano's second solo album bares some bad signs. There's the plain and obvious album title, previously used by over 50 other artists. More glaringly, there's the matter of the beats not knocking as much as they did on Marcberg. Unlike that album, Reloaded is not produced entirely by Marciano ….
Deeply rooted in the former era where rhyme skills took precedence over catchy jingles, fads, marketing schemes and other modern means of garnering attention, Roc Marciano is a heroic figurehead symbolizing Hip Hop’s fight for purity. Walking the road less traveled, he has remained slept on (despite alliances including Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and varying underground veterans) as a self-produced madman who takes a scientific approach to scripting street verbiage. With high expectations from those in the know, Reloaded is Roc’s hotly anticipated return to a scene craving his presence and intricate wordplay.
A$AP Rocky’s “Everything Is Purple” is not an allusion to the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx cassette pressing. Action Bronson is showered with Ghostface comparisons merely because of his nasal tenor, not because his best songs are about coke or because he spent the ‘90s wedging verses between RZA’s kung-fu samples like Tony Starks did. But with Long Island’s Roc Marciano, the links between New York rap’s modern-day purveyors and the most eminent figures of its past are almost entirely pervasive – the only things missing are Premo scratches, Five Percenters references, and the word “dun.
Forget rap for a second, because Roc Marciano has. Rap music is the medium, sure, but hip hop barely exists in the world of Reloaded. References come thick and fast but rarely date as recent as the 80s, and even then, they're drawn from Hollywood classics and your parents' record collection. Robert Redford, Alfred Hitchcock, Pam Grier, the music of Teddy Pendergrass, George Clinton and Marvin Gaye; these are the cultural signposts to be found in Roc's world.
It’d be a lazy critic’s choice to label Roc Marciano as a grimy New York dude who follows the lineage of Mobb Deep and Raekwon and can spit AAA rhyme scheme for a full 16. This approach sells the Strong Island artist, and arguably one of the best albums of 2012, short. It neglects the cohesiveness of his vision and the veiled depth of his lyrics and lo-fi production.