Photo by BLESS E$CRO.
Jay Worthy and Roc Marciano are Moving at Their Own Pace
Jay Worthy and Roc Marciano discuss their new album Nothing Bigger Than The Program, sample snitching, cracking jokes on wax, and why they tend to avoid being friends with other rappers.
From a distance Long Island’s Roc Marciano and Compton’s Jay Worthy might not seem like an obvious pairing.
Marciano half-whispers transgressive hood raps, where very specific flashpoints — such as the spillage of tartar sauce on a pimp’s shoes, the gargoyle sculptures on the side of a luxury condo, or a stable filled with olive oil-colored horses — indicate vast levels of wealth and a Dr. Octagon-adjacent sense of humor. His artsy yet gutter style of rapping arguably opened the doors for the likes of Griselda, Action Bronson, and Mach-Hommy to prosper, and from 2010’s Macberg LP onwards, Roc has kept meticulously raw bars alive across New York State amid a slump where so many East Coast peers were preoccupied with emulating Atlanta.
He has been a consistently original producer too, with the music on recent Roc Marciano-produced albums for Stove God Cooks and Flee Lord hitting your ears like the score for a Blaxploitation movie directed by David Cronenberg. Elegant yet strange, the beats of solo cuts like “Broadway Bully” and “Butterfly Effect” squeeze every last drop of surrealism out of baritone saxophone samples and piercing air raid siren-esque synths.
Worthy, meanwhile, has won a cult fan base thanks to a trademark hammock-trap flow. He maintains an elevated state of relaxation (“I get anything I want with a minor flick of the wrist” is the mission statement of the DJ Muggs-produced “This Is It”) amid chaos in his neighborhood. His underrated psychedelic rap group LDN DRUGS (alongside producer Sean House) is like ‘90s g-funk if it was fuelled by 2CB rather than the chronic, and Worthy’s gruff yet naturally melodic vocals carry the stoicism of so many of the “strong, silent type” male archetypes of decades past. Press play on “The Gentleman”, for example, and you’ll quickly see how he admires Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin just as much as MC Eiht and Mack-10.
Yet despite being in separate creative lanes, Roc Marciano and Jay Worthy share a deep chemistry and approach to navigating the music industry, which seems to supersede any of their regional rap differences. They speak during our interview with a warmth and bite that mirrors two Capos sharing strategies while sunning themselves out front at Satriale’s pork store. “I don’t really fuck with rappers, bro; they too Hollywood,” says Worthy. “I could count my friends in the music industry on one hand; Roc being one of them. I look at myself more like a paid author.”
Roc, whose dry speaking voice reminds me of the late legendary mafia movie actor Frank Vincent, agrees: “We ain’t no rappers! First and foremost; we are men. We just happen to rap… but we’re not rappers, and we don’t be moving around on no rapper’ time. We are not hobnobbing in these industry circles, and we stay out of all that rapper shit.”
This shared need to create in an environment isolated from industry trends has resulted in Nothing Bigger Than The Program, a sticky cross-pollination of noir (it’s no surprise many of the songs were produced and written while Roman Polanski’s sadistic L.A.-based murder mystery masterpiece Chinatown played on a TV set in the background) and gangsta rap, where Worthy reaches new levels as an emcee and Marciano does so as a producer. All of its beats have a Sunday glow (particularly “How?”), yet there tend to be deathly piano notes that lurk just underneath the blissfully stoned drums. Sonically, therefore, Marciano really nails how California often feels like such an inherently dark paradise.
Jay Worthy & Roc Marciano - Wake Up (Official Video)youtu.be
Worthy floats over the top of these funky concoctions like a fur coat-wearing veteran giving an acceptance speech at the Players Ball, as do guests like Kurupt, Bun B, Jay 305, and Ab-Soul. The lead artist never fails to show vulnerability, making all the references to jet ski rides and kobe beef luncheons feel hard-won and like the listener is a family member sharing in the spoils. The pair recorded the project’s first five songs in one night; a clear sign of an artist and producer singing from the same hymn sheet.
“I’ve been telling Roc, you know we just started a franchise right?” Worthy beams. “This is the first of many.”
To celebrate the release of Nothing Bigger Than the Program, Okayplayer caught up with Roc Marciano and Jay Worthy to talk about why it’s important not to shout, rappers being the new stand up comedians, generational wealth, and sample snitching.The interview below has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Worthy, on “The Plug” you rap about how it’s “hard to believe” you are now getting paid from rap, while Roc talks about making it through the mud “without a smudge” on “Wake Up.” It feels like Nothing Bigger Than The Program is all about toasting to your shared growth.
Roc Marciano: We came a long way. Just reflecting on how far we traveled from the beginning: we’re here to this day and we’re still fresh. We’re still fly. There is a lot to be said for that, you know?
Jay Worthy: I live a bit different than I did 10 years ago, you know what I am saying? I got more money now. I go shopping at the Riviera and shit like that. Roc might come over in his Maybach and we might drive to the Bel-Air for some food. The streets are still part of us, sure, but life is far more elevated now. We wanted to share that [celebratory] energy with this new music. For me personally, this project right here is a level up for sure.
Photo by BLESS E$CRO.
Is it weird being a producer and letting another rapper take center stage, Roc?
Roc Marciano: My approach doesn’t change too much, to be honest. I am just trying to give dudes good music to rhyme on, just like I would give myself when I am recording and creating a solo album. I want stuff that is going to sound fire from beginning to end. If someone has a different type of voice, I might give them stuff to compliment how they sound — nothing too deep, though. I am just trying to give my man beats that inspire his pen to move, and we will figure out the rest.
There’s something very cinematic to these new songs. They give me visions of Sharon Stone, blinged out in a Las Vegas casino, gold rings on every finger. Did you guys watch any gangster movies in preparation?
Jay Worthy: We’re only really watching movies at the crib if a bitch come over to the house, you dig?
Roc Marciano: [laughs] We just got together and made some raw shit. That’s it.
Roc, so many of your bars contain these laugh-out-loud witticisms. I’ll never forget when you rapped “I came with the stick, this isn’t for shish kebabs” on “Pimp Arrest.” Laughter is an important tool for you both, isn’t it?
Roc Marciano: We humans! We laugh. We get together and we crack jokes. We don’t just sit in the studio with screw faces.
Jay Worthy: Hell yeah! Rapping, well, sometimes you’ve got to look at rap like stand up comedy, you know what I am saying? Because, after all, we’re entertainers. It ain’t always got to be so serious! The serious shit is the rap shit I don’t want to listen to as much [anymore]. I call Roc for advice, and he will call me just to have a laugh. That’s our dynamic.
As MCs, you guys don’t really raise your voices too much on wax either. Usually, the loudest person in the room is overcompensating for something, is that a notion that translates to rapping?
Roc Marciano: I don’t like people yelling at me, period. So I try to give the listener the same respect! I don’t like nobody yelling at me, so why would I be yelling at you with my raps? If you ever hear me yelling at you then it’s over.
I already know Nothing Bigger Than The Program is going to have Roc Marci fans searching out the samples. What do you guys think about the idea of “sample snitching”? There’s a beauty in knowing the genealogy of a rap beat, but has the internet also gone way too far with all these web pages dedicated to pointing out exact samples?
Roc Marciano: Straight up. At the end of the day, one hand washes the other. When we go dig in the crates and we find fly music, a lot of the time that music isn’t moving anymore. It isn’t relevant until we get on it. We are breathing new life into it, so there’s always two sides of the coin. Sample snitching is corny. But I also understand it is the wild west on the internet too. From Kanye West, all the way to us; we’re all in the same game. Everybody has to deal with the consequences.
Jay Worthy: I don’t like the shit either, but also look at where we are at! There’s straight websites that are dedicated to finding every sample on your album. I say leave it alone! We found these joints and made something new out of them; it doesn't need to be public knowledge.
Roc, I wanted to take you back to something you said on “1000 Deaths” - “We was left for dead with no inheritance.” Is true victory creating new cycles of generational wealth?
Roc Marciano: I mean, growing up we weren’t even thinking about it and didn’t really realize we were poor. But then you get to a certain age and you notice you ain’t got inheritance like the other kids do. You realize there’s some people who have things and there’s others, like us, who don’t. I guess as I got older, and I was paying for funerals instead of the insurance picking up the tab, I realized a lot. That’s what lines like that are about. My raps are coming-of-age stories.
What about you Jay? What does success look like, say, 20-30 years from now?
Jay Worthy: I want to get into films. Me and Roc actually talked about making a movie together before we started embarking on this album. Every time you see a Jay Worthy project, I just want people to remember it, from the artwork to the production. I want it to feel like the days when you bought the DVD box set of Dolomite or motherfucking Spike Lee or Tarantino. When you buy the Worthy collection, it has the same [stamp of cinematic] quality.
Roc Marciano: I want them to say we changed the culture. I feel like everything I involve myself in, I want it to be recognized as some of the best work of this era. I want them to say we came into hip-hop and were always trailblazing. For every artist I work with, including Jay, I want for it to be remembered as a major climbing shift in the game.
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance culture and music journalist from the UK. His work has appeared in the Guardian, VICE, Financial Times, Dazed, Pitchfork, New Statesman, Little White Lies, The i and Time Out.
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