It took a while for Roc Marciano to get here. After a brief stint in Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and trying to form his own group with three childhood friends — The UN — to little success, the seasoned Hempstead, Long Island native spent several years in the wilderness. It didn’t matter that he had the best verse on a track with Busta, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah or that he got co-signs from Pete Rock and Large Professor, for Roc was destined to be an also-ran, languishing behind his revered peers. Then, in 2010, Roc emerged from the shadows with his solo debut Marcberg. Equal parts ruthless and visceral, it was Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth reincarnated but slicker. Entirely self-produced, the record became an immediate underground favorite among fans, fellow rappers, and the few critics that covered it.
But while Marcberg wrote the blueprint, its follow-up was Roc’s vision celebrating its grand premiere. Released on November 13, 2012, Reloaded is a crisp and expansive listening experience that improves on its predecessor in every single facet. A stylistic descendant of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, and Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, it’s a no-frills noir heavily inspired by three decades of Black America: the Blaxploitation phenomenon of the ‘70s, Reaganomics in the ‘80s, and the ‘90s grit-sodden nihilism.
On Reloaded, Roc paints himself as an unapologetic OG draped in chinchilla and rocking gold around his neck. He’s strutting around the underworld of New York City with a pimp cane and a loaded strap, his pockets are stuffed with blunts and C-notes, and he’s got a hell of a lot of stories to tell. Oozing blaxploitation cool, Roc is the epitome of total composure on the infernal “Tek to a Mac,” rapping about being “in an Avi that’s brown like gravy” while riding in a “Plymouth listening to the Spinners.” His style’s wavy but he’s still on his gangsta shit too, threatening to “pierce your rib with the spear like Shaka Zulu.” As the album opener’s title suggests, Roc Marciano makes it known from the get-go that he’s levelled up and Reloaded is his coronation.
A trait that Roc skillfully demonstrates throughout Reloaded is his tendency to tiptoe between stoic menace and absurd humor. On the cold bonus cut, “Two Zips,” Marci holds up an opp with a .44 “for a small treasure” before “lining them up like a Wahl edger. The cinematic “76” has him emptying clips on his enemies ‘til their “physical being turned to creamed corn” before hilariously referring to himself as the “bedspring king.” Roc’s inner Dolemite is again unleashed on “Peru,” where he raps, “Lick the poonani, Benz big body. Aphrodite, ass is mighty.”
What makes his delusions of grandeur even funnier is his nonchalant cadence, which brings some offbeat levity into his grisly crime rhymes. Like Prodigy, Cam’ron, and Ghost before him, Roc loves to contort the English language to his will. Reloaded is an exhibition of his semantic wizardry, full of multisyllabic rhymes and rewindable quotables. Take the sinister “Nine Spray” with brother-in-bars Ka:
“The gun is rust brown, it’s an oldie but goodie. I’m looking like Goldie in the hoodie, rose gold rollie, Tec-9 is loaded up fully. Shells fly, open you like pussy.”
Given his prowess in combining precision verbiage with narrative flair, it’s not surprising that Roc never once devolves into cluttered rappity-rap.
Reloaded didn’t just rubber-stamp Roc as an elite lyricist; he elevated into another stratosphere as a producer since Marcberg. The beats are an elegant mélange of odd samples, obscure film snippets, and expressive instrumentals, often reducing drums to a mere pitter-patter from afar. Moody keys and mournful sax guide the stirring “20 Guns.” Bluesy guitars reminiscent of Albert Collins wail over “Not Told.” While 10cc’s harmonious slow-dancer “I’m Not in Love” transitions into ominous bap-and-bars on “76.” Finally, album closer “The Man” is powered by triumphant organs that play over our anti-hero’s happy ending: “Mind blowin’ sex with the cognac breath. Five star spread from the chef.”
Despite its commitment to the hallowed tenets of mid-’90s boom bap, it would be reductive to simply label Reloaded as a Golden Era homage. Nowadays, there’s a growing acceptance that Roc and Reloaded’s influence on underground and mainstream circles is getting stronger by the year. It’s pretty difficult to imagine post-boom bap rappers such as Meyhem Lauren, Action Bronson, and the Dump Gawds breaking through without Roc Marciano lighting the torch. Griselda can trace their cultural lineage back to Roc’s affinity for haute couture and his cut-the-middleman model for slanging merch. Freddie Gibbs didn’t truly ascend to prominence until he turned 40, which wouldn’t have happened without Roc proving that hip-hop is a country for old men, while the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and J. Cole have recently embraced his hypnotic minimalism. As for producers, there are several that Roc can claim as his beatmaking heirs: Conductor Williams’ jazzy dissonance, Daringer’s wraithlike oeuvre, and Nicholas Craven’s alluring blend of blues and soul are all indebted to Marci’s avant-garde ambience. Modern day rap owes a lot to Roc.
On “Tek to a Mac,” Roc Marciano raps, “I willed this into existence. Memories of being broke now distant.” It’s a couplet that harks back to his years in career survival mode, reminding us all that for his near-incomparable genius, it took a long time for him to get his acclaim.
Oumar Saleh is a freelance pop culture writer based in the UK, and has covered music, film, and wrestling with bylines in Passion of the Weiss, Little White Lies, Fanbyte, Crack, Yahoo, and NME. You can follow him on Twitter at @OumarMSaleh.
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