Roc Marciano is no stranger to the rap game. Hailing from Long Island, New York — and growing up under the shadow of Eric B. & Rakim and EPMD — Roc Marciano, real name Rakeem Calief Myer, took his first jab at rapping at the age of 13. He hasn’t looked back since.
Roc — “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper” — prides himself as a lyricist, delivering dense wordplay over New York City-centric production that simmers. Since distancing himself from Busta Rhyme’s Flipmode Squad and releasing his self-produced debut, Marcberg, in 2010, Marciano has been one of the most prolific street rappers in hip-hop: This year was no different. In a span of eight months, Marciano released three of the best independent rap albums of 2018: R2: The Bitter Dose, Behold a Dark Horse, and Kaos with DJ Muggs.
He’s also a savvy business person. Roc withheld R2: The Bitter Dose and Behold a Dark Horse’s from streaming services initially. If fans wanted the new Roc, they would have to pay $30 for it. (He would eventually put the albums on streaming.)
As the year winds up, we decided to sit with Roc and have him talk about his excellent year and how independent artist can thrive without playing by standard industry rules.
As told to Shirley Ju.
On his come up.
I grew up in Hempstead, Long Island. I got into a lot of things. Hip-hop and just the culture at the time, the ’90s and the early 2000s. That was really New York before it became a police state. It was even more hip-hop. It was hip-hop clubs. It was dangerous, drug culture, all of that. It was exciting to grow up in. For real, it was always an adventure. You never knew what going out would bring. I try to make sure the music I create, I preserve that to some degree.
It’s been a long time coming, of course. [After] starting with labels, I really enjoy the freedom of being independent a whole lot more. It’s been great. I’ve already built a good relationship and rapport with my fans, so I just feel like it’s been a great thing for me. The experience has been amazing. I’ve been totally independent since Rosebudd’s Revenge. Right now, it’s been about three years.
On Making Music.
My creative process is just I love making beats, so I sample. I buy records and I explore. I get lost like a kid, just out in the woods. I go find things and try to discover stuff. When I come across things that move me and that I relate to, that opens the door for my creativity. Finding music that inspires me, that pushes my pen. That’s where I start. I start writing to it. It’s pretty much history from there, after I get the beats. I actually write my lyrics. I still write in a book too.
On making “sneaker money” from streaming.
[In regards to that tweet], I feel like that’s common knowledge. You got artists who sold multi-millions, platinum and double Platinum, and they complaining about the unfair splits on streaming. They don’t have it together yet. That’s pretty much common knowledge in the music business. Of course, an artist of my stature — the streaming money, they just haven’t figured that out yet. The streaming aspect of the game, I hate to say it, sucks because I appreciate all the support, but the way the companies break bread with the artists, I don’t think they got that figured out yet.
I’m not mainstream, so I’m not getting billions of streams like Adele or Drake. Even bigger artists who are getting millions and millions of streams, they don’t like the bread neither. Of course, somebody like me who doesn’t do numbers like Adele or Drake, I’m not gonna like the streaming pay out either.
With RR2 and Dark Horse, I just wanted to give the people an opportunity to support me. Basically, it gives the people the opportunity to have it first. It’s like having sneakers before they hit the streets. I just wanted to give them the chance to have it exclusive, before others get a chance. It gives them the opportunity to support me directly because I can feel the love. People want to support this art and keep it pushing, because I’m obviously important to the community.
After a while, you just want to be able to share it with everybody. That’s why I put it on streaming services. Now, even the people that support me, it’s not like they can just tell their friends to listen. They don’t know me or who I am to go to my website and purchase it. They can just say, “go on this platform or that platform.” It’s right there, so you can just spread the word. It’s good for advertisement.
On artists experimenting with distribution.
As you can see, more people are doing it. Take for instance when 4:44 came out, that was exclusively on Tidal. Only Tidal, and then it went up for streaming — which was after Rosebudd. I’m not saying I did it first, but people are doing it. They’re actually using the business model/approach, so it’s a success. It works. I’m going to keep doing it. It’s good for independent artists to explore that.
On the making of Kaos
It was me and DJ Muggs. It was different. That wasn’t just me by myself. Muggs is a grandmaster, so I took the opportunity to learn from Muggs. I’m a big fan of Muggs. He is one of the best that ever did it. That’s why I was so excited to do it because I knew working with Muggs, we would make some fire and I would learn a lot.
In the studio, we were just going through beats, figuring out how we want to put the album together. With Muggs, I could really just worry about being a MC. I didn’t have to worry about being a producer, because he’s such a producer. I could just lay my rhymes and go about my business, come back, and it’s even more amazing.
I work with people I have relationships with. Usually, that’s what works best. Muggs, we had been kicking it since me living [in L.A.] and being at the studio at [Alchemist’s] crib all the time. We got a chance to meet and get to know each other more. Once I start to get that relationship with people, working and business pretty much was easy after that.
If you’re doing a project with a real producer, not just a beat maker, you can really just be an MC. You can do your part, and then they can go really produce. Take what I’ve done and turn it something greater, that’s what I like about working with one producer.
On how long it takes to record an album.
Sometimes you can do an album in a couple months. Sometimes, it might be a year. It depends on how fast I’m pushing myself or how much production I have. Sometimes, it’s hard to get all the pieces that you hear to create the album, as far as music wise. Now if I have all of the music, I can do it pretty fast. Sometimes, it’s just hard to collect the music, so it all depends. That right there determines how long it’s going to take [to finish a project].
[Black] Thought is one of the greats. For “Diamond Cutters,” we had been talking. We both respect each other’s craft. It was natural that would eventually get together and start working on some music. Since we got in touch, I was just waiting to make sure we had the right track. Once I got that one, I was like, “Yeah, this is the one right here…” I sent it to Thought. I sent him the beat first, he agreed that it was fire. I laid my verse and sent it to him. He laid his verse and that was that.
On making Videos.
When it comes to videos, we just keep it real loose. Depending on how I’m feeling, sometimes we have a treatment, sometimes we don’t. Just grab the cameras. I got my own studio, I got cameras, my friends got cameras. We just do it Guerrilla style. We just have fun and run with it.
Sometimes, it’s hard because you don’t have people in offices making sure that you get the looks that the companies have invested in these artists, to make sure they get the looks instead. That stuff can be tough sometimes, but good music spreads on its own.
On his Fanbase.
It’s hard to talk about my fanbase, because they’re from all walks of life. You can never put your finger on what your fans are about or what they look like. I just know I put a lot of work in and throughout the years, I’ve definitely gained a nice following. All I can say is it’s been hard work, and I think a lot of people recognize the hard work that I put in.
Some people say you changed their life. You run into people and they tell you that your music got them through real tough times. I met one guy, he told me he was obese and he listened to my music every day, just running and exercising. When I seen him, he was like my size! Stuff like that… it’s always heartwarming.
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