Who: "In the past few years, I just been focusing more on solo stuff," Roc Marciano modestly explains, delivering something of an understatement. The Long Island rapper kicked around for about a decade before finally releasing his debut, Marcberg, in 2010. By simply surviving, Marciano became a link back to New York hip-hop's head-busting past and also something of a rookie, keeping the sound alive. "I came into the game around '99-2000, with Busta Rhymes," Marciano recalls, adding, "I got my first deal in 2000, I think?" From Flipmode Squad to tough-minded trio the U.N. — known for their appearances on Pete Rock's legendary Petestrumentals — to Marcberg and this month's follow-up, Reloaded, Marciano's circuitous career path has never caused him to question his journey.
Rebirth of The Boom Bap: Undoubtedly indebted to the '90s hip-hop of his native city, Marciano's style leans even heavier on internal rhyming and syllable-stacking. His signature approach is to craft darkly evocative, violently comic threats that trickle out with an impassive menace matching his subtle, mostly self-produced soul loops. "People associate [my sound] with that golden age," Marciano says, "but that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm just going in there and trying to make music that I want to hear: I'm rapping like right now." He is quick to add, though, that the '90s hip-hop that raised him and so many other dedicated rap fans remains incredibly important: "Don't get it twisted, dudes back then was rapping futuristic. That shit is relevant now!"
The Long Hello: Marciano's seething, literary raps and smooth, intricate beats suggest an artist with patience and a methodical focus on maintaining his integrity. "I can't really explain how I [kept moving forward], but I always knew that I had to come out as a solo artist. I knew that was my strongest suit." His ability to hold tight to his style while appearing on disparate projects, from the psych-rap of Alchemist and Oh No's Gangrene, to a collaboration with Das Racist (aptly titled "Roc Marciano Joint"), speaks to his ability to be both chameleonic and distinctly himself. "Until [Marcberg] I felt like I never really showed my full hand," Marciano says of his move through hip-hop's 2000s — a rocky and strange era that found superstars suddenly lost and underground legends locked in crappy record deals. "I knew I would step up more," he adds. "Not only as an MC, but as a producer. That [was] my ace in the hole."
Looking for the Goodies: "76," off Reloaded, produced by Marciano, samples 10cc's bitter slow jam "I'm Not in Love." It's an ostensibly odd choice for the in-the-box creative producer, particularly on a track with this grim, hilarious hook: "Hold the 12 gauge that's heavy as shit / For every clip we let steadily rip / Push your afro back to '76." Though everyone from Pete Rock to current southern-rap architect Mike Will Made It has sampled the 10cc track, Marciano "had no idea." With a laugh, he says, "I thought I was discovering some shit. I just felt like the sample was ill and the way the drums sat on it? It just worked." Reloaded also features beats from the Alchemist, Q-Tip, and close collaborations with his quasi-in-house producers the Arch Druids and Ray West, who are like "brothers" to the rapper. How does beat selection work? "I just take the goodies, you know what I'm sayin'?"