When I spoke to Roc Marciano about his career — from Flipmode Squad to Pete Rock’s Petestrumentals with the U.N. to his 2010 debut, Marcberg — he replied by saying, “I got my first deal in 2000, I think.” That he isn’t entirely sure when he signed to a record label, and that he has to specify that he’s talking about his first record deal, is a pretty good indication of his circuitous route to underground success. It’s also representative of his rarefied stance in the New York hip-hop scene: Hardly a rookie, not quite a veteran. The benefit of being a little outside the confines of the most rigid rap scene around, though, is that he was able to take his time quietly moving headknock hip-hop in the direction of something quieter and more introspective.
It’s appropriate, then, that a sample from the 1981 crime flick and character study Thief begins “Wee III,” a track from Marciano’s new album Reloaded — Michael Mann’s subtle slow-burn fits the New York rapper/producer’s boom-bap quite well. Marciano’s production style is to chop samples until they’re nothing more than an eerie pulse, and to edit his raps until they’re just a series of seething asides and punch-you-in-the-gut poetic descriptors. The only other MC doing boom-bap this meticulously is frequent Marciano collaborator Ka, who appears on “Not Told” and “Nine Spray,” and whose album, Grief Pedigree, is one of the year’s best (though it might take some time to creep up on you and reveal itself). On Reloaded, Marciano stretches out a bit, accepting beats from the Alchemist (“Flash Gordon”), and Q-Tip (“Thead Count”). He even deigns to sample 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” on the track “76.” It might seem like something of a quirky Action Bronson move, until you hear the way Marciano steals the piano of that soft-rock lark and turns it into a Mobb Deep-like minor-key mood-setter. Marciano’s Reloaded is out on Decon tomorrow, but you can hear it below, exclusively at SPIN.