Dressed in a fresh Ralph Lauren Polo, a charismatic figure steps out of canary-yellow Ferrari Scaglietti. His pants are sagging and the handle of a Desert Eagle nonchalantly sticks out on top of his belt buckle. He smiles slyly and without looking, throws a poker chip straight into the hands of the parking attendant, an arm movement that makes the diamond bracelet around his wrist glint in the low-hanging autumn sun. Out of the oakwood interior of the Lexus parked to the side come three women with hourglass figures and afros that would’ve put Pam Grier’s to shame. Their eyes drunk with anticipation, they hand him a bottle of Hennesy, from which he takes a long drink unflinchingly. On spotless suede sneakers, a model you didn’t even know to be released already, he steps into the club, trading the harsh outside winds for the welcoming embrace of the busy warmth where he’s expected. He winks and throws a large bag of cocaine, pure as winter’s first snow, onto a table where a champagne cooler is awaiting him. His name is Roc Marciano and this is his world.
It’s not easy to see Roc Marciano as the relatively invisible lieutenant in Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode Squad that he once was. Though Busta formed the crew when his solo career took off after leaving Leaders of the New School, Roc didn’t even join the click until Lord Have Mercy left it, replacing a rapper that saw the eventual disintegration of the group coming sooner than most.
A few years after that, Roc Marciano had built a working relationship with Pete Rock, and though their collaborations didn’t have much commercial success they were definitely a creative success. On the chocolate boy wonder’s deep, laidback soul loops he found his own niche, as they fitted perfectly with his nonchalant eloquence and casually stoic machismo. It’s a flow that doesn’t contain a single superfluous syllable but is deceptively intricate nonetheless. Take this part of ’20 Guns’ for instant: “I’m like Clooney/ in ghetto jewelry/ Polo Uzi/ the stone I threw you was a Ruby/ I move smoothly/ Roll a doobie in the jacuzzi/ after the movie/ She asked to do me/ I replied absolutely.” It paints a picture of the main character, his modus operandi is described both globally and in certain specific details and it even contains a small dialogue. All of this happens in sentences that roll off the tongue and are bursting at the seams with internal rhyme, continuing a single rhyming sound repeatedly without ever sounding forced or unnaturally reaching. You could fill a small booklet by pointing out moments like these, on Reloaded they come along close to incessantly.
Roc Marciano makes songs that go down greatly with nostalgics. They all sound ice-cold and raw and fit together like a glove. Which isn’t surprising when you see the production credits, which mention the rapper himself as the producer on nearly every track. The soul samples and snippets of movie dialogue could’ve used a tad more variation, but they do manage to create a striking atmosphere. People that get melancholic about early to late ’90s boom-bap can warm their heart to this, but Roc Marciano’s heart belongs to a different age: the ’70s. This is exemplified by a track like ’76,’ a reference to a year in which he himself wasn’t even born yet. Reloaded sounds both musically and lyrically like an exceptionally grimy crossbreed between the most sordid blaxploitation flicks and typical New york gangsta rap. If Isaac Hayes as Truck Turner was a member of the extended family around Mobb Deep, this is probably what he would sound like.
Roc Marciano paints a picture of a New York in which men are still men, Roy Ayers can be heard on every street corner and gangsters operate by a code of honor. Naturally, he’s the main character in this story himself, a story that’ll never soar through the charts, but which he has to tell, simply because it’s his story. With his uncompromising attitude, impeccable technique and rigid continuity of his own style, Roc Marciano is more than another “throwback-rapper” strictly delivering tunes to acidified backpackers who believe hip-hop died when Rawkus Records dissolved. Roc Marciano is not going to “bring New York back.” Roc Marciano is a subgenre of rap wholly on his own.