Roc Marciano Roc MarcianoMarcberg
In a splendid report published in its May issue, XXL Magazine wonders what the hell is happening to New York hip hop. Through a study of the singles and albums that have entered Billboard’s Top 10 de Billboard in the last decade, the magazine reviews and analyses, by location, the reasons for the notorious, evident and worrisome downfall of Big Apple rap within the American music industry as a whole. Many of the reasons mentioned are true and palpable, but reading the article, one might get the impression that they have forgotten the argument that I consider to be the most relevant: for the last few years, New York hip hop sounds like anything except New York. The commercial expansion of dirty south, the appearance of new sound models and trends (The Neptunes, Timbaland, Kanye West ), the standardisation of the sound of new gangsta rap ( 50 Cent and co.), collision with the pop and indie sphere, and the forcing underground of producers who used to appear on the charts ( Pete Rock, Q-Tip, Buckwild, Premier himself) have altered the DNA of the city’s rap, giving it a sort of sound lobotomy that has had a negative effect on the scene’s personality. It all sounds like nothing, like a formula, like factory rap, without a personal touch, without essence, without the genes that come from the worldwide, historical capital of hip hop.And in this situation, the underground has remained active, without a doubt, and with variable results over the course of this last decade, with the old guard carrying the purist torch, but gradually losing public and media impact on the market. This whole time, many of us have had the feeling that something was missing. And now we finally know. “Marcberg”, the official solo debut of Roc Marciano, was missing – for the moment, at the end of May, it’s the best rap album put out in 2010; in the long run (this is my personal theory), this recording should motivate and spur a new revivalist wave that will recover the keys of the maximum expression of the New York sound. I’m not exaggerating—in ten years, theses ears of mine haven’t heard a more New York hip hop sound. The roughness of the beats; the dirtiness of the loops; the melodic minimalism; the lyrical and emotional evocation of any corner in Brooklyn or Queens; the characteristic musical quality of the hustler, of the street routine; the rough flow, without flourishes; sure rhymes, brilliant and stripped of all artifice; and the hyperrealism of the proposal as a whole all work the miracle. “Marcberg” is as if Doc and his Delorean had programmed a trip for us at the beginning of 1993, just when RZA was laying the groundwork for what would be one of the most important debuts of all times. It has that claustrophobic feeling of beats made in a rat-trap in some grimy studio in a bad part of town, voraciously hungry and overwhelming, with an absolute, radical commitment to a tradition, with a certain sound that can only be raised and put out from the gutters of the Big Apple. For all of these years, excellent exercises in boom bap revisionism have been put out, worthy leaps back in time to the golden age, trying to capture that aesthetic momentum that had already passed. But in all of them you could detect, identify, and predict that nostalgia quickly, at first glance. This is like comparing Nike Air Jordan IV OG, or even the first retro, with any other recent retro: the feeling is there, it’s still intact, and it’s a powerful emotional trip for the fan, but the manufacturing, the materials used, the feel, the touch all reveal it to be a low cost recreation. “Marcberg” is different from all of the current production because it really seems designed, produced, and written in ‘93, without revisionist alibis, unusually faithful to a modus operandi, certain textures, and an essence that no retro product, however good it might be, can manage to recreate. And this is what takes its essence beyond nostalgia fever. This masterpiece is destined to last over the passing of time—it won’t just be a crutch to consciously flee from the atrocities of pop-rap or the new bubblegum gangsta. Roc Marciano, formerly the protégé of Busta Rhymes, who took him into Flipmode Squad, and of Pete Rock, who altruistically gave him some beats for his amazing UN project, has invested years in the shadows to be able to put forth an album like those of yesteryear: a single producer, he himself; no skit to throw people off; no “featuring” bought with a chequebook, only a brief appearance by his buddy KA; the duration and track list done right, without excesses that break up the dynamic; and especially a real coherence and unity in the sound—no singles for the radio, no street concessions, no conciliating meeting point. A rock that is impossible to break or to cross.Musically, Roc Marciano manages to build a wall of austere, asphyxiating beats that remind you of RZA, Large Professor, Godfather Don and Nick Wiz, although there are also several flashes along the way – “Don Shit”, especially– that make you think of Company Flow by “Funcrusher Plus.” That’s how serious and well-rounded this album is. The feat is finished off with a series of lyrics, rhymes, and images that fit perfectly with the soundtrack. Marciano is a brilliant, very agile writer, especially because he really gets a lot of mileage out of his limited universe of non-stop street and the little adventures and misadventures of a hustler in a big city. In his chronicles there is no glamour, glory, or even mystification of the streets, everything is limited to a naturalistic, hyper-realistic idea of the story that, of course, becomes the ideal complement for the beats and the loops. An album made for the love of it, with zero commercial aspirations or ambitions, a steamroller written and financed by passion and respect for the hip hop that is surviving now as a sort of species in danger of extinction. The city that never sleeps is breathing easy. David Broc
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