Rank Your Records: Roc Marciano Reflects on His Four LPs
On the release of his new album, 'RR2: The Bitter Dose,' the New York rapper discusses his grimy production style and working with everyone from Action Bronson to Q-Tip.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
When Roc Marciano dropped Marcberg in 2010, the rapper and producer helped reinvigorate the New York City hip-hop scene. While the charts were being dominated by the slicker electronic rap vibes of Rick Ross, T.I., and Drake, the Long Island-raised Marciano crafted an album that zeroed in on his city’s dank and shadowy underbelly. Over proudly grimy production that often called on dusty soul music loops, he relayed his words with a crime novelist’s eye for sinister detail. Marcberg became a slow-burning critic’s pick and helped open the doors for other artists pledging allegiance to a street-rooted style of East Coast hip-hop.
Since then, Roc Marci has continued to hone and tweak his formula across further album projects, while solidifying ongoing creative relationships with artists like Action Bronson, Alchemist, and Ka. Roc Marci’s latest effort, RR2: The Bitter Dose, showcases his hushed street sermons laid down over melancholic samples. It also includes one of the most vivid threats of the year to date, when he warns a foe, “Open your head/ Brain matter fell on your Pro-Keds.”
Speaking to Noisey on the phone while driving around “out in the sticks, like in the middle of nowhere,” Roc Marci says, “I don’t have any crazy sales pitch for this album, it’s just a great piece of music and I stand by it.” Digging into the rest of his discography, here’s how Roc Marciano ranks his records.
Noisey: Unlike your solo albums that came before it, Marci Beaucoup features a ton of guest MCs. What was the thinking behind that decision?
Roc Marciano: Yeah, that's because Marci Beaucoup was a compilation. That's what I told people at the time I was making it and promoting it, and that's what I tell them now. It was a producer's project where I was working with a lot of MCs that I selected and respected. It was put out through the label Man Bites Dog with the homie Ryan.
Compared to making your other albums, did you enjoy being able to direct things from a producer's point of view while working with these other rappers?
Yeah, it was fun to step back. But if you ask me did I work any differently while making this album, it's nah. I made those beats for me so that's what it is.
When you think back to Marci Beaucoup, who are some of the guest rappers that come straight to mind?
"Squeeze" with Guilty Simpson, "Soul Music" with A.G., and then there's "456" with Action Bronson. I mean, Bronson is a beast and he moves quickly and he's thorough [when in the studio]. As a producer, you have to appreciate that because who doesn't like to save time?
Did Bronson cook for you during the Marci Beaucoup recording sessions?
He wasn't cooking for me so much as he was cooking for everyone! He had the grill out, he was grilling all sorts of foods, like steaks and everything. When I'm in the studio on my own, I usually go with cold-pressed juices because they keep me energized. I get them bought and brought in from Whole Foods. If it's liquor, I'll go with some RumHaven, but it's really about the cold-pressed juices because you need that nutrition.
You also mentioned Guilty Simpson and A.G. as rappers you collaborated with on this album. What do you like most about their verses?
Well, Guilty Simpson is a beast, he's fire, he's a great guy, and I knew I was hearing fire with A.G. Also, A.G. is “Diggin' In The Crates.” What's not to like about “D.I.T.C.”?
There's a lot of pimp talk and imagery going on with Rosebudd's Revenge. Was this a concept you set out to convey with the album?
This is a good album, that's all I set out to do—make some good music. The title is like a metaphor about bringing that real pimpin' back, that real dangerous shit, because I feel like so much music that was being released at the time is soft, like there was no edge to it. I thought we needed to bring that back.
What's the significance of the rose that appears on the album cover and on your merch, like the headbands?
The rose motif is just something that looks cool—ain’t too much to it.
How much is your music inspired by pimp movies? Are there classics you use as reference points for the music?
The classic pimp movies are like The Mack, Willie Dynamite, Super Fly, so not even just pimp movies straight up. Would I ever get into writing scripts? I'm actually doing that now, but they're not like pimp movies—it’s some out-of-the-box scripts that will surprise people.
About a third of Rosebudd's Revenge is produced by Animoss and Don C from the Archdruids. How did you get involved with working with those guys?
Arch Druids I met back before Marcberg, during that era. Before I put Marcberg out they actually booked me for a show in Cali—I remember the show they booked me for was packed, and I remember it was actually the first time I performed those songs from Marcberg. But then when I got out there and was building with those dudes I found out they had all these fire-ass beats! The beats they make are fire and they fit me; it's just a feeling, it's like they make them with me in mind. And they really care about the sound and the samples and that comes through in the music.
Fans always seem to gravitate towards the songs you record with Ka, like with "Marksmen" on this project. Do you usually write together and talk about what you're going to do for these collaborations?
With Ka, sometimes we write together and other times we're just on the same page—we have that chemistry. We're never too far off what we write whatever the song is about.
Ka's actually absent on RR2: The Bitter Dose. Are you guys still planning to release the Metal Clergy collaborative album together?
Yeah, we're actually about to get back into that. We've taken some time with our personal careers, but Metal Clergy is coming.
When Marcberg was released, it stood out from a lot of what was going on in hip-hop with its grimy production. What did you think of the hip-hop scene at the time?
I wasn't really knowing what was going on in hip-hop at that time—that might have helped out. All I really knew was that no one else was doing music like me; no one else was rapping in my voice and telling these stories. So I went ahead with it. To be honest, when I make albums I don't really think about it like, how do I want the vibe of this album to sound like, you know? It's an organic process for me, always, and it's not like I'm trying to make different vibes for each album.
Looking back, would you change anything about the album?
No, I mean, it was just me doing my best at the time which is what you have to do. I hear people say it's influential and inspired other artists... Yeah, I knew it was gonna change the game. That was clear.
Marcberg announced you as a solo artist for a lot of people, and kinda helped put Ka on the map with his guest verse on "We Do It."
Yeah, working with Ka actually came about when I produced a song that featured him on GZA's album [“Firehouse”]. Ka was fire, I knew that. He actually reached out to me, and I heard him and was like, “Dude definitely got it.” He was reaching out to me for production.
Sean Price also appears on a remix of "Snow." What do you remember about working with him?
Sean P just asked for the song, that "Snow" joint. He had the verse and laid it down. It wasn't no involved process, it was just him asking for it to happen and we made it happen. As a person, I miss Sean P. My opinion is that he's the last real rock star, not in a corny way, like he's a powerful dude, he's super influential. I miss Sean P so much.
Why did you pick Reloaded as your favorite album over Marcberg?
I talk about this all the time with my friends. I think this one is the favorite because as a lyricist I really knew what I was doing. I got better as an MC and as a writer and as a storyteller between Marcberg and Reloaded. So that's it. And it's interesting that I've heard people tell me that they heard Reloaded first and then they went back and the album helped them find their way to Marcberg and try and get what I was doing with that one. But when I make my albums, it's always the same intention at the start—just make some good music, that's always the goal, it's always an organic process for me.
Reloaded also had Alchemist involved as an executive producer.
I met Alchemist while I was out on a trip to California. We linked up, we got to talking about Marcberg, and we chopped up it. I knew that Al was the man with all the samples and all the records so we arranged to work together. We recorded in Al's crib—they call it Rap Camp—and I remember that lots of people were passing through, which was different from the Marcberg sessions. I had Arch Druids in there, more artists like Alchemist and Action Bronson was passing through there, so there was that energy around. It was like a family experience, and that comes through.
Q-Tip also produced the track "Thread Count." How did that come about?
I'd known Q-Tip for a long time and I actually already had beats from him while I was making the album. I had a lot of beats from Tip in the stash. But for this one, "Thread Count," it was ill, so ill. It was like a beat that I would make, you know?
A lot of fans call Reloaded a very cinematic album, saying that it plays out like a movie. Would you agree with that?
I agree that it's a cinematic album, it's got that feel to it. That's what I do.