Long Island emcee Roc Marciano has been lucky enough to work through three separate phases of his rap career, two more than most other artists ever receive. His current incarnation, that of a solo artist, resulted from his Fat Beats debut release, Marcberg, earlier in 2010, which was met with immediate critical acclaim from bloggers who were enamored with his attempt to bring New York crime stories and simple street beats (provided by Marcy himself) to the forefront. Marcberg was also held in high esteem by his peers: big names such as Q-Tip, Large Professor, and Just Blaze pledged their support to Marcy for a follow-up, entitled Marcberg Reloaded, to be released at a later date. (Depending on who you ask, Marcberg Reloaded is either an all-new project or a reissue of Marcberg with higher production values: I'm thinking that it will be a combination of both. Or possibly neither: I don't put it past any artist to fuck with their audience by releasing a death metal tribute to polka.)
Critical acclaim is great and all, but Roc Marcy had to come from somewhere. Way back in the early part of the millennium, he could be found in the lineup of Busta Rhymes's crew, the Flipmode Squad, even turning in a credible guest turn alongside the likes of Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Trevor himself on the Large Professor-produced "The Heist" (from Anarchy). However, this association was short-lived: as with every other artist in the Squad, Busta apparently became jealous of the man's skill behind the mic and quickly dropped him from the act. Or something. Trevor's reasons for shutting down the Flipmode Squad are his own, but you would hope that he at least put some money into the respective 401ks for his employees.
Anyway, Marcy quickly bounced back as a member of the rap quartet The UN, which also consisted of Dino Brave, Mike Raw, and Laku. The crew was named after their stomping grounds in Uniondale (which also birthed the Leaders Of The New School, which helps explain the Busta Rhymes connection). The crew made their debut in a fairly prominent place: on the first pressing of Pete Rock's Petestrumentals, they were the only guest artists to make an appearance, which is an astonishing feat, considering that project was mostly instrumental in nature. (Future pressings of Petestrumentals worked in more cameos from other rappers, but The UN retained their spot.) This led to their crew album, UN Or U Out, released by World Records in 2004 to critical acclaim (a constant in Marcy's career, apparently) and poor distribution: it quickly went out of print. It may be worth the effort to track it down, though, as it boasts production credits from Roc Marcy himself, along with The Alchemist, DC-based underground favorite Oddissee, Mike Raw, Large Professor, and, of course, their mentor, Pete Rock.
Marcberg isn't actually Roc Marciano's debut solo project, but it's okay if you didn't know that. As though the group knew who wore the pants in their family, The UN released a Strength and Honor, a mixtape-slash-album starring Marcy which only boasted minimal assistance from the crew itself. Roc provided the majority of the production, with occasional help from Peter Q. Rockefeller, Nottz, and D.O.A., setting up the blueprint for his future career.
Fat Beats tested the water earlier this year by releasing the Marcberg EP, which boasted five tracks (and their instrumentals) from what would eventually be simply called Marcberg. After six years away from the game, the EP helped introduce the man to newer hip hop heads who weren't necessarily familiar with the crime tales of the mid-1990s. Thanks to the nearly-universal acclaim, Roc Marciano, a guy who never really retired from rap in the first place (it's more like he faded away for a short time), is poised to become the comeback kid of 2010, which isn't a bad look for a guy who already burned through two separate incarnations of his career.
Is Marcberg really worth all of this shit, though?
No matter how much you try to disguise it by fucking with the song's title, this is still a rap album intro.
2. IT'S A CRIME
The first song on Marcberg adopts an instrumental tone that is vaguely early RZA-esque, with its soulful sample looped into infinity and beyond, growing more and more annoying with each cycle. Marcy delivers his lines with the showmanship of a lawn chair, rendering his crime tales virtually indistinguishable from the poor excuse of a “chorus” that appears sporadically. It doesn't help that our host doesn't even sound sold on the subject matter himself: that lack of confidence translates to the audience's reaction to “It's A Crime”. Not a good way to start off, kid.
3. WHATEVA WHATEVA
At least the instrumental sounds entirely different than the one on the previous song. Marcy's flow, however, is exactly the same: this may as well be a part of the same freestyle session, except the presence of a hook, which seem to take twelve hours to finally end, disproves that theory. Some of his bars sound decent enough, with his unique attention to detail (I've never heard a rapper threaten to hide your body in a pile of leaves before), but his own lack of investment in the song itself (which is especially evident during the hook) is his worst enemy. I'm starting to question why so many bloggers take up valuable real estate on Roc Marciano's nut sack.
4. RAW DEAL
Either by design or due to extremely poor editing, “Whateva Whateva” leads directly into this song. Marcy sounds a little more engaged on here, but the combination of still-weakly delivered lines and the afterthought of an instrumental nails the song's coffin lid shut. I prefer artists who don't sound like they're reading from their lyric sheet while half-asleep, pausing for effect after each bar as if lying in wait of the audience's reaction. I don't remember Roc Marcy pulling this shit during his short stint in the Flipmode Squad. Maybe maturity has dulled his edge.
5. WE DO IT (FEAT. KA)
Although the hook is pretty stupid (it sounds like a placeholder for a real chorus to be determined at a later date), this was a step in the right direction. The beat has a slight Old West feel (with a Wu twist yet again), and Roc Marcy's monologue, consisting of direct threats against his enemies, finally manages to sound convincing. This is also the first song on Marcberg to feature a guest (an uncredited one, at that), so maybe Marcy felt the need to elevate his game for the occasion. Regardless, “We Do It” was pretty fucking good: retool the chorus, and this shit could be a banger.
There's a way to incorporate the lonely plinks of a xylophone into a hip hop beat, but “Snow” doesn't quite manage it. Something about the childlike innocence of the instrumental seems to motivate Marcy, though, as he delivers his verses (and a could-have-been-worse hook) in a fully coherent state of mind. The remix could possibly bring out the best in his performance (although it's rumored to feature Heltah Skeltah's Sean Price, so it could potentially bury him in the background, as well). The xylophone keys can remain, but there needs to be much more than a simple drum machine loop that sounds lazy as shit. Sigh. Blocking out the final full minute for an interlude was also unnecessary.
7. RIDIN' AROUND
However, this song is an example of how a simple beat can actually enhance the overall experience. Marcy is addicted to drum machine beats (as most rappers are), but this time he pairs it with some strings that grow more dramatic as the minutes tick off of the clock. The copy I have is missing liner notes, so I'm not sure if the change in voice is due to the appearance of a guest artist or because Roc Marcy just got over bronchitis, but either way, this track actually works for me.
Marcy tries to spit some flames over the ambient noise from the factory he works in during the day, and he manages pretty well for himself, even though his flow makes him sound like a younger Buckshot. Actually, Marcy's beat sounds like something the entire Boot Camp Clik could manhandle and turn into a hot posse cut. This was fairly interesting, and Roc sounds more excited than he has in a while: maybe the earlier tracks were rushed to meet Marcberg's street date? For those of you two wondering, no, this is not a cover of the Smiths classic. You're as disappointed as I am, I know.
9. THUG'S PRAYER
The musical interlude at the very beginning was interesting enough, but it wasn't a good backdrop for any actual lyrics, so thankfully Marcy doesn't appear until the beat switches up. (It appears he's been taking notes from the playbook of his friend, Pete Rock.) Although “Thug's Prayer” ultimately sounds alright, Roc swerves into oncoming traffic early, getting too caught up in the self-critiqued cleverness of his bar structure to give a fuck that the words are not entertaining, only managing to right himself for the second and final verse. But it shouldn't have to be like that, you know?
It was probably too much to ask for this song to be about Roc Marcy's father: nobody in hip hop dedicates songs to their dads, save for Common. (Sure, rappers will talk about being fathers, but that hardly counts. Apparently, every rapper ever (again, save for Common) has no real relationship with their biological father. At least, this is what Shaquille O'Neal has taught me.) The chorus is atrocious: I'm almost tempted to give up the blog just to write hooks for rap songs, since I'm pretty sure that I could make a fucking fortune easily. But the verses themselves are pretty punchy, and the beat is actually pretty good, so as a whole, this poppy experiment works much better than its generic title would lead you to believe.
11. JUNGLE FEVER
The beat is more proto-Kanye West (pre-The College Dropout) than it is late 1990s boom-bap, but this isn't always a bad thing. The lyrics, however, are terrible: Marcy sounds technically proficient, but so do those jackasses on television who try to “rap” by spouting lyrics that always seem to start off with, “My name is ___ and I'm here to say / I like Fruity Pebbles in a major way.” Roc's bars are more like random sentences strung together, some of them connecting while others are left floating in the wind. At least he put more effort into the hook for “Jungle Fever” than he has for any other track on Marcberg thus far.
12. DON SHIT
Prior to Marcberg, the last time I had heard from Roc Marciano was on that misplaced solo joint he somehow scored on the GZA's Pro Tools album. “Don Shit” proves that was an error on his part: Marcy should have attempted to align himself with either Raekwon of Ghostface Killah, as they excel in the crime tales Roc likes to tell. His definition of “Don Shit” is questionable (I don't think of Antonio Banderas in Desperado (or Carlos Gallardo In El Mariachi) as a don, but Marcy brags about keeping “guns in the guitar case”), but this track was okay anyway. The beat was oddly compelling: after growing generally annoyed with the loud guitar licks that punctuate each bar, I found myself starting to look forward to them, so that was a weird turnaround.
This title track is the epitome of what is wrong with most of the album: “Marcberg” features a seemingly incomplete instrumental coupled with a performance that sounds only halfway thought-out, with enough pauses in between words that you can actually see the daylight through the song. This was pretty awful, especially when the format switches to Marcy literally phoning in his final verse. This should have been dropped from the final product.
14. HIDE MY TEARS
As much as I wanted to dismiss this song when it took so long to get started, I ultimately couldn't: this is the most focused Roc Marciano has sounded on the entire fucking album. His attempt at a pseudo speed-rap ends up coming across as his normal speaking voice, but in no way is that a criticism. Fans of 1990s nostalgia need only to look to this song for their fix.
This isn't actually a rap album outro, but you're forgiven if you were tricked into thinking as such after reading this title and recalling the prank Marcy played on the “Pimptro”. Roc kicks a single verse that devolves into some shout-outs to fallen comrades, which, whole pretty typical when it comes to rap albums, still comes across as heartfelt enough.
THE LAST WORD: I can see why the blogosphere has fallen head over heels for Roc Marciano's Marcberg. It certainly sounds nothing like what most of our chosen genre has managed to vomit out in 2010. However, it isn't very good, either. Have our collective standards dropped so low that a guy who mumbles into the mic, recording muddled stream-of-consciousness rhymes over mostly unfinished instrumentals, can be seen as a savior? Apparently. Roc Marcy is definitely not the worst rapper in the world, but the majority of his performances on Marcberg feel rushed and thoughtless, leaving the audience with a “what the fuck did I just waste my time listening to?”-type of feeling. Only sparks of creativity are found from our host, who could potentially have a winner on his hands if the upcoming reissue actually features A-list talent double-checking his work. I hope Marcy spits all of his bars into an actual microphone and not a discarded soup can with a string attached, as Marcberg sounds to me. I liked a few of the songs, but if this is the pinnacle of Roc Marcy's career, then I won't give much of a fuck if he fades away again. It's okay to have high standards, you two: hip hop deserves better than Marcberg. Yeah, I said it. Disagree with me all you want, but there is no way this album deserves all of the accolades it's been getting. Roc Marcy can absolutely do better. The best thing I can say about Marcberg is that it was okay enough for me to care enough about the reissue, but that's not much of a compliment for the original pressing. This album was a meh.