Monday, August 8, 2011

Roc Marciano & The Return of the Repressed

Roc Marciano’s Marcberg is contemporary hip-hop’s equivalent to fine wine. If your ears were a nose, they’d be filled with the aroma of 90’s golden era rap upon popping the cork/tearing the shrink wrap. The bubbles would spout subtle hints of N.Y.C’s gritty street violence, and the tint would consist of blood, sweat, and tears. The album is a true labor of love, perfect in it’s imperfections, and the antithesis to corporate driven hip hop which has become fashionably disposable in its drive to technological flawlessness---a la autotune and 720p YouTube videos.

I do not mean to say that Marcberg is in any way poor in quality. What I mean to say is that with commercial hop hop, there is nothing left to the imagination. Every sound byte is calculated into dollar signs, and every second is designed to attract as wide a demographic as possible: young Caucasian males, adolescent girls, college-aged club hoppers, etc. The Hip-Hop & R&B Singles Charts is the equivalent of a national newspaper written in 5th grade vernacular. Except instead of information, what is offered is a broken mirror of disposable trends and off-the-rack “swagger” designed to disenfranchise youth of their intelligence and originality.

What we have with Roc Marciano, and similar artists such as MarQ Spekt, is fidelity; faithfulness to a D.I.Y. tradition in hip-hop long since lost, save for a few who still "pay homage, respect,” and push the conceptual envelope (see: Pusha T and Sean Price). In an era where unclever non-sequiturs reign supreme (see: Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne), Marciano’s lyrical stream of consciousness paves the way for a novel stroll down what’s now considered cliched territory---the street hustler’s narrative---laid over minimalist sample-based tracks inherited from the MPC-2500, an artifact which itself is fading into technical obscurity via the rise of Macbooks and digital production.

Needless to say, Roc Marciano's mindset stems from another temporality altogether, denoted by the blaxploitation sound clips found in the aptly titled "Pimptro," as well as in the transitions between the album's otherwise seamless 15 tracks.  There's a raw hunger here that differs from the sense of entitlement that today's would-be rappers posit on their guest spots, the kind of hunger that gets you from "skinny to chubby / in the city that's gully."

Whichever way you slice it, Marcberg contains a plethora of quotables well-thought out in their verbal execution and visual coherence. Roc’s unique stylings bring poetic relavence back to hardcore hip hop, a now mostly buried art form, through image-laden lyrics such as found in the second verse to the title track:

"Prada on with the cashmere
Keep the gat near the cashier
We like deer versus black bear--
Rap clear, and let the wax tear off your back hair
I’m back in here, act sincere
I smash your ear
With a glass of beer like “yeah!”
The mad stare with the Shaft beard..." (Roc Marciano, "Marcberg") 

With all that said, Marcberg is hands down my favorite album of the year. Although admittedly not for everybody, that seems (to me at least) to be the beauty of it.  Like fine wine, this rare style of hip hop is an acquired taste, but is nevertheless distinguished from the fountain-soda pop rap made available anywhere, to anyone.  And that by itself makes it worthwhile.


Photo Credits

gfpeck, "Red Wine" November 7, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

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