As the unforgiving attention-span of the internet has come to reward flash and attitude over reasoning and thorough thought, in music it seems like we end up talking about the personalities or biographies of artists as much as we do the music they create. Not the most fitting environment for the unassuming Roc Marciano, an MC who despite his elite pedigree (working with Pete Rock, the Wu-Tang, and Busta Rhymes) has done little in the promotion of his solo career beyond making music and putting it out there for folks to make what they want of it.
Reloaded is the follow-up to Marciano’s first album, 2010′s Marcberg, an LP that channeled the golden age of East Coast Rap in the 90s into a portrait of Marciano’s own upbringing . On Reloaded, the script remains mainly the same, but where much of Marcberg rejoiced in muddy lo-fi production (all done by Marciano himself), here things are a little more refined, with Marciano calibrating his beats and delivery alike into a percussive, captivating soundscape that ebbs and flows through his measured retelling of the world around him.
On the first single off the album, “76,” that contrast in production is evident. A beat is constructed out of equal parts glittering piano tones and distorted vocals, providing a relaxed backdrop to Marciano’s near-monotone. This track becomes a sort of mission statement on Marciano’s throwback style: ‘Push your afro back to ’76 motherfucker’. He then continues, in an away-from-the-mic monologue: ’hold up, any good year baby. Those some great years baby. ’75, ’76 know what I’m saying. ’77 and into the 80s I’m saying. Whoa–seen a lot nigga, word up.’
O.G. status aside, the genius of Marciano is that he so clearly dwells in this world-gone-by and manages to make it sound like a breath of fresh air in 2012. A lot of that has to do with the subjects he tackles– not that he’s rapping about iPads and the Fiscal Cliff (though there is a well placed shout out to Russel Westbrook on the excellent “Not Told”). No, on “Flash Gordon” the present tense is a little harder to pin down, but absolutely impossible to ignore. ‘I’m thinking about my life, where it’s headed. I sleep with heat under the pillow’ he raps, continuing, ‘I watch the city while I’m fucking, I’m such a glutton.’ While much of Reloaded is focused on gangsta culture and various ways to talking about shooting exotic guns at things, here we get a picture of Marciano at home, where, despite the confidence of his flow, we realize that there’s something simmering beneath the surface.
And really, it’s that sense that keeps us listening, even as Maricano seems intent on keeping us on the outside with his stoic delivery. The furthest we ever get ‘in’ is on closer “The Man” where Marciano begins, ‘I turn my pain into power, back in the day put the flame to the powder.’ Though the comparisons to Raekwon are unavoidable, Marciano’s unwillingness to indict the dark side of the world he lives in is what most distinguishes Reloaded from an album like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II. Sure, he’ll gesture at the man he used to be, but as “The Man” ends, we get a look at the future, not the past: ‘I’m fixated on a greater figure (money), I scooped the bitch with a greater figure (body), cause I’m a grade A nigga.’ Marciano knows where he comes from, but rather than focus on that, he wants you thinking about where he’s going next.
4 / 5 bars