by Jesse Serwer
Like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt before it, Roc Marciano’s Marcberg plays like a tightly scripted urban crime flick on wax. But where those classic releases were ensemble efforts fortified by blue-chip supporting players, Marcberg, out this week on Fat Beats Records, is truly a solo effort. Produced entirely by Marciano himself, the largely guest-free album—just one verse is divvied out, to the relatively unknown K.A.—blends eerie, scene-setting beats with stream-of-consciousness rhymes and intermittent snippets from Shirley Clarke’s 1964 gang flick The Cool World. The enigmatic Hempstead, Long Island, rapper, formerly of Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode Squad and underground foursome the U.N., broke down the specifics on his long-delayed solo debut during a recent phone interview.
There’s a real cinematic feel to Marcberg. Did you look at it like you’re playing a role here, or were you just being yourself?
It’s not that I was trying to put it together like a movie, but Marcberg represents a phase in my life, so I can understand why you’d think that. The project represents a younger-minded me. It had to sound cohesive like that, being that it represented me at a certain stage.
How long were you working on it for? It’s seems like this album has been in the works since the 2004 U.N. album U.N. or U Out.
It’s not that I was working on it for so long, it just took a lot for it to come out, with label switches and things like that. A lot of stuff I don’t like to do is what took so long. All of the mixing and that stuff, I’m new to that. Getting the new records that you mixed to sound like the quality of the other records was difficult. Not to mention, I was dealing with heads that were doing stuff for me on the strength. You know how that goes. You gotta work on their time.
You said it represents a time in your life. Can you be more specific?
This is about the come-up. A lot of this is my mind frame before I even got into the business. I don’t do a lot of that stuff no more. I don’t hang out on corners and shit like that. Nobody can in New York anymore, it’s a police state. A lot of things have changed since then, but I always wanted to do an album to represent me and brothers that’s like me at a time when we was running around reckless, doing wild shit. That’s what I wanted to accomplish.
What do you do to get into that mindset?
It’s still a real part of my life. I still suffer from the effects of growing up like that. I’m not writing these rhymes from a mansion, you know what I mean? I’m writing these lines from a one-bedroom apartment. [laughs] I’m still on the grind, I’m just not a young, dumb nigga no more. A lot of the things that I used to do, I don’t do now. I move smoother.
You use a lot of dialogue from The Cool World. What was it about that movie that you related to?
The Cool World was parallel with what I was trying to do with the record. [The main character Duke] was trying to get a gun so he could get out in the world and make some money and be respected. That’s the phase of my life I was writing from.
I know you have produced before, but you’re not necessarily known for that. At the same time, you have worked a lot in the past with big-name producers like Pete Rock and Large Professor. Why produce this whole album yourself?
It’s not easy chasing people down for what you want. I wanted it to sound a certain way, and didn’t want somebody to be submitting me one hundred beats and I’m still like, “Nah.” I would rather put myself through that. I knew what I wanted, so I went out and found it. I want the music to feel like parts of my life. I had to listen for that. I couldn’t hold somebody else responsible for my life’s music.
You have a really raw sound. Can you explain your approach to making beats?
It starts with the sample for me. The music’s gotta motivate me in order to even start rhyming. I’m not one of them dudes who’s like, “Okay, let’s just turn on a beat and start rhyming.” I’m not a wind-up monkey. I gotta feel like it’s pushing me.
I can’t place too many samples on this record. Seems like you found some new ones. Do you do much digging for records?
I’m not big on record collecting really at all. Doing this album was the first time I owned a drum machine. When I did my deal with SRC, I bought an MPC2500 and went out digging for records. I had to find some crazy samples for the album. I used to collect records back in the day when thrift shops had records for a quarter, or fifty cents. I would snatch up some music to make beats with. If there ain’t no sample on the record, I could care less about it. I’ll eat food on them records. I’m dead serious. I still do love my records. But I’m not really serious on collecting like that. I go get records just to make beats.
The beats on this record all have a dark, eerie ’70s feel. What were you looking for, sound-wise?
I wanted to find stuff that was hard, but strange also. I didn’t want regular soul. I was looking for stuff where I couldn’t describe the instruments. That’s what I like. Stuff that’s challenging. When you hear it, it’s like, “What’s that?”
Would you say there is anyone you modeled your sound after?
Oh, definitely. All of the forefathers: Marley [Marl], Large Professor, Pete [Rock], Premo, Ced Gee. I take a little bit from all of them brothers, and make it my own.
There aren’t really any guest appearances on the album. Was that the point?
I didn’t really plan it to come out like that. I did but I didn’t. I wanted to do this project to prove to myself I could do it all by myself. I really felt my fans deserved a full dose of me. Because every time people hear me, I’m always featuring on a track or I did tracks with my crew, the U.N. I felt a lot of people wanted to hear me by myself, so I wanted to make sure they would be satisfied with the dosage of Roc on this album.
I thought I’d hear at least one track on the album with everyone from the U.N. Is the group still in existence?
As of right now, everybody’s doing their life thing. Music don’t necessarily pay bills for everybody. You gotta get your life in order sometimes just to make music. That’s what happened with the crew. Dudes ain’t even making music. If they are, they’re doing it more like a hobby now. The purpose of [the U.N. album] was to help everybody get into the game. We weren’t going to do four, five albums together like Wu-Tang. It was just a bunch of brothers where we all went to school together and everybody’s got talent. It’s easier to get in the game together than by yourself. I was already in the game. I wanted to make sure I could get my brothers in. Everybody left the situation with the same opportunities.
Your hometown of Hempstead has a lot more rappers from it than people realize. You’ve got yourself and Grand Daddy I.U. of course, but also Method Man and Prodigy are originally from there as well.
Method Man’s from my same projects, Terrace Ave.
So my question is, who’s the greatest MC from Hempstead?
It ain’t for me to say. I.U.’s my dude. He put together a classic back in the day, Smooth Assassin. If anything, I gotta give it to Prodigy. I’m not the type of cat who’s going to say myself. [Prodigy] put in a lot of work. He’s got a lot of classics, man.