Street rap is the heart and guts of this rap shit. Even as it continues to occupy a very precarious space in the critical and popular imagination, street rap smirks and stands its ground. Even when heads take to the internet and voice their disdain for the latest ig’nant rapper to get blog love, they seem to forget the rap of their formative years had healthy doses of robbing, shooting, homophobia, and misogyny. Some forget their favorite rappers—Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, Ice Cube, etc…—were/are on that thug and gangster shit. Most of the time, these complaints are misplaced preferences based on sonic aesthetics rather than content.
Another way to think of things is after Pac and Biggie’s murders, mainstream thuggery and gang banging took a back seat to the jiggy shit. It also became very one dimensional. The star power and music of acts like Ja Rule and 50 Cent drove the point home. Songs about mamas, the good woman, political polemics, or expressing remorse for sinful ways were nearly erased from the format. Also lost were the soul and funk samples that added an ephemeral humanity to the contentious raps. Instead, countless celebratory affairs about guns, drugs, and bitches with catchy hooks and simplified lyrics over “anthemic” street or club productions became the trend. At times it worked, but mostly it was just embarrassing neo-samboism.
Yet, two years ago, Roc Marciano crafted one of the more stellar full-lengths of the internet era with Marcberg. It’s a record that simultaneously seemed to exist from a time past and beyond it. Marcberg was an insular and cerebral album about guns, drugs, bitches and staying fly over lo-fi samples that sounded like they were booming out of a smoky room filled with old furniture and a refurbished SP1200. But this wasn’t a backpacker trying to re-invent the use of a thesaurus over rare grooves; it was a rapper with a pimp’s demeanor ruminating about the pleasures and vices of being in the streets of NYC.
This time around with the help of some friends, Roc Marci follows it up with Reloaded. And it’s a more hallucinatory and unhinged stream-of-consciousness counterpart to its didactic and narrative based predecessor. “Peru” sounds like Roc stole some records from his buddies Gangrene (Alchemist and Oh No) and looped up a drunken batch of fender Rhodes and upright bass to lace with 32 hook-less bars of slick bully talk almost narcotic in its effect.
“Deeper”, crafted by producer of the year Alchemist, is a smooth, deadly melody perfect for Roc’s flow. The drums sound like they are being played at a distance resting under a sweet vocal chop and cascading piano notes that easily cater to the head-nod-factor. The criminal psychedelia continues on “Not Told” featuring Knowledge Pirate and Ka spitting hood vignettes over a raw guitar wail and funky low-end.
Furthermore, where Marcberg excelled through a propulsive and claustrophobic sound, Reloaded is more sparse and hollowed out, creating an ambient but rugged atmosphere. This allows Roc Marci to be almost painterly with his rap technique. Sonic space opens and Roc forms pointillist details of crime and sex that are vivid and vibrant. The beats breathe enough in their minimalism for Marci’s persona and stylized patterns to command full attention. Ironically the album’s coldest gems are its earliest leaks and most fleshed out sounds: “76” and “Emeralds”. The former a hypnotic ode to his formative years, and the latter a sinister Arch Druids-produced banger where Roc outlines why he ain’t one to fuck with.
Simply put, Roc does not come across in the least pressured or flustered by the acclaim and expectations the blogosphere created with Marcberg. This go-around, he seems even more cocksure lyrically, leaning through the album with a cognac in hand and blowing blunt smoke in the face of lames like it was always meant to be this way. While Reloaded may be a bit too abstract for some, and the sequencing makes for a bit of a disjointed listen, it’s such an evocative and stylized form of street rap. It also claims space in the internet rap world calm and authoritatively. Drugs, guns, bitches and nice threads ain’t sounded this smooth and cool since, well, that era in rap some can never let go of.