Roc Marciano Talks Marcberg, Upcoming Reloaded, and Garnering Praise From his Peers

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Roc Marciano's journey in the music industry started more than a decade ago. Hailing from Hempstead, Long Island, Roc was first spotted as a soldier for Busta Rhymes' Flipmode Squad, and then rose to prominence as a member of the underground hip-hop collective UN. Throughout the early aughts, Roc's verses landed on multiple albums of New York City heavyweights including Pete Rock and Wu-Tang Clan. By 2008, the thoroughbred rhyme slinger had begun to hone his mic skills for a solo career, resulting in his self-produced debut effort Marcberg.

Released independently on 2010, Marcberg took the boom-bap Internet cyphers by storm, earning rave reviews for the project's early '90s verbal slap boxing decked with grimy sample-laced production. After a solid year of guest features and preparation, Roc Marciano's yet again ready to barrage the rugged rhyme aficionados with his sophomore LP Reloaded (dropping on November 13). Helming most of the production on his own, Roc considers his "experimental" second album "different but [not] different." Find out the creation process behind his Marcberg bangers "Snow" and "Thugs Prayer," and details on working with Q-Tip and Alchemist for Reloaded. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)

Capturing an Older Aural Aesthetic on Marcberg:

Capturing an Older Aural Aesthetic on Marcberg

Roc Marciano: “I hope people were saying beat-wise because I sure as hell wasn’t rhyming like no nigga in ’92—I’m rhyming like a nigga in the future. But—beats mainly put me in that zone. You know how they say it takes a lifetime to make your first album? That was my first solo joint so I had samples and a lot of ideas that I always knew I wanted to use for the album. So I knew if those samples and things I wanted to rhyme over stood the test of time, then I knew that the album would be pretty decent.”

Creation Process Behind “Snow”:

Creation Process Behind “Snow”

Roc Marciano: “Okay, how ‘Snow’ came together—I was digging. I think I found the record in Brooklyn at Academy [Records]. When I was starting Marcberg—I start any project with the records first. I know I need the backdrops. That gives me the canvas to paint on. So, I was digging for records and I remember when I found ‘Snow’ in the store, I was like, ‘This is a go.’ Sometimes you find a sample and you don’t know if it’s going to register when you get to the crib—sometimes you find some shit that sounds ill in the store, but it don’t sound as ill as you thought it did when you get home and sample it. I heard it in the store and I knew.

“So when I got to the crib, I already had a pair of drums to the side that I was like, ‘When I find the fire-est loop that needs some drums, I’m putting this to it.’ So I already had the drums on stash and all. It took me a while to get the beat together and have it tight like I wanted it. When I got it tight, the rhymes came to me real fast. That song kind of just flowed out really easily, man. With ‘Snow,’ I didn’t even second-guess it—you know what I’m saying? Even when I did it I was like, ‘Am I really killing this?’ But it just felt good so I was just like, ‘I’m rolling with it.’”

Creation Process Behind “Thugs Prayer” and Digging with Large Professor:

Creation Process Behind “Thugs Prayer” and Digging with Large Professor

Roc Marciano: “That’s another record that I found out in Brooklyn at Academy [Records]—it was crazy. That was another thing. When I found that—I knew, ‘This is another one for the album.’ I knew it. I was doing a lot of digging out there—I was rolling with Large [Professor] at the time. We was digging and—yeah. Him and my man Zaheer taking me to digging spots. I always [dug]—I would dig and go through different spots back in the days when I was a shorty—thrift stores or whatever, snatching shit up. But I would say that around that time was the first time that I really went digging for records that cost some money—you know what I’m saying? Back in the days digging you’d go into the thrift stop and get records for nothing. 50 cents, people’s collections sitting in the back. This time, I was actually in there buying records—‘This a $20 record; this a $50 record.’

“Large [Professor] just bring you shit that he feel like you should be up on. Like, ‘You need to fuck with this.’ As he’s digging, ‘This sounds like you,’ and he’ll put you onto records like that. But for the most part—you know—‘Do what you do’. And I was actually a really inexperienced digger at the time. I knew the basics. So actually during that digging process I didn’t really have a favorite genre of music that I would dig through or whatever—I would just grab a stack of records and I would only leave the stuff where the years were like—I don’t want no shit from ’92 or nothing’ like that, but shit from ’69 or ’78, ’81—I was just trying a little bit of everything. ‘Thugs Prayer’ is one of those records that I found during that little digging process. And I knew off the top, ‘This shit is cold—I’m fucking with this.’”

Sampling Vinyl Versus Sampling MP3:

Sampling Vinyl Versus Sampling MP3

Roc Marciano: “For one, I like the sound because you know you’re getting it clear. You know you’re not getting no lo-fi shit off the Internet. And even still I be fucking up ‘cause I’m not an audio man so sometimes I fuck up and [people are] like, ‘Yo—there’s a hum in this shit.’ And I’m like, ‘Fuck it—song’s done now and I love it so it is what it is.’ For the most part, that’s why. And one thing, when you’re going through blogs and stuff like that looking for records, all the other producers are there—you know what I’m saying? So you go to somebody’s crib and they’re like pressing play, playing you some shit they sampled off a blog. So even though it can happen with a record as well, when I’m digging through records I just like the quality—how the vinyl sounds. Even with people like [Alchemist]—we be kicking it about production and shit and when he was talking about my production he was like, ‘I can tell you sample vinyl—you can hear it.’ So I like that—I like the sound. And digging through vinyl is easier with the needle, you just pick, pluck—you know? You can breeze through the records faster than you can breeze through an MP3. MP3 you miss shit like, ‘Damn—I skipped over that.’ With a needle, I’m not going to skip over as much. So that’s why I like vinyl.”

Learning Production as a “Shorty”:

Learning Production as a “Shorty”

Roc Marciano: “I’m a rapper first—hopefully you hear that [laughs]. But beats—I would actually say my man Ox. I really learned how to make beats from him. He’s an older G—you know what I’m saying? He’s from Long Island, Elmont though. I used to stay in Elmont. I moved around as a kid a lot so I had family in Elmont and there were some dudes who used to rhyme out there. I ended up linking with them through battling actually.

“[Ox] was an older nigga that battled. Not much older than me, but when you’re a kid a muthafucka that’s five years older than you—that’s significant. If I’m 15 and you’re 20, you’re an old head. So, I ended up battling him or whatever and we ended up getting cool. They would invite me to come to the studio. I just appreciated as a shorty coming through the lab and work on my ideas, too. So he had an MPC60 and from me being there smoking weed, just kicking it with him and his crew, I learned what a loop was, what two-bar loops were, a four-bar loop, how to lay down drums—just being in the studio. Being that [Ox] was producing for his group, they would get all the fly beats. I would pretty much get the leftovers so I started listening to jazz stations and all types of shit—whatever I could do to get my hands on ill loops and sounds. So then I started finding little loops and bring them to the studio. [Ox] would hook them up for me in the beginning. I was making beats early—[around] 15 at the time. I would just go to the studio and I wasn’t manually making them but I’d come in with the loops like, ‘Loop this—put these drums on it,’ and stuff like that. One day, I got tired of doing that even and [Ox] showed me how to work the MPC60."

On Upcoming Sophomore Effort, Reloaded:

On Upcoming Sophomore Effort, Reloaded

Roc Marciano: “I just wanted to have an improvement. I wanted to make sure I was rapping at a higher level. I wanted to improve as a producer too—come out of left field with different sounds people didn’t expect me to have.

“It had delays, ‘cause it was just mixing down. I wasn’t satisfied with mixes. Basic shit. Working with a label its always going to be, ‘Okay, yeah—we need this amount of time to prepare for a release,’ and things like that. ‘Cause I be ready to go—if it was up to me it would’ve been out. But when you’re working with a label, you’re working with a team. So they want to prep albums and—you know—‘Yo, we need a couple of months to wind it up and get all the marketing and strategies together,’ and stuff like that. Marcberg I wasn’t working with a label, so I put that shit out when I wanted to.

“[The sound] is more mature. There are chances I took as far as samples I used that I probably wasn’t ready to use [when I did Marcberg]. Something that’s as obvious probably doesn’t stick out as much as something a little more obscure. So I took different chances.

“I’ve definitely been doing [shorter verses]. ‘Cause when I was doing Marcberg I was phasing out of being in the studio and doing things so professional. Being in the studio with Busta [Rhymes], being in the studio with Pete [Rock]—everything is very produced. Coming into making my album, I still had those sensibilities. I still had the old-school song format—songs, choruses. On this album, I let that go and kind of got into my original element. When I signed my deal with Busta, I didn’t know what bars were—you just stopped when the rhyming’s done. So that’s how we did this project.”

“Thugs Prayer II,” “Peru,” and “Flash Gordon” on the Upcoming Reloaded:

“Thugs Prayer II,” “Peru,” and “Flash Gordon” on the Upcoming Reloaded

Roc Marciano: “I got songs on this album like ‘Thugs Prayer II’—that’s a song where the beat is constantly changing while I’m rhyming. The beat’s one minute for four bars then it’s changing to this, then it’s changing to another beat after two bars, then another beat.

“It came together kind of smooth because it was a sample that you could rap to everything, but I didn’t necessarily want to rap to one piece for too long so I was like, ‘You know what—let me just sew this together,’ you know what I’m saying? Things on this album are a little more experimental. Marcberg wasn’t very experimental to me. That was just like an adventure for me. But it’s still so what I do. It was different but it wasn’t different.

“I think “Peru” is really interesting. [It’s actually] not about [cocaine]. I forgot what the name of the sample was, but I named the beat that after I sampled or whatever. I just didn’t change it. I fucked with some jazz shit—it was ‘Peru-something’ and I just stuck with that. It sounded like that. This album is soulful too—I went more soulful on certain records.

“The shit that Alchemist did, which is ‘Flash Gordon’—I fucks with that real talk. No reason why it’s called that—it just put me in that mind frame—like a super hero [laughs]. That’s just to name a few.”

Working with Q-Tip for “Thread Count”:

Working with Q-Tip for “Thread Count"

Roc Marciano: "[The title] just came to my mind, nothing about what the song was about—you know what I’m saying? The beat just put me in a set of sheets with a high thread count. Some real nice shit, which is a little different than what I’m used to because my kind of music is like niggas sleeping on the floor. But [Q-Tip’s] shit is like a plush bed—you know what I’m saying? So I just felt like naming it ‘Thread Count.’

"[Q-Tip] doesn’t spit on it, but, yeah, I’ve known Tip since I was a shorty. I know him through Bus’. I came with Bus’ so I’ve known [Q-Tip] for a while. So he just came through the crib, vibing, playing beats—‘Let me get that one!’ It’s that simple. We’ve got other tracks too that we’ve done already that we’re going to put on other projects.”

Earning High Praise from His Peers:

Earning High Praise from His Peers

Roc Marciano: “Hopefully it just comes from my natural talent [laughs]. I’m glad that that’s what people feel about it but I hold that in high regards—especially coming from [Action Bronson] because I’m a fan first and foremost, even though he’s my man. So when I get that reaction from people it let’s me know that I’m doing something right. But also, I kind of don’t like it sometimes because now I just can’t have a regular session—dudes are waiting for me to say some profound shit and I just can’t do a regular record like another muthafucka. So they’re like, ‘You didn’t do what you did on such and such.’ So sometimes the praise kind of holds you back—so that’s why I try not to listen to any of that shit.

"Sometimes my homies like, ‘You hear what they been saying?’ And I’m like, ‘Don’t even tell me—if it’s good or bad. Let me just stay in the mind frame that I’m in ‘cause I don’t want to hear nothing negative that’ll get me upset and then I don’t want to hear nothing too good that’ll make me feel like I can relax.’ So I’m just like, ‘Leave me alone or tell me nothing. If you like something—just tell me you like it. If you don’t’ like it—you can say that too.’”