Roc Marciano Creates His Own World On Cinematic ‘The Pimpire Strikes Back’ Mixtape
“I grew up in a rough town,” warns Roc Marciano, referencing Hempstead, Long Island, as his new mixtape comes to a close. It’s rare that the muck-mouthed rapper is so vague. As a rule, Marciano loves incisive turns of phrase and ominous imagery, and his words arrive in even, pulsing bunches. Consider: Hempstead was home to Walt Whitman when the 19th-century poet was in his late teens, just beginning his literary life. You can almost imagine Roc as a spiritual descendant of Whitman, but having grown up in the rougher Hempstead of the past few decades, it’s only natural he became the pimp-poet in front of us now.
Roc’s been on his grind for a long while—his first major showing was on Busta Rhymes’ “The Heist,” off 2000’s Anarchy—and The Pimpire Strikes Back is the product of a been-there-done-it worldview. Here as ever, Roc scribbles enthusiastically about Magnums and midnight brick-flipping. He embodies New York’s criminal underbelly as it’s depicted in American Gangster, though Roc had this style locked down years before Ridley Scott’s film inspired Jay Z to make an album of the same name. “Sloppily niggas copy my intellectual property,” Roc raps on highlight “Take Me Over,” and the thought doesn’t faze him. After all, if the art is evocative enough, mimicry is inevitable.
In contrast with Chicago drill, another ruthless form of rap, Roc’s compositions are vast and daring in scope. Like Action Bronson, who appears on two songs here, Roc stitches seemingly incongruous details together until they’re easily visualized scenes. He doesn’t let a word or even a syllable go to waste. He might even manage a halfway original line when dealing with overexploited source material, as when he references one of The Godfather’s bloodiest scenes during “Sincerely Antique”: “My pockets is swoll, bust a couple shots from out the foxhole/Catch you like Sonny when you stop at the toll.”
Minus contributions from the Alchemist, Madlib, Lord Finesse, and a couple others, The Pimpire Strikes Back is a self-produced affair. Roc’s beats are slithery, shadowy, and unmistakably influenced by New York rap of the mid-‘90s. As recently as 2010’s Marcberg, he liked building songs around big, slapping percussion—that album was, after all, released on a label called Fat Beats. These days, he ushers the drums to the background, making space for wiggly guitar licks, blurry horns, and slinking bass, among other sounds synonymous with ‘70s blaxploitation movies. In accordance with this modest toolkit, Roc also has his favorite song structures when producing, which is why there are tracks here that unfold a lot like the next.
That last part is barely a flaw. The main draw of this tape’s cohesion is that, like the sci-fi franchise it derives its name from, it exists in a world of its own. Roc raps as if his eyes are trained straight ahead of him at all times, and it’s like he doesn’t realize there are other MCs in the world until his guests (Bronson, Cormega, and Meyhem Lauren, to name three here) step into the booth. Enhancing the tape’s cinematic flair more explicitly are the tense but sometimes funny film dialogs that pop up throughout, reassuring us that Roc, in spite of his auteur status, doesn’t take himself too seriously. The Pimpire Strikes Back, with its holistic framework, might be the sturdiest mixtape of 2013’s final stretch. We should consider ourselves spoiled: Roc drops Marci Beaucoup—his third studio album, meaning this tape is effectively an appetizer—before the end of the year. —Mike Madden