It'd be a lazy critic's choice to label Roc Marciano as a grimy New York dude who follows the lineage of Mobb Deep and Raekwon and can spit AAA rhyme scheme for a full 16. This approach sells the Strong Island artist, and arguably one of the best albums of 2012, short. It neglects the cohesiveness of his vision and the veiled depth of his lyrics and lo-fi production. For some listeners, Reloaded—the followup to 2010's Marcberg—may take a few intent listens before these qualities shine, but they are certainly present in force. There is a lot of pain on this record, and it's intensely dark and personal at times. However, Roc's chest stays puffed and his rhymes flamboyant, and almost every line on the album is quotable. ("I got Lamborghini dreams, Nissan nightmares/Moving white, my ice is cool as the night air/two five's flare, a glare through your Cartier eyewear/Knock ya newborn out of the high chair.")

There's no doubt, Marcberg and Reloaded have similar production, cinematic interludes, and structure. But the latter clearly stands as an expansion of the former. It dives several stories deeper into the rabbit hole with riskier production and free-flowing, hard-hitting verses. And yes, like his debut LP, there are very few rap features on the album (notably two menacing spots from Brooklyn's Ka). It keeps the focus on Roc and the New York he introduces on Marcberg, which is cold and rugged, with no radio single formalities (a majority of the tracks don't even have hooks).

It's a world of passion, death, drugs, greed and blackened tilapia. Roc flexes his abstract storytelling abilities—dancing from one cleverly worded image to another—all sounding indescribably New York. Characterized by a series of masterfully selected, vinyl-crackle-laden, two-bar sample loops, the production is, at once, bleak, playful, smooth and gritty, expanding on the style of his 2010 solo debut, for which he produced every track. This time around, Marciano enlists a little help from Q-Tip, Alchemist, Ray West and The Arch Druids, but it's still his show. Like Marcberg, Reloaded sounds like it could've been released in 1992, but the production is bold and experimental and serves as a worthy backdrop for trouping sessions strapped with Beef & Broccoli Timberlands.

The drum-scarce, sample-heavy style isn't new, but it's clear that Roc the producer doesn't simply settle for the first dope loop he finds on a dig. It's a sonically cohesive product, and no track stands out from another, which works in his favor. On the first listen, the drum-scarce dissonance seems like it might start to wear out by the end of the 15-track offering. But it doesn't. The production is creative and nuanced, knit together tightly by Roc's casually ruthless flow and storytelling ability that rely more on interpretation than direct imagery, which strengthens the album's punch.

Reloaded is a more than worthy addition to the veteran MC's young solo repertoire that reiterates his own vision and skill set. It's vivid and infectious. Truly, a thrilling upgrade of signature East Coast delivery in the new age and one of the best albums of the year to date. —Nick de Molina (@odmod)

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