Filed under: Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin',Strong Island
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Even a cursory glance at the history of Strong Island reveals that it’s produced more than it’s fair share of innovative verbal technicians over the years. One of the most original MC’s to hail from it’s shores in recent times has been Roc Marciano from The UN crew. Initially put on by fellow L.I. resident Busta Rhymes, it wasn’t until Marcy and his crew lent their vocals to three tracks for Pete Rock‘s Petestrumentals project that the world really took notice. Utilizing a stream-of-consciousness technique that sounds effortless but is actually very precise in terms of timing and cadence, Marciano is in a class of his own right now. When I conducted this interview at the end of last year, he was working on something for the SRC label, but it looks as though that may not be happening anymore. Look out for his forthcoming Mossberg Season project in the near future, as well as contributing a beat and a verse for the new GZA album.
Robbie: What’s the history of The UN crew?
Roc Marciano: It’s real simple – we all went to school together as shorties, man. It’s really just that simple, man. We all went to junior high school together, ‘cos I’m not from Uniondale. Me nor Dino Brave is from Uniondale – we’re from Hempstead – Laku and Mike Raw, they’re from Uniondale. But I was goin’ to school out in Uniondale, ‘cos I kinda grew-up like a nomad and shit. I was here, there and a little bit of everywhere and shit. So we was all basically at a young age. That was when all of the fly hip-hop shit was out, and we all had the bug since young dudes, man. We all rhymed, since back in the day. So once the UN shit was startin’ – that started basically at the same time as I did my deal with Flipmode. I was already on Flipmode at the time doing my deal when the UN shit started getting’ a little buzz, get a little interest. It just happened organically. It was never like a situation where we was just like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna all get together and we’re gonna do massive albums’, I just looked at it like it was a way for a bunch of brothers that I grew up with, that I had love for…we all felt collectively that it would be easier for us to get in the game takin’ the Wu-Tang blueprint – let’s just all join together, ‘If they not feeling you, they gon’ feel me! If they don’t feel him, they gon’ feel him!’ So we would all have a way to get inside the business. Really just brothers tryin’ to air-out the mic and get in the game.
What beats did you do on UN Or U Out?
I did ‘Mind Blowin”, I did ‘Golden Grail’ and I did ‘Come and Get Your Bitch’. [Recently] I did ‘Snow’. You’re gon’ hear the sound where it’s supposed to come from this time, not just random producers throwin’ beats. This more home-grown production.
How did World Domination come about?
Actually, I don’t know how it got out like that, honestly. I know we had a collective couple of songs that was…’cos we was workin’ outta Green Street studios before they had shut down. We was workin’ out of there a lot with Pete, so I think that was just to throw something out. Cats had been asking and we had had a lot of stuff that we had did in there, so we just put together that. But as far as how it got out there? Out and about? I didn’t put it out, so I don’t know how it got out there like that.
Didn’t you guys originally have a label called W.O.R.L.D. Records?
That’s the label that I’m doin’ my stuff through on SRC. That’s just a under-label that I’m working with. That’s the same family, man. It’s been Schott and us since the beginning in this UN shit. He’s been real instrumental in making a lot of shit that did happen, happen. I just mastered my album yesterday. It’s completed – sixteen cuts.
The original version of ‘Game of Death’ was crazy. How did that happen?
Pete had a dope-ass beat, and I made sure I got it. He had played the beat, and I forgot who he was gonna give it to but I knew he was gonna give it to somebody he was supposedly doin’, but I heard the beat and I was like, ‘Nah, it’s not gonna get out of here’. Word, that’s how that went down.
Was this during the Petestrumentals sessions?
Either me or The UN – me and the other brothers, the whole crew – we’d be in the ‘A’ room or the ‘B’ room recording,and Pete would be [in the other room]. That was just the normal ritual. Actually, I was coming up in there to do those songs for delf, really. Like ‘Cake’ – shit like that – those were beats I picked, and I was like, ‘Aight, I’mma fuck with ‘em’. But how the crew is, if they feel somethin’ they’ll say, ‘Yo, let’s get on that that’, and I’m not a hater, I just be like, ‘Aight’. I was rocking ‘Cake’ by myself – I think there’s a solo version of that too. A lot of that stuff just happened organically. They heard a beat that I was getting’ ready to rock with Pete – ‘cos me and Pete was rockin’ with each other. He really didn’t know much about my crew yet, but we all got to know each other in the Green Street studios. Once I had beats that they felt like, ‘Oh shit! That’s kinda ill. Let us splash on that’. So I’d be in the other room workin’ on some other shit, and I came in and that’s how it happened.
Strong Island has a great legacy of original artists…
Sure. ‘Change the game’ talent comes outta Long Island. I’m not just sayin’ that ‘cos I’m from Long Island, but if you do the history of hip-hop coming outta Long Island it’s always been ground-breaking. From Public Enemy to Biz Markie – you name it, we got it! EPMD, Rakim – that goes without sayin’. All of those influences…that means a lot to me, as far as my music heritage and what we grew-up listening to. I listened to everything but I’m very proud of what Long Island has done for the game.
A lot of Long Island artists always had something different.
Yeah, that’s that ‘slow-flow’ gangster shit! From EPMD to Grand Daddy IU. It’s a certain sound that we have coming out of Long Island.
How did you meet Busta?
Just being in Long Island – where I’m from, if somebody is nice, you can’t really hide a dude under the hat like that. He knew about me before the UN. Busta was interested in signing me as a teenager, when he first started Flipmode when he broke off from the Leaders [of the New School]. I’ve known Busta since then. His younger brother, which is my peer, we went to school together – six degrees of separation. He had got a hold of a tape that me and a couple of other cats had done back in the days. I was producing the beats back then, without knowledge of pressing buttons – just bringing records and ideas. I always had an ear for music. Even still to this day, the beats I did on the UN album – I never owned a beat machine. I just always catch a record, or if I hear something I always know just what to do with it, ‘cos I’ve been around it so long. To do this album was the first beat machine I ever bought, and that was a [MPC] 2500.
You weren’t on The Imperial album though, were you?
I came after that. I wasn’t doin’ none of that ‘Cha Cha Cha’ shit or none of that – that’s not Roc Marcy. [chuckles] When I got there…listen to Anarchy. Listen to that Busta album – you can tell when I got around. Me and Busta got good chemistry in the studio. I felt like that’s my favorite Busta album, honestly. With ‘The Heist’ record, at that time people weren’t even checking for Large Professor or a couple of the producers that was on that album like Diamond D. When I came around I started asking about those guys – not that Busta [didn't already] knows all of these motherfuckers anyway – but I was so hungry to work with them kinda niggas that it just kinda dawned on him, like, ‘Yeah, get Large up here!’ So when ‘The Heist’ shit happened, me and Busta was in the studio that night – Large came through, bought some beats – Busta was busy doin’ a song, so we was in the ‘B’ room. Large is playin’ beats and shit – I was pickin’ ‘The Heist’ for my damn self! Busta came running in the room like, ‘Oh, that’s the shit! We gon’ fuck with that’.
Was that the album where Diamond chopped-up ‘Apache’?
I forgot which record he did on that album, but I know that shit was funky! I know that shit was fly. And of course Nottz. That’s how I got a good relationship with Nottz at the time, fucking around with Flipmode, ‘cos Nottz was doin’ a lot of the in-house production and shit. Busta Rhymes bought me into the game. I tip my hat to that man. Nobody would know who the fuck Roc Marcy is…probably. I don’t know, but he put the listeners onto me.
Or it might’ve taken a bit longer to get your name out.
Exactly, I can’t front. When I got with Busta, I was on [Funkmaster] Flex. The records we was doin’ was on Hot 97 and things of that nature, and doin’ the Summer Jam. Actually, me and Busta still cool, man. We still talk. It’s no love lost. Word up.
So how did the situation with Carson Daley’s 4,5,6 label come about?
Naturally. It was Carson Daley and John Rifkind, which is Steve Rifkind‘s younger brother. Before Loud folded, the UN were in the process of doing a deal with Loud records, ‘cos we had no idea they were about to fold. John had been in the loop with us, ‘cos we worked with Schott Free and Matty C and things of that nature, so they were always still around and still interested in doin’ a project, so he ended-up opening up a label, which was 4,5,6. We had a bunch of material we did over at Green Street, so we just decided to do an album. I felt like they pulled the plug on us, ‘cos I did those three tracks on there and we was just starting to come into the phase of doin’ more of the production work and really letting cats know what it is. We ain’t just dudes who can rhyme – niggas can pretty much do all this shit.
Were you happy with how they handled the project? Did it get out there like you wanted it to?
Really, to be honest with you, I’m the type of motherfucker like…as long as they cut my motherfuckin’ checks, I could care less about radio spins and promotion. Cats who know what we do and love what we do – they know what it it. They hear something or they got their ear to the street? They’ll check it out. That’s what it’s for, it’s for them. As far as it getting to a broader market and stuff? Of course. People from the distribution company were calling me personally like, ‘Yo, this album is crazy! Y’all need to promote this shit!’ But just as much as I can blame 4,5,6, I can blame us. The crew, altogether – we weren’t on the same page. We could’ve been out touring and just making ourselves more available to the industry, and we didn’t do that. We just made the record and just went back to our lives. I personally wasn’t mad – I could care less.
Was the Strength and Honor mixtape an official thing?
It was kind of official, but it was kinda sloppy how we put it together, I will admit. We didn’t have no budget to put that together, so I felt like, ‘Well fuck it. Just leave it the way it is’. I was like, ‘I ain’t gonna invest no personal money into this shit’. I wanted to do the ‘Strength and Honor’ record because I felt like when we were doin’ the ‘UN or U Out’ album, we didn’t get a chance to really finish that. We didn’t really have no budget to do that record, so we just ran with what we had. The Strength and Honor was to let cars know that if cats had already heard a lot of the UN or U Out album, to let ‘em know like, ‘Nah, this is how it shoulda went down’. We shoulda had UN or U Out and Strength and Honor together. When I put out my album on SRC, I’m putting together another record which is gonna be ‘Part 2′ to it. To get all the political shit out the way – like sample clearances and all that type of shit. I’m gonna always put something out with the album, to make people feel like, ‘Oh, this is the full meal’. That was what ‘Strength and Honor’ was about. Me just feeling like, ‘Alright, a lotta people probably heard a nice amount of UN or U Out, so let’s just make sure they got more’. So if you put ‘em together…that was my idea. It really shoulda been a double album.
Are you still working with the rest of the UN?
It’s just me and [Dino] Brave right now. Everybody else is doin’ family life – Raw‘s doin’ his family thing right now, La‘s working – just grown man shit, ‘cos the UN ain’t kids! It’s always love though, it’s always family and shit, but cats have to move on and get they grown man shit, which I respect. That’s how it goes and shit. We in the process of doin’ another UN record and shit, ‘cos I got joints to the side that we didn’t put out, so me and Brave is gonna finish it up. Just give cats one final testament to that. Me and Brave represent the UN – we started this shit, we gon’ finish it.
Is Mahogany still involved?
I’m still working with Mahogany, man. I got some other shit I’m ‘sposed to do. He sent me some fly shit. I gotta rock on ‘em.
We can expect more stuff like that ‘Snow’ joint?
Exactly. And harder and other shit. Some real hard shit on there, and I got variety on there. I got joints that people can rock with in the club. Different styles of records, too. I’m definitely more versatile than people even think. I have all kinds of different records on there, but most of it is my regular ‘1,2’ G shit. Straight up. Those are the pillars on the album. We build the foundation on the hard shit. That’s how I wanted to do this record, to make records that other demographics can play, but still keepin’ it true to what I do. I kept it G, I kept it me all way through. There’s no funny-style reaches on the album. I didn’t try anything too to the left, but I’m a traveling man. Anybody that know me know I be everywhere. I don’t just be in New York – I might be in Atlanta, I might be in LA and shit like that. When I go to other places I want people to have a record that they can play, ‘cos that was the problem it seems with the UN. We did so many gutter, raw records that DJ’s we know – that love us – that play records in certain forums, didn’t have a record that would fit in with what they were playing at the time. Not necessarily meaning if they playing wack shit, but some times if a dude – if he’s at a party, he needs a party record! You can’t just be rockin’ the party then slow down the party with ‘Golden Grail’! Plus I’m doing this on a major, so I have to be business minded. I made sure I didn’t push myself to rap on beats that I didn’t wanna rap on, and I’ve done that in the past. I know how that feels. So I made a conscious effort to make sure I did that on this record. A lotta people gonna be surprised at how much range I have.
How did you develop your lyrical style?
Whatever the beat forces me to do! [laughs] When you making music, it’s constantly a learning process. I never feel like I know it all and my style is all that. It’s a learning experience for me. I do have my basic format that when you hear, like OK, you can tell that’s me. But also I try to just follow the beat, man. I don’t wanna be at war with the beat! Sometimes I’m warring with the beat, but sometimes I just wanna lay in the cut on it. That style from ‘Game of Death’ that I use reminds of a old school style – almost like a Ultramagnetic style. I’m pausing, rapping – then I pause. I have my basic shit, but when I get beats sometimes my basic shit don’t fit. So I gotta go and dig and try to create something that will stick to it, so when motherfuckers listen to it they don’t feel like I’m just battling with the beat. My style comes from Long Island shit, really. My style come from listening to niggas like Rakim. Wide range of motherfuckers though – MC Eiht from Compton’s Most Wanted. Motherfuckers would be surprised how much of a Compton’s Most Wanted fan I am. I love that shit, I really fuck with that shit hard. Scarface and everything. I to and take influences from everywhere, man. Of course BIG, Nas – I’m a listener, I’m a fan. A lotta cats just call me formless – I don’t always do one style or whatever. You never know what type of shit I be on. I’m on this today, I’m on that tomorrow.
Did you used to battle kids in high school?
Of course. Grew-up battling. To grow up in the era where we grew-up, doin’ this MC shit…even now, even though rapping now – it’s like we sit around and see who can tell the biggest joke, I guess, get people laughin’ – battling wasn’t like that back in the days. It wasn’t a snappin’ on your momma contest, it was more-or-less a meeting of the minds, and if a motherfucker could really raise a eyebrow. You had righteous niggas on the streets – you know, the Gods and shit like that – so you had serious minds and motherfuckers who was actually listening to hear you say some intelligent shit to fuck they brain up. That’s where cats was comin’ from with the battle shit. That’s how we came up. If you couldn’t slay a dude, there was no way in the world niggas in the hood was gonna be talkin’ about you. Even our approach to doin’ songs. Take for instance at a time when Tribe Called Quest and the Leaders would come out with some shit like ‘Scenario’ remix – we all sittin’ around thinking, ‘Well, it ain’t no use for us to go and do no fuckin’ rap songs if they ain’t better than that one!’ That was our whole outlook on music, almost a kinda reggae influence – sound-clashing. It wasn’t about just how the game is so quantity over quality – people don’t give a fuck, as long as you give ‘em songs every week. I never looked at it like that. It was just like, ‘Who got the hottest shit? That’s the bar? Well, we gonna jump over the bar!’ Instead of doin’ forty fuckin’ bullshit records. We gon’ here the illest shit out and we gon’ smack that shit around, and we will start from there. That’s how I always looked at music. I never wanted to be makin’ songs just to be makin’ ‘em. I wanted to try and raise the bar every time I could.
Just like when Chuck D and them made ‘Rebel…’. They heard ‘I Know You Got Soul’ and were like, ‘We gotta come better than now!’
Exactly. That’s how it goes, man. Even though I would never in my wildest dreams think to go against no crew – like when the Tribe had it at the time, when they was killin’ shit. When Wu-Tang Clan was killin’ shit. They are like older brothers to us, so I would never think to battle with them niggas ‘cos we had respect comin’ up. Unlike motherfuckers nowadays ain’t got no fuckin’ respect. But we had respect for the older Gods so we never looked at it like that, but when we was goin’ to do songs – literally – we were tryin’ to outdo them niggas! We felt like that was the only way to get some fuckin’ attention or get recognized. We wasn’t trying to get recognized by tryin’ to diss them niggas or nothin’ like that. Niggas hear ‘Protect Your Neck’, we like, ‘Aiight, well that’s the bar. The next time we go in the studio, if we can’t fuck with that then we don’t need to be doin’ it!’ That’s how I got recognized – from people hearin’ tapes of us doin’ our thing and tryin’ to compete with the hardest niggas out! That’s how niggas like Bus…even Q-Tip. When they was doin’ their thing at the time they knew about us and was hearing shit! Like early ’90s. I remember speakin’ to Q-Tip on the phone on one of my birthdays back in the day when I was still a teenager. He was hearing tapes that I did back in the days with Busta, like, ‘Yo man, I love what y’all doin’. Keep that shit comin” and shit. So that just inspired us.
Were you calling yourself Roc Marciano back then?
My name’s always came from my real name. My name is Rakeem, and that’s my initial’s – R.M. My last name is Myer. So Rock – Rocky is my family name, like anybody that knows me for a long time knows my family call me Rocky, so I just took the Marciano ‘cos he’s a champion. Just be bein’ slick with it – I felt like I was a champion, ‘cos I ain’t ever heard nobody kick my motherfuckin’ ass when we was comin’ up. Not on no mic or nothin’ like that. I just kinda adopted it and it just stuck and shit. I don’t really fuck with the Marciano all way, because legally I can’t, so I just run with Marcy now or Marc. I run with the Roc Marcy shit, which is basically beautiful for me, ‘cos when people say ‘Rakeem’ or ‘Marciano’ or ‘Roc Marcy’, it’s still my name. It’s still home to me. Back then they was just calling me Calief, ‘cos that’s my middle name. So niggas like Brave called me ‘Califat’, shit like that. I used to call myself Calief The Kidnapper – how funny is that? Also, this is some funny shit, real talk, there was one point in time – before I even heard of Wu-Tang Clan – I was calling myself Ghost! That’s funny. Word up, before I even heard of them and shit.
You mentioned that Ultramagnetic had a big impact on you?
When I heard Ultramagnetic I made up my mind! [laughs] This hip-hop shit just ain’t no ‘to the hippit, to the hippit’! When I heard Ultramagnetic I was like, ‘Yo! This shit is really like a ill art, yo!’ When I heard that shit I just like, ‘Yo, it sounded scientific’. That always just intreigued me about them and shit. Beats to the rhymes – it don’t really get no iller than Ultramagnetic, man! Straight up and down. I love them niggas. I never forget when I was on tour with Flipmode – I think Busta still on the tour bus or whatever the case may be – and we stopped at a truck stop and shit, and I saw Kool Keith. I’m like, ‘Oh shit! Kool Keith!’ I’ve met a lot of motherfuckers in the music business and I’m not a star-struck nigga. I don’t do that type of thing. If I’m a fan of your music I show respect and keep it movin’ type thing. But when I saw Kool Keith I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ ‘Cos I’m not really the type of dude to still run up and approach on a motherfucker on their personal life. If we was at a club or shindig or somethin’? I probably slide over, ‘Yo, what up?’ Introduce myself. But in personal life, I see a nigga and I’m like ‘Peace’ and keep it movin’. ‘Yo, I’m feelin’ your shit dog’ – keep it movin’. Even though that’s what I still did, but I seen the nigga and it was funny to me ‘cos everybody lookin’ at me like, ‘Why is this nigga goin’ over here to this dude?’ Out of nowhere, we somewhere on the road at a truck stop. I’m like, ‘Yo, this this nigga Kool Keith, B!’ I come back, they was like, “Wow. That was Kool Keith?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, B. Kool Keith can’t hide from me! I know who the fuck Kool Keith is!’ He was the forefather to this shit. Definitely love Ultramagnetic, man. They definitely a big part of why I do what I do. Chea.
The UN - ‘Game of Death (Marciano)’
Roc Marciano - ‘War Games aka French Connection’
The UN - ‘Hardcore (Revisited)’
Roc Marciano - ‘For All My Real Raw Deal’
The UN - ‘Mind Blowin”
X-Ecutioners feat. Roc Marcy & Sly Boogie - ‘The Regulators’
The UN - ‘Cake’
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