Filed under: Features,Interviews,Marcberg Season,Not Your Average,Print Work,Steady Bootleggin',Strong Island
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Photo: Alexander Richter
The first time I spoke to Marciano, his UN crew had paired down to him two members and he had just landed a solo deal with SRC, with plans to put together a project for early 2008 release. Since then, he was pretty much MIA for a couple of years with the exception of a couple of tracks on J-Love tapes and the superb ‘Snow’. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, an advance of his Marcberg album appeared and exceeded all my expectations, proving to be the best album I’d heard in a long time. It wasn’t long before I’d arranged a follow-up interview with Roc to find out a little about what had happened since we last spoke and how exactly he managed to deliver such a remarkably strong solo debut.
Robbie: Are you happy with the way the album’s come together?
Roc Marciano: Oh yeah, man. I saw the project through the way I wanted to do it. I drove the ship from beginning to end – I’m definitely happy about that.
Did leaving the SRC deal provide more creative control on the project?
Exactly. I mean I had creative control anyway – I was driving the ship over at SRC! Wasn’t really no difference, there just no politics with this [Fat Beats situation], so that was a beautiful thing.
The new album doesn’t sound like anything else out there right now, kinda the same way that Critical Beatdown hit me.
I always wanted to produce an album from beginning to end, and this was my opportunity to do it. I’m definitely gonna continue producing my own music, but I’m a start working with more producers on some of these future projects. But as of right now? I had to see this one through. It’s something I always wanted to do, ‘cos I’ve always liked how albums sound when they come from one stable. I didn’t want a compilation album of beats for my record – I wanted all my shit to come from my veins. All that music – I feel represents me – in that stage of my life, and now I’m moving on to the next stage. That’s something I always wanted to do, and I got that done. To produce a album all way through got me feeling like the greats…I grew-up loving niggas like Large Professor and shit like that. That’s why I love Nice & Smooth’s first album and shit – well, you know I love all Nice & Smooth albums, but I liked that Teddy Ted, Special K… that chemistry when one team’s working on the album. Slick Rick’s first album – him and Vance Wright. Even up to 36 Chambers and The Infamous – all that shit coming from one unit made the albums just sound like home-cooked food.
You can’t get a cohesive sound with thirty different producers on an album.
Nah, you can’t get that shit to sound like you. It sounds like you – collaborating – and I didn’t want this for my record. I don’t really want that for any of my records, to be honest. I want all of my albums to be cohesive. If I do work with a producer, I would prefer we do a body of work, unless I’m doing a record for him or for a project. I would rather do a body of work, versus, ‘Can I get this beat?’ Now, if I guy got a beat that I feel fits in with what I’m doin’? It’s a beautiful thing. But for the most part, I try not to force that.
So you produced the entire album yourself?
Yeah, I produced all them joints. Some of my boys helped me out with the samples – you’ll see in the credits on the album and shit – but besides that, all of the arranging and all of that, I put all that shit together. This is my first beat machine – I never owned a beat machine in my life before I started on this album! I was using other nigga’s beat machines when I was doin’ the UN album. When we was workin’ on that, I was doin’ beats on Dino’s drum machine, using my boy’s drum machine. I never really cared to buy one, ‘cos I never looked at myself as a person that sit in the crib and make beats. Even with my album – I didn’t sit in the crib and just make a bunch of beats. I went digging, and when I went digging I made the shit and made what I needed.
It sounds like you went for a stripped-down sound to emphasize your lyrics.
Yeah, less is more with my shit. No over-produced shit.
Any plans to work with Dino Brave again in the near future?
Nah, man. Right now I’m working alone, as far as my music, and I’m doing a project with my man KA. He’s on The GZA’s project, we got a project coming out. We under the Metal Clergy – shit is ridiculous! Y’all gonna love that. This music is hard. I produced a track on The GZA’s last album called ‘Firehouse’ – it’s KA, Genius is on the hook. That’s my man KA, we linked-up after that. We started making music and shit, we got a good chemistry so we puttin’ a project in the can right now, as we speak. The shit is comin’ out crazy – word. Y’all gonna love that.
Who are the Arch Druids?
Them my guys from Cali, man. Them some good brothers, man. Whenever I shoot on the west coast I go fuck with them. They like family, man. Shout-out to the Druids, man. They’re my dudes, word-up. Animoss, my man Don C, some good cats, man. So whenever I’m out there I fuck with them. They got some fire beats – some shit I did with them…I gave them some crazy lyrics, they had some crazy tracks. Shit just ended-up working out – word. We been kickin’ it ever since.
What happened with that song you did with Pete Rock called ‘Under Pressure’?
I think it’s called ‘Writer’s Block’ It’s something we did a while back, man. I ain’t heard the records since we did ‘em, man. Everybody that know me knows that I don’t listen to my own music anyway. When I’m done, I don’t fuck with it no more. Once I’ve created a song, it’s a wrap. It’s like watching a movie over and over – I know how it gonna end! I created it, so in the process of creating it, I done heard it a million times. When I’m done, it’s done.
What can you tell me about the story behind the song ‘Snow’?
I knew the record was fire when I found it in the record store. When I found the sample, I was like, ‘Aight, this some shit right here!’ I was excited when I found the sample – got to the crib, chopped it up, threw the drums on it and shit – it worked beautifully. It’s funny, ‘cos I was talking to man about it and shit. He was talkin’ about, ‘Everybody talkin’ about ‘Snow’’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know, but tracks like that don’t come every day! Motherfuckers want that type of shit consistently – who the hell does beats like ‘Snow’everyday?’ It just don’t happen! I wish I could do an album fulla shit like that, but that shit only happens when the time and the moment is right. It comes very rarely. I remember doing the record, man – Dino, couple of us was in the studio. I did the record – niggas is just sittin’ there like I ain’t did nothin’! [chuckles] I’m like, ‘This shit is fire!’ Niggas is just sittin’ there – I guess they’re just used to me doin’ what I do, so it’s just like nothin’ to them or whatever – I’m like, ‘Yo, this shit sound like a fuckin’ classic!’ And niggas is sittin’ there, watching the game, like, ‘Yeah, I guess that’s what the god do’.
People just take it for granted now?
Exactly, word up. Niggas wasn’t even noddin’ they head like crazy. Not that I expect that, ‘cos I’m probably one of the most humble artist’s you’ll probably meet. I don’t expect it, for people to be like, ‘Yo. this shit is crazy’, but in my opinion, I was like, ‘Yo! This shit is crazy!’ That happens all the time. I don’t really know about how people feel about the records until I put them out there. I feel like nigga’s that’s around, close to me, they spoiled. So that’s what happens.
‘Ridin’ Around’ has a great feel to it.
I just wanted to do me on the album. Them was the beats I came up with and I was like, ‘Aight, fuck it! I’m fuckin’ with these shits!’ I ain’t care who felt it, to be honest. I ain’t do this record for fans – I did it for me. I always wanted to know how it would sound doin’ an album myself. I was out on a mission to do that – now it’s done, now I can go on to other shit.
How long did this project take from start to finish?
Actually, the making of those records – as crazy as it may sound – all those records were done in just a few sessions. After I left the SRC situation, getting another situation lined-up – just regular life, ‘cos music is secondary to life. Between that, it took a few years but to be honest, most of it was just chillin’! [laughs] I don’t hit the studio often. I ain’t one of them dudes who sit in the studio everyday, all day. I ain’t got time for that shit. When music actually calls for me to be in the studio everyday like that – when it pays like that – then I’ll be in the studio every fuckin’ day. But in the meantime? Whenever I’ve got some shit that I like then I‘ll go and record it, and that’s it.
You only want to go in there when you’ve really got something to put down, right?
Yeah, when I feel the vibe. Not to mention, I’m producing the music myself too, so it’s not like I’ve got masses of beats to go through. I’ve only got my collection of tracks, so that’s what I’m working on and that’s it. Other than that, I just don’t force it, and I don’t be running around here chasing these producers down for tracks! I fuck around with beats I got! I mean I do got beats from some good producers – I got tracks from some heavy hitters, but they weren’t for this project, so I’ll get to them now.
Have you mapped out your next projects?
Yeah, I’m still cookin’ up some shit. I was just in the studio with Q-Tip, he hit me with some shit – it was crazy. Just Blaze hit me with some shit. Madlib hit me off with crazy shit – I’m about to do a whole album over his beats.
Madlib? I wouldn’t have pictured that.
Yeah man, he gave me some crazy tracks. I’mma sound good on these – it ain’t gonna be weird when you hear it! I’mma sound right at home. Chea. Hopefully I can get back up in there with Alchemist, man. Worked with Alchemist in the past, so I’m about to get back up with brother Al. We did records with Alchemist that were unreleased also. Alchemist is crazy, man. It’s crazy, we both rocked the same sample for our albums too – the ‘Hide My Tears’ shit. Al my dude and shit, but I put it out first though – y’all can go look and document it! I leaked mine out first! [laughs]
How did you get up with GZA?
That came through from Dreddy Kruger and shit. Dreddy Kruger and his crafty ass called me up last minute and shit, like, ‘Yo, I’m up in here man. I need you to come through!’ You don’t even know what the fuck is gonna go down and you get a call last minute and shit. Call me up, talkin’ about he got, ‘an hour left in the studio, I need you to jump on the record with GZA’. I’m like, ‘That ain’t even fair!’
Yeah! Talkin’ about, ‘I’m in the studio, I got an hour left in here, man. Can you give me a verse for GZA?’ I’m like, ‘GZA? Nigga’s a murderer! How the fuck you expect me to come up with something in an hour?’ But fuck it, I did it. I respect that man so much I ain’t gonna say no! Gotta get in the booth all unprepared but fuck it, I made do.
What was the story with you rapping over the phone at the end of the ‘Marcberg’ track?
It didn’t go down like the way I put it, but it’s funny – I was on my way to a session and ended-up getting locked-up on that that. I figured I’d incorporate that shit.
So it was based on a true story?
[laughs] Yeah. I was on my way to the studio and ended-up getting locked the fuck-up, man. I call my man – I’m in the back of the paddy wagon, ‘cos my phone’s on my hip still – I’m calling him, I got speaker phone on. Cop’s is like, ‘Who the fuck is he talking to?’ I’m cuffed in the back so I can still finagle my phone a little bit, so I hit him up, like, ‘Yo, man. I’m in a jam right now, I ain’t gonna make it to the session’. He like, ‘Word? Hit me back, man. Let me know what’s good.’ I was headin’ in the studio with my man Ray West – shout-out to Ray West.
Are you planning on touring off this album?
Hell yeah! I’m a beast on that stage – niggas can’t fuck with me! I sound good on stage. I sound like my records, niggas say when I rock. Word up – I sound like my records when I get loose on stage. Niggas like my records, they gonna like me more when they see me on stage. I ain’t no lame nigga. I am my music. Word.
What’s up with Trife?
That’s my man and shit, went to school back in the days together and shit. Most of the records I do with people that I fuck with, man – have a personal relationship with. He ain’t some dude I just met, like, ‘Let’s do a record together’. We used to rent an apartment together, man. Me and this nigga’s room mates at one point in time. I know his family and all that. That’s my man, I just fell out of touch with him and shit. We’ll link soon though.
When you’re writing lyrics, do you work on lines over time in your head or do you just knock it out with a pen and pad?
You hear that shit I be sayin’- you can’t make that shit up in your head! You gotta offer that! You gotta write that. You can’t juts sit down and be like, ‘Oh, I’mma memorize that shit in my brain!’ Fuck that, hell no. Whoever does that shit in they head? They lyrics ain’t like mine! That works for some people, but that ain’t my thing. My memory ain’t that good! I wish I could do that shit! I sit down with a pen and pad and I get together. It all depends on how I love the beat on how fast it comes. If I love that track then shit is gonna fast. If I’m not so in love with it then it might take a second.
A lotta cats on the underground don’t really dig mainstream cats – I ain’t mad at them niggas! I feel like some of them niggas are talented, man. Just doin’ different styles of music. Word up. I fuck with some southern niggas too! I fuck with Jeezy and cats like that. I fuck around with that stuff. I like that street shit. Some people don’t understand street culture – some music ain’t about just hip-hop – some music is just some street shit, and you gotta respect it for what it is. People in the hood connecting with it, ‘cos there’s something there. Some of it is straight trash, but some of it is good music, man – for what it’s worth. All rap ain’t to be listened to ‘cos of dope lyrics. Some music is just good music to fill the air while you do what you do. I’m even trying to balance what I do so got records that’s not just to be concentrated on the lyrics. That’s what you get out of ‘Ridin’ Around’ and records like that – to me, those are just ‘feel good’ records. It’s not necessarily about me goin’ in the booth and trying to kill the track. I did that enough in my career. If a nigga don’t know I can rhyme, then God bless you, man. I got my respect, I ain’t got nothin’ to prove. I know what I do for the game. I know I inspire heads and shit – I get it all the time. It’s a balance, you gotta have both.
Does traveling to different cities open your ears to different sounds?
To be honest – no. I like what I like, so nobodies really changing my mind. I’m stubborn as it, I’m doin’ what I want to do. My shit is my shit. If you listen to my album – who else got that? You can’t get that from nobody but me! That’s my shit and I’m stayin’ on my shit. I’ll fuck with other people on collaborations, but my music? I’m at a point right now, I want to hone it and get better and better at it. I don’t want to start rapping over techno beats and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m experimenting’ Fuck experimenting, man! Do what you do and get better at what you do.
Exactly. No one’s perfected rap yet.
It’s a constant learning experience. People say, ‘I don’t wanna do that, I did that in the past’. Well, you could do it – do it better!
Do you get many people from Europe wanting to get you on records?
All the time, man! I got verse to send out today, actually. To London and Sweden and shit like that. You’re gonna hear tracks with me leak out with dude’s rapping in foreign languages! I love the overseas fans. To be honest, the overseas fans have a got a lot to do with me really still pushing at this shit – for real. The States is so fickle, man. You get praised for less, so sometimes you feel like, ‘Why should I go in the studio and try to do more than a motherfucker that’s getting praised for less?’ But then you get a lotta heads – you get heads here – but a lotta heads from overseas that really appreciate it. It inspires me to do more. To keep doin’ what I’m doin’, and not switch it up. ‘Cos if I gotta switch it up I’m not doin’ no more.
I’m about to drop the Marcberg Reloaded – that’s gonna be free for everybody that’s fuckin’ with me. I’m in the process of wrapping that up right now. So that’s coming with it, just like Strength & Honor that I did in unison with UN Or U Out. Whenever I put out a project I give something away. Look for that, it’s gonna be more joints. It’s gonna be like part two to that, like a double album real quick. Y’all gonna get Marcberg, then you gonna get Marcberg Reloaded. I’mma give another fifteen songs away, just on the strength. Like, ‘Boom, take that’. That’s gonna be a free download. I’m about to get my website started-up and allathat. I don’t really give a fuck if you bought the album or not! All the fans – come through, post something, show some love, get a t-shirt or whatever. Me and Sean Price are about to get on a record together. I got tracks from [Grand Daddy] IU that I’m about to get busy on. I got that Metal Clergy project with my man KA. I’m turnin’ it up this year, baby! I hear ‘em out there – they want more of me, I’mma give it to ‘em. I’m on my shit right now. I’mma keep comin’ with it, as long as y’all want it. If y’all don’t want me to, I’ll chill out! [laughs] I’mma keep running the marathon, baby. Word up. It’s for the long-winded.
An edited version of this interview can be found translated into German in the latest edition of JUICE magazine.
Arch Druids feat. Roc Marciano & Rekon - ‘Untitled’
Roc Marciano - ‘U Know U Wrong’ [radio rip]
Rusty Grammar feat. Roc Marciano - ‘Franco’
Roc Marciano - ‘Like Thisssss’ [J-Love exclusive]
Flipmode Squad feat. Roc Marciano - ‘Let’s Make A Toast’
Roc Marciano, Mike Raw & Pete Rock - ‘London Radio Session’ 
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