, November 26th, 2012 08:30
Forget rap for a second, because Roc Marciano has. Rap music is the medium, sure, but hip hop barely exists in the world of Reloaded. References come thick and fast but rarely date as recent as the 80s, and even then, they're drawn from Hollywood classics and your parents' record collection. Robert Redford, Alfred Hitchcock, Pam Grier, the music of Teddy Pendergrass, George Clinton and Marvin Gaye; these are the cultural signposts to be found in Roc's world. Records and movies play out in archetypal settings from New York fiction, such as smoky, backstreet jazz clubs and late night picturehouses. Meanwhile, Marciano cooks up oysters in the tidy, high-rise apartment where he's spent the day in bed; a life of luxury threatened by shady deals and routine violence.
Movies are an important feature of Reloaded, whether they manifest themselves in the sampled snippets between songs or Marciano's hyper-visual lyrical style. On '20 Guns' there's a clip of a female scream – a bedroom scene turned ugly, perhaps – Roc sniggers and taunts her, but it's unclear whether he's watching it on screen or has his hand on the trigger. His songs aren't necessarily about any one thing; he prefers to set the scene and let you find your own message. The joy is in the enormous quantity of detailed observations, strung together elegantly in continuous prose with almost zero fat. Take a random sample of reviews of any rap record and you'll often find the same lyrics cited again and again, but that wouldn't work here. In fact, you could tear a random section from the lyric sheet and almost always find some unique wordplay or clever turn of phrase.
Crime and domesticity are juxtaposed in surprising, matter of fact ways, Marciano going about his business as the sound of police sirens and gunfire echoes in the distance. On 'Thread Count', hilariously, he feeds his fish while pulling the clip from a gun, while a romantic scene in 'Flash Gordon' (depending on how romantic you find cocaine and strawberries) feels like it could be disturbed at any moment: "I sleep with heat under the pillow, the cash is where I left it – it's nuthin' / I watch the city while I'm fuckin', I'm such a glutton". He raps about food in almost pornographic detail: "five drops of olive oil in the work"; "the outside of the tilapia is blackened"; "throwing salt on pork, you're done, prick it with the fork, dip it in the sauce"; descriptions so vivid you can practically taste the meat. Needless to say, on the subject of women and sex he is just as meticulous.
Reloaded is classic noir from subject matter to soundtrack, most of which is impressively self-produced with the exception of a few outsourced beats. Roc's approach is simple but evocative, as moody, minor-key piano scales allow little daylight into these midnight vignettes. Percussion often serves as a mere metronome, a pitter-patter from the corner of the room as the spotlight shines on a mournful saxophone ('20 Guns'), wailing electric guitars ('Not Told') or a lonesome female jazz voice ('Deeper'). Beats don't get much more complicated than that, and no single element is afforded prominence over Roc's composed, mobster cadence. Noticeably, it's the guest productions that remind you you're even listening to a rap record, as the booming drums of The Alchemist's 'Pistolier' and The Arch Druids' 'Emeralds' sound recognisably modern by comparison.
How many stories does New York City have left to tell? This quarry of limitless inspiration. Thematically, Reloaded could hardly be described as inventive, yet seen through fresh eyes, a well-worn narrative sounds as vibrant here as it ever has. Even in a year where New York music is in rude health, nobody is quite doing what Roc Marciano is doing – or at least, nowhere near as effectively. Ka's excellent Grief Pedigree record is probably the closest stylistically – he features twice here, as one of two guests – but if that was the bar, then Roc Marciano has vaulted it with panache. Reloaded is the sound of the impressive talent behind 2010's Marcberg blossoming into greatness; one of the best written rap records of this young decade.