Album Review: Roc Marciano – Mt. Marci

[Marci/Art That Kills; 2020]

For the past decade, Roc Marciano has been cementing a legendary status for himself in the realm of underground hip-hop. After being a part of Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and his subsequent founding of the hardcore hip-hop group U.N., Marciano has spent many years carving out his own musical territory. His latest record, aptly titled Mt. Marci, finds him reflecting on his successes and looking down on the mark he has left within the rap game as a result of those years of hard work.

Marciano’s singular production is on full display on Mt. Marci; his use of sampling to create a deconstructed, minimalist sonic landscape that becomes a playground for his hard-hitting bars is in full swing. With his signature brand of consistently smooth soul-sampling beats, it’s easy to see the influence that he has had on more mainstream rappers (Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, in particular). Marciano’s vivid bars about street life and wealth flow effortlessly over a series of hypnotic soul loops that conjure up a sense of weed-induced euphoria as much as a throwback to old-school hip hop production.

The opener, “Intro – Allegories”, provides a narrator describing what is to come over the course of the next 15 tracks in a way that is both tongue-in-cheek and perfectly fitting for Marciano’s cinematic depictions of his hustle and lifestyle. His delivery and subject matter is consistent over the course of the album’s run time, but he includes enough interesting sonic detours to keep it an interesting and heterogeneous listen. Mt. Marci provides a gamut of guest appearances, including ScHoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Kool Keith, and newcomer Stove God Cook$, none of whom overshadow Marciano, rather bouncing off whatever energy his production provides and giving a synergetic energy to each track.

“Broadway Billy” sees Marciano teaming up with Kool Keith over a beat that wouldn’t feel out of place in a 70s Blaxploitation thriller. The off-kilter personas that both Keith and Marciano’s are known for meld perfectly together on this track, and it makes one wonder if they’ll ever do a joint project in the future (which they totally should). Mt. Marci finds Marciano at his most experimental production-wise in the song “Wicked Days”, which conjures up an unsettling atmosphere as he raps about wearing shoes made out of the skin of Hillary Clinton and Queen Elizabeth over ambient bass growls and persistent vinyl crackle, not to mention that creepy and eccentric appearance from featuring artist Trent Truce.

On Mt. Marci, Marciano’s presence on his beats is both laid-back and assured, retaining a signature sense of quirkiness as his ad-libs cascade across the stereo field intermittently. An ominous sense of dread runs through Mt. Marci’s veins in terms of both the words and production, as Marciano fiercely defends his position in the rap game, ready to strike down any opposition. “Trenchcoat Wars” perfectly exemplifies this in the menacing string and bass sample, and “Steel Vagina” serves this dread with a side of melancholy; “Two diamond crucifixes for all the times I been double crossed / But it ain’t no love lost,” Marciano raps over a mournful piano melody loop.

Every track of Mt. Marci fittingly sees Marciano at the top of his game in terms of words and production. His penchant for hazy and soulful moods can be felt in each of Mt. Marci’s 16 tracks, and the atmospheres generated through his production provide a perfect backdrop for the strikingly cinematic lyrical portraits he creates. Even though Mt. Marci finds Marciano at the top, he does nothing to suggest that he has anywhere to go but up.