Patta Vol 1: Straight off the Roc

Patta Vol 1: Straight off the Roc

Patta Vol 1: Straight off the Roc
Words by Abe Beame | Photograph by Edgar The Third (Hothead Nomads) (Originally published in Patta Volume 1)
Hempstead Long Island native Roc Marciano has to be one of the least likely stars who have had a generational impact in rap history. In a particularly loud, soft, and lush era, when the genre went from dictating the sound of pop to swallowing it whole with Drake’s millennial ennui on one side of the spectrum, and Rick Ross’ neon coke-dusted fantasies on the other-Roc pushed back as a true independent with a mic effect that was gritty and uncompromising, but also quiet and unassuming.

It was a throwback to the boom bap era, bleak and menacing drug-related bars that stripped away all the bells and whistles that came with a major label’s production budget. Roc didn’t even need drums. It was headphone music you still had to lean in to hear, yet it captivated an underground fanbase left without country, who finally found a new banner to wave. Behind Roc, and his brethren from Brownsville Ka, minimalist neo boom bap breathed life back into the East Coast scene, and now entire movements like the Griselda collective from Buffalo are reaping the rewards.
But even more unlikely than Roc’s accomplishments was how he reached cult figure status. The rough outline of his story is well told, beginning as Busta Rhymes’ underutilized protege on Flipmode, the type of vanity group project seemingly every successful rapper had in the ‘90s and eventually establishing himself independently as a solo artist and star. But that second-act journey through the wilderness of 2000s rap is equally wild. Roc regrouped in an outfit called UN, where he began to cut his teeth as a rapper/producer on 456 Enterprise & Entertainment, the music label Carson Daly started with Steve Rifkind’s brother Jonathan and…. Bam Margera. He then began collaborating with two of rap’s all-time great producers, as a rapper on several Pete Rock tracks, and with Large Professor, who introduced him to the most important characters in New York’s insular crate-digging community, and helped manually build his home studio for him, where Roc sharpened his skills and refined the sound that would make him one of the most influential rappers and beat makers of the 2010s.

And there’s no sign of slowing down. In the Fall of last year, Roc dropped The Elephant Man’s Bones with yet another all-time great, his friend and regular guest producer Alchemist. The project is a rare respite from behind the boards for Roc, who cedes control to Alc, but there’s no discernible effect on the quality. It’s one of the strongest projects either artist has to their name. When Patta Magazine hit me with the opportunity to speak to Roc over the phone, with me in Brooklyn and him in LA, I had to take them up on it, because I had a million questions about both the process, and the unique journey Roc took to the top of his craft.
This Interview has been edited and condensed to make me sound like less of an asshole.

So I saw you Elsewhere (concert venue in Brooklyn, NYC) a few months ago and I thought that the crowd in particular was great, and indicative of the moment in time that your music is an homage to. These days rap shows in New York are more diverse and more colorful, I would say, than they once were. But the Elsewhere show reminded me of the old days. It was a lot of dudes, blunts in the air, Timbs and leathers, grimy New York shit. Would you say that's generally the type of crowd that you attract?

Roc Marciano: Honestly, it's been so many different kinds of people that come out to my shows. I really can't say. I couldn’t put a finger on the kind of people I see in my shows. I never know what to expect, really. It all depends on the demographic, but in New York (,yes).

You said that over the course of making The Elephant Man's Bones, you and Al had what sounds like healthy, friendly, constructive back and forth over certain decisions. I was curious if you could give an example or two of an issue you guys discussed as you put the album together, and how you resolved it.

Roc Marciano: Well, being that I'm a producer, it's easy for me to stay in my comfort zone and want things done my way. So at one point, we got to a point where it was just turning into another one of my albums. Al finally was like,’if I don't get a chance to express my production, then it's not going to be any different than an album you produced.’ I had to fall back and just trust my brother to steer the ship at times. Which is saying a lot, because I'm not used to letting people steer the ship like that.

So it was like, you would actually want to step in and fuck with the drums on a particular track or something?

Roc Marciano: Yeah, exactly. Some of the stuff is the loopy kind of stuff I would do. And then it's Al, so he's diverse. He could do joints with drums, but he said at some point, it can't just be loops. What about the beats? In order to have variety on the album we needed different styles and sounds. So that was his point, and I understood that. So I rolled with it.

You said that you would like to branch into producing soul, R&B, and jazz. Can you share some of your favorite records in those genres?

Roc Marciano: I love Voodoo by D’Angelo. Quincy Jones- that Secret Garden era, of course, all of his stuff with Michael Jackson. I like Barry White, Isaac Hayes, and stuff like that.

Do you want to start looping more jazz or is it like, you actually want to get into producing for a jazz artist or something? Like a Robert Glasper type?

Roc Marciano: I definitely want to get more into live instrumentation. I've been building with some good people, including Glasper. Me and him have spoken about doing some collaborating, some exciting stuff that should be coming.

I would love to go back to the early days of Flipmode. It seems like you and Busta are still super cool. I'm sure you learned a lot from him, but is there any one thing that stands out?

Roc Marciano: Work ethic. Busta, no matter how much success or money that this man has accumulated in his life, he will be in the studio every night, all night. That always stuck with me. His approach has always been, no matter how much success you have, there's people out there working harder than you. So to see people with crazy amounts of money, crazy amounts of fame, and they're actually in the studio, outworking poor dudes, that speaks volumes. It’s the hunger. Never losing that hunger.

I was listening to “Let's Make A Toast” before the interview, and during that period, I would say there's a little more energy. It's louder, it's harder. When does the transition between that version of you and how you're rapping on Marcberg begin? Why did you start to switch up your flow?

Roc Marciano: For sure. That's like asking Biggie why he yelling on the first album. And he calmed the shit on Life After Death. You get more confident at anything that you do. You get more confident and you don't have to work as hard to get your point across. You don't have to force it. I don't have to raise my octave because I could just say it in my normal speaking voice. And there are also times when you're not just in there doing your own music. You're being produced by people. You got to work with what you got at the time

I read that as you were getting your footing as a producer you would go crate digging with Large Professor.

Roc Marciano: Yeah. When I was working on Marcberg, Large is taking me around the spots because I didn't know the digging spots. So Large is taking me to the spots and helping me find my way around these different record dealers to find some heat.

Between being around Pete Rock and Large Pro, that puts you on a very short list for having one of the most incredible pedigrees for a producer ever. Just between those two guys, did you learn anything in terms of technique?

Roc Marciano: Well, Large put my studio together for me. My first studio, when I first bought an MPC-2500 to produce Marcberg. But I didn't know how to hook up wires and speakers and all of this stuff. It was my first piece of studio equipment. I hit Large up and he pulled up and helped me put the whole shit together. As far as anything technical from Pete, not really, because I don't use the SB-1200. But as far as seeing how much Pete was digging and finding obscure records; until I start traveling around the world, I can't keep up with this dude. He's finding records under records in the middle of France.

It's two sides of a coin because Pete is the consummate crate digger. But Pro is Frankenstein, just doing insane things and putting all these different records together in unexpected ways. It's a hell of an education.

Roc Marciano: The mad scientist.

You dropped an album on Carson Daly's label. Did you ever actually meet Carson Daly?

Roc Marciano: Yeah, plenty of times. Super cool. He's very cool.

Do you have any good Carson Daly stories?

Roc Marciano: He understood the music and everything. Carson was all in. He definitely was one of the first people that believed in my crew, believed in me outside of just the studio and regular hanging out, going out to eat, regularly kicking it and shit. He was really relatable because, at the time, I was back in the streets. So he would call me up, check on me and be like, ‘Yo, what’s good?’ He’d send me to Western Union, shoot me a few stacks for no reason. And I was on his label. I don't think nobody knew that. And none of that was recoupable shit. That was just like just building a bond as friends. We come from different worlds–I’m coming out the streets, hustling, and then coming to the studio, making music. I think he just appreciated how I was balancing the time.

I read the GZA is who put you and Ka together.
Roc Marciano: Yeah, (long-time Wu-Tang affiliate and A&R) Dreddy Kruger gave GZA some of my beats for the album Pro Tools. WIth one of the beats, when I got the track back, I'm expecting to hear GZA, but he's only on the hook. Ka was doing the verses. And I was expecting GZA, but I instantly felt like Ka was so fire I didn't care. Dreddy ended up putting us together because Ka thought the same, like ‘Shit, I need beats like this.’ So Ka reached out to me on some production shit and I put the tracks on Marcberg. We've been tight since.

Over the years, you guys have had an extremely fruitful creative partnership. Have you seen any of his influence on your shit? Or vice versa?

Roc Marciano: Well, obviously. He came for the production because he loved where I was taking music. But I don't like to speak on nobody as far as how much I'm influencing them. You have to ask him that, but some things are just stating the obvious, and obviously, Ka is incredible. So if you write rhymes, how can you not be inspired by Ka in some way?

Following his debut European performance last year, we are thrilled to announce the return of Roc Marciano to Amsterdam on September 23rd, taking the stage at the iconic Melkweg venue. Get ready for an unforgettable night of hip-hop in Amsterdam! Tickets are available now.