I, like many others, have bemoaned the lack of decent hip hop in recent years. There have been exceptions, the last Mos Def album was fantastic and The Roots' new one is surprisingly good. Its fair to say though, that a lot of the most popular hip hop acts have become a parody either using over obvious samples (Mr West), playing out cliches around champagne and ho's (Jigga) or just revealing themselves to be a bit shit (P Diddy). What was originally great about hip hop - its a ability to articulate the lives of those on the streets, it playful sense of fun and its innovative use of a collage of sounds all seems to have been lost in recent years. Troubled by this fact I was determined to uncover a winner to restore my faith and so plumped to listen to the debut album by the highly rated Roc Marciano.
Marciano has had an interesting career. Having initially come to attention pre- millenium via Busta Rhymes he joined the so called Flipmode Squad who worked primarily with Pete Rock. He's worked with some of the biggest producers in the game already as well as guesting on a number of albums but until this year he was yet to release a record of his own. That wait is now over.
Its fair to say that Roc doesn't lack confidence -
you take my rhymes in doses, could prove fatal like tuberculosisis just one of a number of proclamations he makes and its fair to say that Roc's approach is very much in keeping with previous heros from the east coast from Rakim to Wu.
Roc's subject matter is very in keeping with what you'd expect from a New York gangsta rapper - think coke, guns and ho's and you're on the money. This is one of the albums strengths (it paints a strong visual picture) but is also undoubtedly its greatest failing. The predictable lyrics and gangsta posturing get tiresome after a while and you can't help but wish that Roc would go home to his mum for a bit of love and sing about his girlfriend or his Iphone or his holiday - anything but comic book Wire-esque violence. Song titles include Pimptro, Snow and Thugs Prayer so you get the picture.
By now you're probably thinking this ain't for me and for many people it won't be but there are a number of redeeming features. Firstly, Roc is a really decent rapper - he's got a great voice which, as it should, draws you into his tales. Second, the production throughout is fantastic. If you like Wu-esque strings, Nas' Illmatic or Premier's mellow grooves then you'll find much to love here. It's a crime is a good example of the production - its string and soul samples clearly transcend the gangsta genre. Raw deal too has some excellent strings in the mix accompanying moody slow beats, only the high 'bitch' count on the track ruins it. We do it features Ka, a guy I'd not heard of before but his rapping is ace - really rough and dirty and its another excellent tune.
The best tracks of all are when he slows it down. The aforementioned Thug's Prayer being one good example. Roc inhabits the world of a strung out cokehead and manages to create a real empathy. Hide my tears meanwhile, builds around an old soul sample and builds nicely.
Individual tracks work very well -the title track is particularly strong with production and rhymes combining to deadly effect - but the overall sense is one of slight disappointment. The album bears poor comparison with say Ghostface Killah's Fishscale as it lacks the humour and variety found in the Wu Man's best work. The gangsta posturing results in a feeling that once the album is over that you can't really face listening to it again. This is a real shame as its clear that there are few MCs out there with Roc's talent. My advice is that he needs to change his gangsta ways and get out more to find some new subject matter. If he does, we might just have a classic on our hands!