Lil Baby & Gunna Are The Best Rap Duo In Years

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Lil-Baby-GunnaThere was this rap-video cliché in the late ’90s. The rapper would jump out a window, with police chasing him. Or he’d be in a boat, with DEA chasing him. Or he’d be face-to-face with the sworn enemy that we met four minutes earlier. And these words would flash across the screen: “To be continued…” … More »

Music Review: Roc Marciano – Behold a Dark Horse

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Roc Marciano

Behold a Dark Horse

[Marci Enterprises; 2018]

Rating: 5/5

I. Influence

Roc Marciano’s direct influence can be heard in the works of each of the following artists, all of whom have at some point achieved commercial success and/or critical acclaim greater than or comparable to Roc’s, with music sonically indebted to his: Ka, Evidence, Mach Hommy, Westside Gunn, Conway, Daringer, Earl Sweatshirt, and more. To be fair, many other artists have achieved commercial sales and/or critical attention lesser than, if not approaching, Roc’s, with music sonically indebted to his: Hus “Wavo” Kingpin, SmooVth, Rosati, Giallo Point, SageInfinite, Shozae, Grandmilly, Tha God Fahim, Willie the Kid, Fly Anakin, Jalal Salaam, and countless others whose names appear in our SoundCloud feeds daily.

And then, of course, you say, “Well, what about all those artists who influenced or inspired Roc Marciano and to whom his music is sonically indebted?” For argument’s sake, let’s look at the big ones: Rakim and Prodigy. Yes, you could make a strong case that both were more influential MCs. However — and here’s the ah-ha — neither of them is as renowned for his production prowess as Marciano is. And though they both certainly contributed to important beats throughout their respective careers, neither artist has demonstrated the ability to consistently hold down entire, or even close to entire, solo albums as Marciano has continued to do since making his official solo debut with 2010’s Marcberg.

So, it can certainly be argued that to find a workable basis of comparison for what Roc Marciano has been doing in and for hip-hop over the course of the past decade, one can only look to other nearly-decade-long or longer runs by influential MCs/producers, such as Kanye West, Madlib, Dilla, DOOM, El-P, RZA, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Erick Sermon, Too Short, Pimp C, Schoolly D, and Kool Keith. And until a name from the first paragraph begins to approach Roc Marciano in terms of consistency and influence as both an MC and a producer, then perhaps as long as we’re comparing apples to apples, Marciano’s work is better considered in line with the names directly above. Furthermore, since few if any of the catalogs of these greats are without blemish, and since most all of them are more widely influential as either an MC or a producer, and not equally so in both regards as Roc is, well, I guess when it comes to his still-gaining influence and legacy, all one can really say is… Behold a Dark Horse.

II. Control

Marciano manager Jazz recently confirmed that the cover and title of Roc Marciano’s latest were directly influenced by the conspiracy literature classic Behold a Pale Horse by Milton William Cooper. The phrase comes from the King James Bible, which in the Armageddon myth of Revelation 6:8 reads, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Much like the KJB, Behold a Pale Horse contains mad batshit. There’s the secret government’s population control white paper, Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars, which Cooper sourced to a used word processor purchased at a garage sale. There’s the entire Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Cooper introduces by advising readers to substitute the word “Illuminati” for the word “Jew” throughout. Cooper also spent a sizable portion of the book aping on UFO sightings and cover-ups, only to later in life refute all alien conspiracies, claiming that they were the single biggest false flag operation of all time.

And yet, also like the KJB, there are some jewels in there, pearls of practical wisdom that Cooper takes time to reveal while digging the tome’s labyrinthine warrens. The one that comes to mind — and I’m paraphrasing here, as my copy of the book disappeared about a decade ago under mysterious circumstances — is this: It doesn’t matter if you believe in this grand conspiracy theory or any of its many facets, because even if only one man in power does, then countless people are doomed. Before dismissing this as a cop-out, consider how many politicians and CEOs wear their messianic complex like a badge of honor. Consider also that Cooper’s main point here may have been to draw readers’ attention to the nature and potential of control; that those who hold it can mold and manipulate and improve and wreck the lives of others at their whim, that those who do not are already closer to intangible numbers in a ledger than they are free and actualized human beings.

Some who are familiar with Roc Marciano’s work, or the sex trade, might recognize in the above revelation parallels to the relationships between pimps, prostitutes, and johns. As a square, I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that life. I can’t assume that a pimp is powerful and a prostitute powerless, nor can I judge the john or anyone else involved in these necessarily transactional relations. I can only intimate that, as is the case with everything, there are degrees of control and power-sharing. And it’s these degrees, these increments of measure, that make all the difference in the world. It’s these degrees that separate needed questioning of authority from snowballing conspiracy theories, and Bill Cooper from Alex Jones from Ron Paul from Donald Trump. It’s these degrees that revise the literature misnomered history.

III. Ends

Sometime after Marcberg or Reloaded — I’m not sure exactly when, and I damn sure can’t find the interview anymore — when asked about where he wanted to take his music in the future, Roc Marciano said he wanted to sing. The irony here is that while Roc’s success since Marcberg has generally been tied to a renewed interest in 1990s boom-bap, he’s continued to flirt with the idea that his style shares as much in common with that of shiny-suit era Puffy, a pop sound long considered anathema by many hip-hop traditionalists. And yet, over a long enough timeline, all irony fades. If Puff came out today, he’d be considered boom-bap.

Where it once felt novel to hear Roc slip a falsetto ad lib in between lines about singing Rick James tunes in the shower, he now confidently croons hooks throughout a whole album, slipping back into patently smooth murder verses and increasingly melodic cadences without missing a step. One gets the impression listening to Behold a Dark Horse that this project represents the realization of a goal years in the making. Yes, the Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip collaborations lend themselves to this idea, but it’s more than that. Between Rosebudd’s Revenge/RR2 — The Bitter Dose and Behold a Dark Horse, there’s a development that feels rooted in the same evolution that might have occurred between UN Or U Out and Marcberg/Reloaded. It’s as if Roc had been reaching for this sound, planning his way here all along. Perhaps he’d already arrived at the destination, but knew he needed to wait to bring us along for the ride, that we had to see more of the so-called past before we could glimpse the future’s brightness through our foggy present.

On “Diamond Cutter,” Marciano raps, “Fuck who next up/ Rosebudd did its numbers, we doing chest bumps.” Consider the road here. After releasing The Pimpire Strikes Back and Marci Beaucoup on Man Bites Dog in 2013, Roc spent the next four years racking up paid guest features before returning with his first truly independent album, Rosebudd’s Revenge, released on his own Marci Enterprises LLC in 2017. Earlier in 2018, he brought us RR2 — The Bitter Dose, also on Marci Enterprises. The two albums presented Roc Marciano at his most romantic and murderous, peppering anecdotes about beachy lovemaking nearly as far and wide as his foes’ body parts. There was more singing than we were used to hearing from him, but the beats were also darker than ever, driven in part by the cold synths of Arch Druids Animoss and Doc C. On Behold a Dark Horse, though, there’s no need for peppering. Seasoned to perfection, the album documents Roc Marciano cementing his legacy as an MC, producer, and influence in control of his ends — that is, not only of his money, but of his destiny. Behold a Dark Horse.

DJ Muggs & Roc Marciano – “Shit I’m On” Video

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DJ-Muggs-and-Roc-Marciano-Shit-Im-On-videoRoc Marciano is a busy man. The Long Island rapper and producer, who helped pioneer the hazy post-boom-bap sound that’s currently one of the dominant forms of underground rap, has already released two albums this year. In March, there was RR2: The Bitter Dose. Last month, there was Behold A DarkMore »

Noname Is Spoken Word’s Last, Best Hope

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NonameFatimah Warner wasn’t a music person as a kid. In a recent FADER profile, we learn that she grew up with her grandparents and that music wasn’t that big of a presence in her life through most of her childhood. The rapper known as Noname didn’t fall into rap through the sort of … More »

Roc Marciano rides out with new album Behold a Dark Horse, straight from “The Horse’s Mouth”

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Rapper, producer, sex trade connoisseur, and burgeoning singer Roc Marciano has released the followup to the followup to his critically acclaimed 2017 return album Rosebudd’s Revenge. Behold a Dark Horse JUST DROPPED on September 18, fresh on the heels of RR2: The Bitter Dose, which debuted back in March of this year. Like its two most immediate predecessors, the new album is an independent release available firstly as a digital download from Roc Marciano’s online storefront. Physical and streaming formats are expected to follow in the weeks ahead, as was the case with the last two albums.

Of course, the first things that are most striking about Behold a Dark Horse are the cover and title, which appear to be inspired by Milton William Cooper’s conspiracy literature classic, Behold a Pale Horse. William “Bill” Cooper was a Navy officer turned radio broadcaster and author who was killed in a shootout with Apache County police at his Arizona home in 2001, and a book touching on his legacy in both fake news and prison libraries was put out earlier this month by Penguin Random House. On “Whoolers,” the new album’s penultimate track, Roc Marciano raps, “In my former life, I think I might’ve been a penguin.”

Production duties for Behold a Dark Horse are handled by Roc himself, as well as Preservation (of Dr. Yen Lo) and frequent Roc Marc collaborators Alchemist and Arch Druids’ Animoss and Don Cee. Also returning to the boards is Q-Tip, who previously produced “Thread Count” off Marciano’s recently re-issued sophomore album, Reloaded. Guest features include Black Thought, Knowledge the Pirate and Busta Rhymes.

Watch the self-directed video for Behold a Dark Horse’s first single, “The Horse’s Mouth” below, see the full tracklist for Behold a Dark Horse below that, and download here.

Behold a Dark Horse tracklisting

Roc Marciano Releases New Album Behold A Dark Horse

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Roc-Marciano-Behold-A-Dark-HorseAt the beginning of this decade, the veteran Long Island rapper Roc Marciano helped establish a whole new underground-rap aesthetic when he released his self-produced album Marcberg. On that album, and on all the albums he’s released since, Marciano took classic New York boom-bap and turned it inward, reshaping it into something dank and flickering … More »

Stream Roc Marciano & Knxwledge dntaskmefrshit. EP

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Roc-Marciano-and-Knxwledge-dntaskmefrshitIn recent years, the California producer Knxwledge has brought his broken, fractured beats to artists like Anderson .Paak and Mach-Hommy. And today, he’s released a whole EP in collaboration with the clever-muttering Long Island rapper Roc Marciano, who released his own album RR2: The Bitter Dose earlier this year. The twist: That … More »

Nicki Minaj Is Feeling The Pressure

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It should not be this way. There should be more than one woman within rap’s A-list at a time, and the women within rap’s A-list should be able to peacefully coexist. They should be able to record with each other, tour with each other, be friends with each other. But it has never been this … More »

Stream The Alchemist Lunch Meats

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The Alchemist is a veteran rap producer who’s shown an admirable ability to adapt to the times and who has maintained alliances with both fellow ’90s old heads and with newer generations of underground stoner-rappers. He’s also a total workhorse who continues to crank out new music all the time. Earlier this year, he released … More »

Roc Marciano – “The Sauce/Corniche” (Feat. Action Bronson) Video

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Late last month, Roc Marciano, the Long Island rap veteran who has made a career of turning old-school New York rap into tense and woozy atmospheric music, released a new album called RR2: The Bitter Dose. Right now, the album isn’t streaming anywhere, and it’s only available by paying $30 directly to the man … More »