Roc Marciano is your man if you’re looking for subdued, criminal slang-ridden New York rap. While he is not particularly lyrical nor seems to understand the concept of melodic phrasing, Marciano more than makes up for it with his gulliness – no spellcheck for that word – and jazzy boom-bap soundscapes. As an A&R executive at the indie powerhouse Man Bites Dog Records who is beloved by influential bloggers, he’s also a prototype of a rapper who isn’t worried about 360 deals or other industry traps, which means he is free to release as little – or as much – music as he pleases.
More of the same thing isn’t always good – unless you enjoy getting pimped. Keeping that in mind, there are several interpretations to be inferred from The Pimpire Strikes Back, the title of Marciano’s latest mixtape, a 16-track freebie with guest appearances from fellow NYC contemporaries Action Bronson, Willie the Kid and Meyhem Lauren.
On one hand, there’s definitely talk of pimping in the true sense of the word and the slick talk associated with it. Cinematic descriptions of the fast life are present on a track like “Ten Toes Down,” which is served up over a smooth Alchemist instrumental built around a simple guitar riff. The song features Knowledge The Pirate and for a change even contains that elusive melodic phrasing that got 50 Cent to where he is today.
While production is simply stellar on Pimpire, Marciano’s raps can get redundant, and at times he comes across as less than inventive. One can visualize the rapper recording without much practice or time spent memorizing verses. Plus, Marciano’s storytelling is random and disassociated, and on the self-produced “I.D.K” he is simply talking over the instrumental. While it makes for an intriguing first listen, the brooding nature of the lyrics doesn’t bode too well for the usage of that rewind button.
One of the choice cuts off Pimpire is the Evidence-produced “Take Me Over,” which finds Marciano sounding like he could fit right in with Nas and AZ – should the pair decide they want to be a trio – if and when they record again. The track breathes and feels like New York, and certain lyrics pop out for the idioms Roc Marci offers up: “Whether hustling on benches or pimpin’ / It ain’t no pension / Keeping a Jewish n***a penny pinchin’ (get your hand out of pocket) / Sloppily n****s copy my intellectual property / Probably … poppy seed / My head curly like a poppy seed.”
To say that The Pimpire Strikes Back is solid on the production front would be quite an understatement. There’s a Lord Finesse-produced song here and a Madlib production! Where Roc Marciano falters is in the repetitive nature of his music and its overall message. With less-than-flattering moments of lazy delivery – which can be chalked up to the good ol’ “it’s just a free mixtape” excuse – an otherwise terrific example of New York is slightly blemished. That’s to say nothing of Marciano preferring it that way. Keeping it gully is a must sometimes.