There's paying dues and then there's case of Roc Marciano. After bouncing around the industry for more than a decade - first as a member of Busta Rhymes' Flipmode Squad and later with his own, Pete Rock-approved clique The U.N. - he finally went for delf last year. His quietly released debut Marcberg proved be one of the strongest Rap albums of 2010. A self produced, microscopic look at Hempstead, Long Island living, the album harkens back to the street wise and chilling classics of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. We sat down with Roc, who newly signed to Decon, to talk about his first crew KuKu Productions, adjusting to the Flipmode vibe and the state of major label Gangsta Rap.
HipHopDX: How'd you get started rhyming?
Roc Marciano: I was just loving music, loving Hip Hop since the days of Marley Marl's Rap Attack, then growing up and feeling like I could do it too.
DX: Do you remember when you first rapped in public?
Roc Marciano: Um... I can't remember the first time, but I know there was a few instances where it was just all of us hanging outside on the block, just all playing around and rapping. I rapped and, you know... everybody thought it was good. [Laughs] Everybody was saying that I had a knack for it so I decided to keep going. Because that was around the time where if you was wack dudes will tell you to chill out.
DX: What do you think has changed? It seems like rappers aren't getting called out for being wack anymore.
Roc Marciano: Back in the days cats would call you out. And if you was wack then it was public knowledge. They don't do it no more! Biting is cool. The cats before us, they got a responsibility to be a filter to some degree. Maybe some of the cats before us should've [taken] some of these executive jobs to filter the trash that slides through.
DX: I think now folks are more concerned with what the next rapper can do for them. They don't want to diss someone who might end up blowing up.
Roc Marciano: Exactly. Too many people are doing favors in the business. The game definitely got plagued by that You know, "I'ma put my man on" instead of getting the right man for the job.
DX: Getting back to your story - how did you then proceed with pursuing a recording career?
Roc Marciano: The transition I guess was when we actually started going to studios and recording. I kinda got swept in it. I never really tried to run around and shop a demo or nothing like that. The music started traveling around, people heard it and the next thing you know I was getting offered opportunities.
DX: Tell me a little about the KuKu Productions stuff...
Roc Marciano: That was me and one of my boys I grew up with, my man from Hempstead [Long Island]. That was my first time ever recording in a real professional studio. So yeah, that's basically how it started. We would go to 510 Studios, which is a famous studio in Hempstead where Public Enemy recorded, Ice Cube recorded there. Basically, one of the producers that was down with The Bomb Squad, Kerwin "Sleek" Young, had took a liking to what we were doing and was giving us beats. So, that's how we started KuKu Productions. Me and man were just like "you know what? Let's do some crazy music."
DX: I saw they're doing a reissue on that.
Roc Marciano: Yeah. Mmm hmm.
DX: Is that surprising that folks went that far back and dug up that record?
Roc Marciano: I wasn't shocked at all. Nowadays with the Internet, I'm never off guard. You can expect anything to pop up with the Internet. If you was recording back in the days, if somebody has a copy, it'll surface sooner or later.
DX: When you were recording that stuff were you around any of the other old school Long Island artists?
Roc Marciano: Not really. We was kids, so I was doing that. My man Ox and my man D-Zo, they on the other side of the actual record, and Ox had a little plug to put the record out. So he put up the bread, pressed up the records and he included me and my man out of love because we brothers. Home team. Him and my man Zo, they was a little older than us, but they still believed in us. So they gave us the opportunity to put the wax out with them.
DX: How old were you back then?
Roc Marciano: Man... I don't know. [Laughs] Know what I'm saying? I was a teenager.
DX: Could you have envisioned that you'd still be in this almost 15 years later?
Roc Marciano: Yeah and no. You have times when you think it's not gonna work. But I always knew that it was something that I could succeed at. I always knew I had enough talent to make money in the music business.
DX: What do you think about how positively folks are responding to Marcberg has gotten?
Roc Marciano: You know, definitely all positive feelings! I can't think of a bad feeling. Yeah man I'm just glad that people are appreciating the music that I'm doing because now I'm fully in control of it. What they hearing now, I'm finally getting my just due because I'm steering the ship. They really getting a chance to see what I can do.
DX: Was that a problem when you were running with Flipmode? Did you feel like you had to over-adapt to their sound?
Roc Marciano: Definitely. Whenever you join a group you compromise because everybody has their own taste. Some people have groups and they're lucky to be people that have the same vision. But when I joined the Flipmode [Squad] situation I was joining another man's vision. He already had a sound and how he wanted to do music. It's not easy, man.
DX: Did you record a lot of stuff with those guys? Is there an unreleased album in the vaults?
Roc Marciano: Yeah we recorded about an album's worth of material. Easily. When I was signed to Busta [Rhymes], we went to the studio every night religiously and recorded so there's a bunch of unreleased music. Ain't nothing I can do about it. I don't own the music. Whatever I laid up there is totally out of my control. I'm focused on the now.
DX: It seems like your album, though not nostalgic per se, definitely brings back the old '90s New York vibe. Is it frustrating that so few New York artists are keeping that sound alive?
Roc Marciano: Honestly I love it because I feel like I'm running a monopoly. [Laughs] I'm glad. Keep doing that so I can do what I do. If everybody started to do what I do I probably go and do something else. The sound that I produce it's from the heart of course but it's also because I like to be different. I don't want to do shiny music. But if everybody was doing dirty music I might be doing shiny music. That's just because I'm a rebel at heart. I love it that cats are doing that other shit. Keep it up, keep up the good work.
DX: But you never feel like maybe Funkmaster Flex should be dropping bombs to "Snow" or something like that?
Roc Marciano: Nah. If he don't feel like that in his heart then no. I could see if he was not gonna play it even though he knew it was hot just because I'm not in the loop with him and his people, [that'd be] a different story. But to be honest I don't know [Funkmaster] Flex. I met him a few times but I don't know him. I don't even know if I'm on his radar. He's played records from The U.N., dropped bombs, [spun] it back and all of that good shit. So I've had my good days with Flex. I'm not tripping. They'll just catch on later. I feel like I ain't made a big enough splash. It's my job to make a dude in his position to have no choice but to [play my record]. That just means I gotta work a little harder.
DX: Who else are you feeling as far as new New York rappers go?
Roc Marciano: That's a hard question, I get that question [a lot] and to be honest I don't even really listen to [new] Rap music like that, so it's hard for me to say. But off the top... um... I like my boy Reek Da Villain, I like Fred Da [Godson]. Who else? Damn. It's a few cats that I like but all of them I just can't go in with the snap of the finger because I don't have all of they music or nothing like that.
DX: What type of stuff do you listen to then?
Roc Marciano: I'm creating my own kind of music, digging through records to find beats for me to rap on. That's mainly what I'm listening to, I'm listening to music to help me make music. I don't listen to the radio so nine times out of 10, if I'm listening to stuff it's stuff that I always listened to which is like [Cormega], EPMD, the Mobb [Deep]. You know, regular stuff.
DX: It does seem like with your album it really is such a unique sound, like it came directly from your brain. Is that something you mapped out going into it?
Roc Marciano: It kinda happened naturally. I just was making sure I don't compromise on what I want the project to sound like. I'm not gonna put music on my project that don't fit. So once you create a few songs, you like "aight." You set a bar. I'm like "Cool, I can't go no lower than this." It just all has to fit together and it has to sound like family. Just like the music we grew up listening to, like an EPMD album don't sound like compilation albums. They sound like home grown albums coming from inside of one camp. I want the project to sound cohesive. If the music don't fit then it just don't fit. The music has to match my life. The music gotta sound like what I been through.
DX: What was your life like when you were making that record? Where was your head at?
Roc Marciano: Well when I started making Marcberg I had a deal on SRC [Records], life was good. I wasn't hurting for nothing. It was just basically about getting to music that makes me feel like what I've been through in my past. As of right now, I'm not running around the street, knocking folks over and stuff like that, like I was doing when I was a little knucklehead. I'm a grown man now. But I'm not disconnected from the struggle, I'm not a rich man. At the time I had a deal, I had bread, I had everything I wanted. It gave me a comfort zone to do the album. I didn't have to worry about going out and hustle to pay my bills.
DX: It seems like major labels aren't really investing in street oriented rap as much these days. Why do you think that's the case?
Roc Marciano: It's become so commercialized. They need music so they can sell soft drinks and move with the marketing. That's how big Hip Hop has gotten. Gangsta Rap don't make it to Pepsi commercials. Gangsta Rap don't have a life there. Gangsta Rap can still sell, but they've got bigger plans for the music now. They not necessarily living off record sales. They living off other things. They're not fucking with Gangsta Rap right now because it's just not good for the kinda business they're doing.
DX: You must be a lot more comfortable on the indie tip.
Roc Marciano: Definitely. It don't matter if the people don't understand the record. I don't care if you like it. It's up to me, it's totally me. I don't have to worry about no politics like "Well okay, the boss ain't feeling the record so it ain't gonna come out until he gets the record that he wants." Independent, you just do what the hell you want to do.
DX: It seems A.G.'s Everything Berri had a real similar feel to Marcberg.
Roc Marciano: We were all working in the same place. Ray West did that album, he produced [Everything's Berri] fully, and Ray West did a lot of recording for me for Marcberg. He helped me recording my vocals, I was there working with A.G., so it's a family. That's why you can probably hear some kind of relationship. We're all family and we're working together, so we are influencing each other naturally. It wasn't like that's what they were looking for.
DX: Now is A.G. a guy you grew up listening to?
Roc Marciano: Hell yeah! Hell yeah!
DX: What's your next move from here on out?
Roc Marciano: My next project [Marcberg Reloaded] and my other project Metal Clergy, that's me and my man Ka, he's on Marcberg. And you know, features and touring and just building up my brand. And yeah that's it.
DX: What's the plans for Reloaded?
Roc Marciano: Just to show growth, [make] more good music. I'm definitely not trying to reinvent the wheel, just trying to do what I do and do it better.