Exclusive: Roc Marciano explains his approach as a VP A&R at Man Bites Dog Records and recalls a childhood encounter with KRS-One.
It’s entirely possible that the boom-bap, sample-based Hip Hop punctuated by metaphors and similes and popularized in various East Coast cities in the mid ‘90s may be a sub-genre within the next decade. That’s a difficult opinion to state and/or hear given the affinity and emotional attachment so many have to that particular style of Hip Hop. Can that statement be made objectively without attaching a value judgment to the style of Hip Hop most commonly associated with Hip Hop’s birthplace? The general assumption is that what is deemed “hardcore” Hip Hop doesn’t have a place on the charts. But Roc Marciano—a man who has more or less always been associated with the New York’s hoodie and Timberland set—wants to challenge that assumption.
“It’s not about how big I am at the moment,” Roc says. “I just want to create something that will stand the test of time. I would love to have a top 40 hit, and I feel like that’s my next challenge. I think, ‘Can I make a record that will cross over?’ It doesn’t necessarily have to go to pop radio, but maybe urban radio.”
From paying early dues in his native Long Island to a major label stint courtesy of Busta Rhymes’ Elektra-backed Flipmode imprint, Roc Marciano has seen how both major and independent labels operate. He’s currently serving as the VP of A&R for Man Bites Dog Records. In addition to his most recent project, December’s Marci Beaucoup, Roc has overseen signings of artists like Knowledge the Pirate and AG Da Coroner. The trend of artists like Tech N9ne, CZARFACE and Yo Gotti populating the weekly SoundScan report serve as examples of independent success stories. During a visit to HipHopDX’s offices in Hollywood, Roc gave his reasoning and methodology for wanting to join that list.
Why Roc Marciano Says He Isn’t Concerned With Record Sales
HipHopDX: What’s the main difference between being an artist and an A&R Executive?
Roc Marciano: It’s really no difference. I think I was doing that before as far as putting people on my projects that people weren’t really hip to. I was just being a fan, and you never really stop being a fan. Owning a label and doing A&R on projects is a little bit different, but I was doing a little bit of that before the deal came. So it’s kind of natural.
DX: How concerned are you with how the albums sell?
Roc Marciano: I’m not concerned at all. I’m more concerned with good music. Good music opens up doors and possibly things that don’t mean record sales but might mean product placement. So there are different ways to make money off music than just record sales.
DX: Most fans remember you coming in as a member of Flipmode, which was under Elektra. What have you learned based off of dealing with major labels and then moving into this independent situation with Man Bites Dog?
Roc Marciano: When you’re dealing with the majors, you have to make music that fits. You have to have some type of commercial appeal to your sound, because they need it to sell soft drinks and whatnot. It’s a different kind of job. When you’re talking about being independent, you need the music to be good for it to get any recognition. The music has to have its own legs because people are not spending millions on marketing and promoting. So I think there’s more about being quality conscious when you’re grassroots and independent.
DX: How much interest do you have in mainstream, Top 40 music?
Roc Marciano: I do have interest in it, and I do think some of it is great. Some of it sounds amazing in the clubs. Sometimes, when I’m in certain spots, I think, “Damn, I would like to have a record that would fit in with this.” I’m not against it. Production-wise, I use a lot of my own production, and [Top 40] is not my strong suit. It’s club music. But I would like to experiment. I wouldn’t do it how they do it, but I’d try it in my own way.
Roc Marciano On The Advantage Of Using His Own Production
DX: Were you originally a rapper that transitioned into production?
Roc Marciano: I actually was producing, but it wasn’t out there and a lot of people didn’t know. When I did my first deal with Busta, I was producing. More than anything, I felt it was something that I needed for my sound to be able to have its own identity. I took a fall back, because when I got into the business, everybody was producing. They didn’t need me for that anymore.
DX: From “Pimptro” to Pimpire Strikes Back, you’re pretty heavy on using Blaxploitation. How do you figure out what themes you want to touch on heading into a project?
Roc Marciano: That comes after. Sometimes when I’m making tracks, I might throw that in before. But I try to seamlessly work that into the album afterwards. But I just grew up a fan of De La Soul and Dr. Dre skits. So I always wanted to have some remnants of that in my own music.
DX: Since you also produce, what kind of advantage does that give you when you’re rapping over a track from another producer like Q-Tip or Alchemist?
Roc Marciano: I don’t know. I think more than anything it gives me an advantage when I’m producing for myself. When I’m taking beats from other producers, I don’t have any advantage over any other emcee. If he and I get the same track, it’s just about who makes the better song. Doing beats for myself is like tailor-making my own clothes.
DX: How are you splitting your time now? How do you determine when to craft tracks for them versus handling your own material?
Roc Marciano: I’m not going to produce for every artist, because that might not be the right fit for them. The plan doesn’t change for me though…I’m not gonna produce less with what I’m doing as far as what I’m putting out.
Roc Marciano Embraces The Challenge Of Crossing Over
DX: You've gained a certain level of notoriety over the last two albums. In terms of crossing over to a larger audience, how big do you want the sound to get?
Roc Marciano: I just want it to be something that lasts forever. It’s not about how big I am at the moment. I just want to create something that will stand the test of time. I would love to have a top 40 hit, and I feel like that’s my next challenge. I think, “Can I make a record that will cross over?” It doesn’t necessarily have to go to pop radio, but maybe urban radio. So I think that’s my next challenge, and I’m looking forward to it.
DX: What would that take?
Roc Marciano: Hmm…I think it takes big production. I think it takes better videos—better everything. There just has to be improvement that people can see every time out.
DX: How much of an interest do you have in live instruments?
Roc Marciano: I love the idea of live instruments. One of my friends that I grew up with has a band. My man Black Ninja and I have been talking about doing some projects for a while or even using him for live shows. I wasn’t feeling like I was there yet, but eventually I’m gonna do some experimenting with that.
DX: Let’s revisit that idea about a Top 40 hit. When you talk about pimps and hoes or having box cutters stashed, how accessible do you want your music to be?
Roc Marciano: I want it to be more accessible. I want more people to have it. That’s a situation where the sky’s the limit. I would hope everybody could get it.
DX: There’s a certain aesthetic associated with your music. The deluxe version of Marci Beaucoup comes with dice, a flask and a shoehorn. How do you maintain that consistency without getting pigeonholed?
Roc Marciano: It’s just about having fun, because if I’m not having fun it’s over for me. I don’t worry about being put in a box if I’m having fun doing what I’m doing. I’m blessed to do what I love and earn a living, so sometimes the box comes with it. For a long time, people wanted Jay Z to stay the drug dealer or whatever. But if you’re still having fun doing it, why change? Sometimes you have to grow and take on new challenges, so I don’t even worry about a box that people put me in. I just continue having fun. I feel like, if I keep doing that, they’ll love me.
Roc Marciano Talks Crate Digging & Sample-Based Production
DX: Last year we talked to Apollo Brown about the rules of sampling and he shouted you out for a sample on Reloaded. Aside from the obvious code of not snitching, do you adhere to any rules when you’re looping a sample?
Roc Marciano: I’m not with rules, man. There are no rules, but sample snitching is a no-no. Stop telling people what people use. I guess with the Internet, you can’t control it, and people just wanna share with the people. When they start typing, it’s innocent. It’s not like they’re trying to do it. I’ve had people hit me up about sample sets that I’ve put out. They’ve said, “Yo, I got like six of the samples. Can you help me find the other ones?” And I’m thinking, “You’re gonna get me sued!”
So a lot of times, it’s genuine fans that just wanna spread the word. It’s a culture of sounds and samples. But snitching is a no-no, and I’m not feeling that. I know Apollo’s not snitching. That’s the homie. But those cats that’s snitching because people don’t take their beats…they wanna just go online, post your stuff and call lawyers, they can eat a dick.
DX: Indeed. Do you still go crate digging?
Roc Marciano: Oh, yeah. But I haven’t been digging in a while. A lot of the beats I made for Reloaded and Marci Beaucoup were from when I was digging in The Bay Area. When I moved out there, I was doing a lot of digging, and I made a lot of beats for Reloaded and Marci Beaucoup. I’m about to start digging for my next solo project.
DX: What are the differences in what you pick up as far as maybe Hempstead, Long Island versus digging in the Bay Area?
Roc Marciano: The energy is me. Out here [in California] is just more conducive to what I do. It’s freer, you can smoke out in the open because people are not really trippin’ on weed. So you don’t really have to worry about that. I wouldn’t really have to worry about running into people in the places I was digging. I wouldn’t have to worry about running into Pete Rock, Showbiz or somebody raping the record stores. So I felt like I was digging along when I was out there in the Bay. I would come back and ill records would still be there two weeks later. That would never happen in New York!
Roc Marciano Recalls KRS-One Sneaking Him In Irving Plaza
DX: I can believe it. Let’s end it on this. What was one of your favorite early Hip Hop memories?
Roc Marciano: Being a kid trying to get into the Irving Plaza. Obviously me and my boy couldn’t get in because we were too young at the time. So KRS-One ended up running up on me and my homeboy. With us being kids out at Irving Plaza so late, he was like, “What y’all doing out here this late? Y’all love it like that?” So he brought us to the side, and we got it with MC Serch and his man holding crates for somebody. When we got in there, Poor Righteous Teachers was rockin’ along with Jungle Brothers and Ice-T.
It was crazy just looking out in the audience, because you could see all the different Hip Hop legends. It was amazing, man.
DX: So KRS ran up on you guys basically just out of general concern for your welfare because you were so young?
Roc Marciano: Yeah, we were just out there. He probably saw that we were all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. It was like we couldn’t believe we were seeing rappers, because we mostly saw them on TV. We would see them in the neighborhood sometimes, but at Irving Plaza they were all in one area. It was really poppin’, so just to get in was amazing. Shout out to KRS-One.