In music, the word "auteur" is usually saved for highfalutin artists of both great fame and great critical acclaim (in hip-hop, think Kanye West, RZA, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, and the few other agreed-upon "geniuses" of that ilk). Rarely does one man's vision produce music that ascends to art, especially when the artist's music strictly dwells in underbelly subject matter and sonic textures -- and especially if said artist would exceed expectations of selling 10,000 albums. Roc Marciano is an auteur: a grimy, underground, unsung, unexpected, unassuming auteur. His major debut album, Marcberg, is a 15-track, 13-song gem that is as understated a revelation as can be. Who knew this cat from Long Island's U.N. crew and the former (albeit briefly) Flipmode representative had this in him? "This" being a self-produced LP with only one guest verse. "This" being an album sonically rich and ambient, emotionally moody, and lyrically dexterous. "This" is to say that Roc Marc offers classic, sample-heavy, N.Y.C. beats appropriating the '90s golden-era craftsmanship that underpins Marc's nuanced, heavily steez'd flow (reminiscent of legends Raekwon and Buckshot), spitting newly spun, age-old tales of, and takes on, N.Y.C. street living/survival.
This is minimalist excess. Marc, who just started using an MPC to craft his beats, relies on dark, claustrophobic, ornery samples that remind you of when the Beatminerz and mid-'90s Havoc were bumping -- before Kanye, Just Blaze, and 9th Wonder ran "soul samples" into the ground. Tracks like "Ridin Around," "Don Shit," and the title cut are what Marc's former Flipmode boss was talking about when he said he was on his "New York Shit." Remember "head-nodders"? That's "Snow" -- Marc's underground cult smash that leaked back in 2008. "Snow," of course, embodies the street-corner climate that pervades the album. Marcberg is an album in the voice of folks who can't tell the difference between Reagonomics America and the booming, Clinton-era America for today's American recession years. Hustlin' hasn't changed. For those who wistfully long for that era of N.Y.C. hip-hop unadulterated by Auto-Tune and club synths and indie rock pandering, this is a beacon. It doesn't necessarily look forward, and it definitely doesn't look back. It's an unheralded auteur's contemporary vision; one whose future work will only add import.