In The Lab with Roc Marciano
Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
I don’t know about you, but I’m still bumping Roc Marciano’s Reloaded like that shit dropped yesterday. From top to bottom, that album is nothing but fire. And to think only six months have passed, and Roc’s already in the process of mixing down his next LP, Marci Beaucoup, his first project coming out on Man Bites Dog Records, where he is also now the Vice President and Director of A&R.
The crazy thing about Roc Marci is that as revered as he is as a lyricist by his peers, fans, and industry tastemakers, he’s actually one of the dopest sample-based producers in the game right now, too. The man’s got quotables for days (“Hoes lay bread on me like deli meat” what?!), but also what seems like an endless supply of ridiculous loops.
To get a better feel for what happens behind the scenes when Roc’s cooking up his beats and rhymes, I got on the horn with him to find out what the process of creating Marci Beaucoup has been like, and other details pertaining to his current and past studio experiences. This is where, and how, Roc Marciano’s musical magic happens.
On Recording in L.A.
Roc Marciano: “I recorded most of [Marci Beaucoup] out in L.A., right at the crib. I like to be comfortable when I record. If I don’t record at the crib, I might record over at Alchemist’s crib. [I live in L.A. now], but I’m back and forth a lot, too. I still got my place in New York.
“I got a little set-up at the crib. It’s real simple. MPC-2500, records, Pro-Tools, a Mac, a Neumann microphone, and an Avalon pre-amp. Sometimes I [have someone engineer sessions for me], like my man Animoss from Arch Druids. But a lot of them, I just engineer them myself. Just press record, and go.
“To me, I can record anywhere. I don’t know how some people [say] where they’re recording at affects them. It really don’t matter. I’m me wherever I’m at. It’s not going to change my recording experience.
“As for as being in L.A., it’s just comfortable. You don’t have to worry about people trippin’ about weed. Weed is legal out there. That’s cool. You can just chill. And you got the sun outside, so you can wake up and get some sunlight. That always helps you with your energy. But besides that, where I’m at really doesn’t change how I’m recording or writing. It’s just a smoother environment [in L.A.] New York is so much hustle and bustling. I can be pulled in so many directions when I’m in New York. When I’m in L.A., I’m at peace. I don’t have so many distractions.
“[I] usually [start working] at night. Sometimes I’ll wake up and get some writing done during the day, if I’m behind, or if I have a big workload for the week. I’ll wake up and get to right to work on writing, and I might have some early sessions. But whenever the sun starts to go down, that’s the time when I’m ready to start getting busy.
“I don’t do ‘party atmosphere’ sessions. The shit I feel I’m laying, this shit is sacred. I keep it quiet. I don’t need nobody around just staring at me. You have bitches around, they’re just staring at you. Even at Alchemist’s crib, I can’t say it’s a party, because we’re in there working. You might think of niggas smoking and drinking as partying, but nah. Niggas is in there working.”
“I don’t always need [weed in the studio], it’s just that it’s always around. But for the most part, I don’t really need it. I rarely do sessions drunk. I don’t really drink in my sessions. I’m might sip a little to loosen me up, same way I do at a show. I’m not pissy drunk, or stupid high. Just a little spliff to, you know, feel that vibe a little more, and that’ll get me going. But for the most part, it don’t have to be there.
“I be at the crib, [recording] with some sweatpants on. Or some ball shorts with some Jordan flip-flops on and some socks, dressed like ballplayer after the game, at the crib relaxed. I gotta be comfortable. But if I’m out, and I got a session and I gotta bust some moves, I’m just gonna be dressed. But I don’t gotta be fresh for a studio session.
“I gotta have a juice on deck. A juice, carrots, and apples, and shit like that. I feel like if you’re using your brain in order to make music, you have to keep nutrition close. You can’t be just draining yourself crazy. When you’re making music, you’re putting [lots of energy] into it, so I need to make sure I’m getting that energy back. So I like to have a juicer close, so I can juice vegetables, fruits, and shit like that. I’m trying to do something healthy if I’m gonna be up in there smoking, writing rhymes, eating, and sitting still. Even though I do try to get a workout on at some part of the day. But for the most part, a juicer is the main thing [I need when I’m recording].”
“I’ll watch flicks I love [in the studio for inspiration]. I do a lot of that. I’ll watch Heat or something like that, have that on in the background on silent. As far as [listening to] hip-hop, I always go back to the O.G. shit, like [N.W.A] Niggaz4Life. That’s one of the albums that I always feel is a good album to measure yourself at. It’s mad entertaining. And when I’m listening to it, I think to myself, ‘Can I entertain a person for this long?’ The music is constantly changing. I feel like I’m not quite there yet, but I’m pretty close.”
Creating beats for Marci Beaucoup
“When I was making Reloaded, I bought a lot of records out in California. And that’s where a lot of [the Marci Beaucoup tracks] came from. I did a lot of shopping in The Bay, San Francisco. I bought most of my records out there. I bought a lot of my records at Amoeba, and a couple other spots. I’d go to Groove Merchant a lot, The Record Man. A couple of spots. I still have crazy beats from [when I was making Reloaded]. I have enough for a couple albums.
“I [produced] the whole project [myself]. Completely. I think [you can expect more of that drumless style of beats from Reloaded on the new album] because it’s out of that batch of beats. But you’re gonna hear joints too that have nice drums on them. It’ll be a mix-up. ‘Tryin’ to Come Up’ is definitely one of my favorites. That’s with me and Boldy [James]. It’s like an ill drum sample.”
Collaborating with other MCs on Marci Beaucoup
“During the process of making Reloaded, I made more beats than I ever made in my life. So I had a lot of music. Marci Beaucoup was something I always had in mind, because I wanted to hear other cats rapping over my beats without actually having to go solicit beats to them. You know, hit a dude with a batch of beats, and then wait for him to hit me back and tell me what he like. I wasn’t interested in that. I just wanted to put my beats on a platter, and then just collaborate with everyone I want to collaborate with. Then I get a chance to hear them spitting over my beats.
“That’s pretty much how it came along. It was organic. I was already working with a lot of people that I wanted to put on the project, so it worked real smooth. I wasn’t in the studio with most of them. I just sent it out to them, and they got it right back to me.
“Guilty [Simpson] said some crazy shit [on the new album]. He said, ‘I smoke good in your hood like I blew a gasket/But still I’m mobile enough to creep on your truck and let it buck on your crew in traffic/Karma, lettin’ off hate I harbored/The barber, I line ‘em up and cut parts….’ There are a lot of crazy rhymes on this album. Ka said some ridiculous stuff. There’s a lot of wild rhymes on it.
“The [new album] is looser. It’s not as calculated as a solo effort, because other people are a part of it. It has more of a looseness to it. I think people are gonna love that.”
Recording with Action Bronson and Alchemist
“[Action Bronson] is great [in the studio]. He’s a natural, man. He goes in that booth, one, two takes, he’s done. He works fast. It’s fun in there. We’ll be in there cracking jokes, and somehow songs get done. We’re in there eating. Dudes is barbecuing. We call it Rap Camp over there [at Alchemist’s house]. Dudes is smoking, joking, running in and out the room to watch the game or whatever’s going on. It’s like working with family. Heads just laughing, and enjoying life.
“I write to beats most of the time. It’s gotta be like ninety-five percent of the time that I write to the beat, because the beat’s giving me the words. Usually I use a pen and a paper, but nowadays, I’ll go to my phone sometimes because you go to a studio, and you ask for a pen and a paper, and it’s like asking for a Model T car. For real. It’s [considered] primitive shit. Then people start handing you envelopes and shit, and I’m like, ‘Nah, I’ll just write in my phone.’
“[My writing speed] depends on the beat. Sometimes you get a beat, and it’s just pulling a lot out of you real quick. Sometimes you’re sitting there like, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I’m sitting here with thirty bars, it’s been an hour.’ And some beats will give you thirty bars in like five minutes! I think I’m somewhere in the middle. It all depends on the beat. Sometimes I’ll be done with a song in like two hours, and then I’ll have times where I work on a song for like two days.
“I try to make sure the hooks match the rhymes. I can’t say something intricate [in my verses] and then just be like, ‘Tear the club up, tear the club up.’ I gotta get a little clever with the hook, too. Sometimes the hook will come first, but mostly, it will come after. I just get a beat, and the first thing I think is to just write rhymes. I usually don’t think ‘hook first.’”
“I’m definitely within the first three [takes when I’m laying my vocals]. If it ain’t in the first three, it ain’t right. Sometimes I might work a little harder on other songs. Some songs are more performance driven, where other songs you just have to execute. Some songs you have to have an attitude to fit the mood [of the track].
“I’m always experimenting. It’s me, how I’m feeling that day. That’s what you’re gonna get. I’m constantly updating my flow. I update the flow in two days! Other people might not hear it, but I’m like, ‘That’s a little different than what I normally do.’ I [doesn’t] take a lot of time for my styles to improve.”
Mixing Marci Beaucoup
“It’s going all smooth [working on mixes in Virginia with Man Bites Dog Records]. We [just shot] the artwork, and they’ve been sending me mixes since before I got here, when I was in New York. I am not hands on [technically] with the mixing. I can’t be, because I don’t know how to do it. It’s a skill I want to acquire. But I’ll give my critiques, and tell them what I want.”
Recording with Prodigy for Albert Einstein
“Pee was out there working with Al, and I swung through. And he had some shit up, and was like, ‘Yo, if you wanna get on, get on.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, absolutely.’ So we just worked on the song right then and there. Knocked that shit out. We were done in about an hour. The song is fire. I can’t ‘til we can get on stage and give that to the people live.
“I’ve been on other songs with him, but I’ve never been in the studio with him working. But it was just like recording with one of the homies. Pee’s a Hempstead nigga, he’s from my neck of the woods. I’ve been hearing them brothers come up. We used to record in 510 Studios. That was Public Enemy’s studio. The Bomb Squad and all them worked out of there. And as kids, we were all working out of there. I knew this dude who was an apprentice to the Bomb Squad, and he was making Mobb’s beats, and beats for me and my man. And they had a deal back then, so I used to see them back then. So we know each other from the hood.”
Memories of recording back in the day with Busta Rhymes and Raekwon
“Busta brought me in the studio [one time], and Easy Mo Bee had the beat up. The track was called ‘Let’s Make A Toast.’ And it wasn’t my session, it was supposed to be a song with Busta and Raekwon. Bust was like, ‘Yo Easy Mo, you need to hear my man.’ So he let me spit, and Moe was like, ‘Yo, that nigga nice! Go on in the booth and say some shit!’ So I [went in].
“I came out the booth, and Rae was a little late to the session, and was like, ‘Oh word, ‘Y’all puttin’ new niggas on the song? Put my man [Chip] Banks on the song.’ Banks was one of Rae’s artists who passed away. Rest In Peace. But it was crazy. But we all knocked that shit out, and it was a keeper.”
Learning from Pete Rock
“After my sessions with Bust, I would leave and go over to Greene Street [Studios] and work with Pete. As a kid, I never had my own studio. So you go to the studio, you had to have a plan, because you didn’t have time to be playing around, because that shit cost money. But Pete, they kind of had that spot on lock, so everything he did was spontaneous, just working on records and beats.
“I always had an ear for music, and always was involved in the music I rhymed over. Not when I first got into rhyming, but once I figured out what they were doing in terms of picking out records and sampling, I was like, ‘I can do that on my own.’ So I was making beats before I ever got in the studio with Pete, but being around [him], I learned so much about records and digging. Like, how serious it is, and how hard your peers in the game are going. When it comes to digging, you got a dude who already has everything, and he still wants more shit! I knew that if I was gonna keep up, I gotta keep up with dudes like this. You gotta be on top of your job.”
Future projects in the works
“Me and Alchemist are working on a project. Him making beats, and me rhyming. I’m not gonna say it’s next, but it’s one of the things I’m working on. We don’t have a name for it yet. Me and the Arch Druids, we’re done. Scorched Earth Policy. That’ll be one of the projects you’ll be hearing in the near future [after Marci Beaucoup].”
All images via Roc Marciano’s Instagram