Reviewing Roc Marciano, The Alchemist The Elephant Man’s Bones Album.
Marci’s dark poetry over The Alchemist’s noir-esque production is so cohesive and well-written, that it feels like an audiobook rather than an album.
For some time now Roc Marciano has been recognised as one of the best rappers in the underground “Coke Rap” genre, making music in similar taste to that of Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher. However, where I think Roc Marciano pulls ahead of his peers is his lyricism, his bars aren’t like bars at all, they’re more like darkly written poems and quotations layered over an instrumental. The talent he displays when using outlandish metaphors and clever pop-culture references is almost as frightening as the slick mobster image he portrays in his music.
Alchemist, on the other hand, is one of the pillars of the whole “Coke Rap” genre, without his carefully constructed instrumentals and guaranteed consistency, many artists wouldn’t have flourished like they have done since the genre’s inception.
The Alchemist has a lot of good collaborations and go-to artists that he often creates great music with, but none are like this. To put it in basketball terms, this is like Jordan and Pippen.
The albums first song, “Rubber Hand Grip” wastes no time in dragging you into Marci’s criminal underworld, the deepening bass and distorted sounds feels like zooming into the Brooklyn streets at night from its seemingly innocent skyline. The song has incredible lyrics from start to finish, but truly shines in its second verse, my favourite lines are: “Three hundred rounds pop your hood, look like you were shot by an octopus”/ “Gotta keep a shotty nearby where you potty or do karate good If not, then you should not be in the hood”.
The way Marci delivers these lines is almost water-like, there’s no gaps in his flow and no signs of inconsistency in his subject matter, helping to paint this riveting picture of crime life in New York.
“Déjà Vu”, the album’s leading single, is magnificent in its tonality. Alchemist’s sinister piano keys take the lead with echoey drums sounding off in the background. Halfway through the song, the beat shifts its focus to a sample of a man singing distantly in the backdrop, whom which gets washed away in the toilet when Marci talks about he how he had to get rid of his cocaine the same way.
The song then seamlessly reverts to the original piano keys. I thought this to be a very clever and creative way of tying up a song, switching the sound up midway through, and then using the artist’s own lyrics as a conduit to go back to the songs first beat.
Marci has too many brilliant lines on this song, but the one that struck me the most was: “Shorty could’ve been on the Hornets knocking down three-pointers, the release is water”, at first listen the line doesn’t seem to mean that much, but in deeper context, Marci is talking about how either he or his man, is so accurate when he shoots at people that he could have been a basketball player, when the trigger is pulled Marci isn’t thinking about the human life in front of him he’s noticing how well his gun fires, “the release is water”, which is also a basketball term.
The imagery maybe cold and violent, but the wordplay is undeniably intelligent.
The albums title track, “The Elephant Man’s Bones”, is the most vulnerable we see Marci. On the song he talks about he hides from the mirror because of how ashamed he is, presumably from either the hurt he’s caused other people, or the war wounds he’s sustained onto himself. The instrumental is also great, it’s soft reminiscent piano keys help to encapsulate Marci’s inner imperfections perfectly, the song’s vocal sample, although sung charmingly, is melancholic in its meaning: “Where have they gone? All the sunny days.”
In contrast to the most vulnerable song on the album, the darkest song is without a doubt, “The Horns of Abraxas” featuring Ice T. The instrumental on this song, is straight up harrowing, the eerie funeral like synths blare throughout the opening whilst Ice T starts the song with a monologue, about the dangers of doing a favour for a so called “friend”.
We see Marci at his most devilish lyrically, he starts with: “The road to success was hell, with the bones of the dead soldiers, we left a trail, your soul just left its shell”. An unnerving double entendre in the last line, a soul leaving its shell referring to death, but also as a bullet meant for a soul, leaving its casing.
At the end of the song Ice-T reveals the dark deed his friend was really after, making the rest of the track seem even more sinister given this context.
I could go own about almost every song on this album, each is unique and incredible for its own reasons, and its truly an album I can say has “no skips”. The only thing I thought could’ve been done better is the album’s ending, in comparison to the some of the other songs, “Think Big” isn’t nearly as hard-hitting and doesn’t really come across as a strong album closer, however it’s still a good song, nonetheless.
Score/Outstanding: I feel like I can see the writing on the wall with this album, with Marci’s flawless lyricism and The Alchemist’s golden consistency, I have no doubts in my mind that someday this will be revered as a classic, even if it’s not a mainstream project.
If you want a visual cue for the aura of this album, it’s like the “trunk scene” in Goodfellas, except the three people standing over the body are Marci, The Alchemist and You.
[I rank albums on a scale of: Poor, Good, Excellent, Outstanding]
Written by Jake Campbell