In the spring of 2010, Roc Marciano's critically adorn solo debut, "Marcberg," resurrected a chapter in New York City's history that is often romanticized, but rarely well-executed. The album's cover art featured Marciano leaning on an air handling unit protruding from a dingy metropolitan rooftop, standing opposite to his hometown's dense, sprawling cityscape. Hands crossed, lost in thought, he plots on a means to seize control of the energy plants, clock towers and skyscrapers perched over the horizon.
The photography ran concurrent with an underlying theme conveyed by several skits lifted from Shirley Clarke's 1964 gangster flick "The Cool World." Her film chronicled the journey of an ambitious teenager determined to attain a single firearm and return his Harlem gang to a position of prominence. Roc narrated from a similar bloodthirsty perspective throughout "Marcberg," gaining a step closer to the American dream with each corpse fed to the Hudson River valley.
The artwork packaged with Marciano's sophomore effort, "Reloaded," finally reveals the conclusion of "Marcberg." Not only did Roc procure the pistol he so desperately sought, he's also amassed a vast arsenal of ammunition to compliment his weaponry. In the thirty month interim between albums, he's quite literally sharpened every talent in his limited skill set. Flows are more intricate. Humor is more outrageous. Imagery is more jarring. Production is more organic. More importantly, Marciano's on-wax demeanor has grown far more confident, as the pimp persona he flirted with briefly on "Marcberg" has now become a cornerstone of his shtick.
"Reloaded" is essentially a fully realized adaptation of the mafioso-pimp graft introduced on Kool G Rap's ninth studio album, "Riches Royalty Respect," just a year earlier. But whereas the beats paired with G Rap's vision were largely middling, Marciano's canvas is as exotically sinister as his lyrics. On "Thread Count," Q-Tip delivers his gloomiest composition since "Low End Theory," accentuating a barrage of over-the-top threats voiced with faint whispers. Elsewhere, Alchemist extends his unprecedented stretch of elite consistency with "Pistolier" and "Flash Gordon."
While the outsourcing is certainly impressive, the most bizarre and memorable programming is credited to Roc himself. Ironically, an artist revered for traditionalism has assembled one of the more forward thinking bodies of production in recent memory. "Thug's Prayer Part 2" finds him skiing over an ever-evolving flurry of bass lines and church organs that eventually build up to the original street confessional featured on "Marcberg." The hazy self-referencing provides a cinematic experience without committing to a linear plot.
"Reloaded" is an extensive collection of transient stories written from the vantage point of an infallible villain. It's rap music for cryophiles that bear an affinity for the Doctor Claw's and General Zod's and Gorgon Gekko's of the entertainment world. Marciano has gone on record citing The Firm as his favorite supergroup, and their influence has never been more glaring. His words ring piercingly hollow, yet thoroughly imaginative. But unlike The Firm, he's not engaged in a maddening cat-and-mouse chase with law enforcement. Roc Marciano is the law, and he has a fully loaded snub-nosed .38 revolver to prove it.