Roc Marciano Behold a Dark Horse

[Marci Enterprises; 2018]

Styles: literature, mack rap
Others: Behold a Pale Horse, Q-Tip, Grand Daddy I.U.

I. Influence

Roc Marciano’s direct influence can be heard in the works of each of the following artists, all of whom have at some point achieved commercial success and/or critical acclaim greater than or comparable to Roc’s, with music sonically indebted to his: Ka, Evidence, Mach Hommy, Westside Gunn, Conway, Daringer, Earl Sweatshirt, and more. To be fair, many other artists have achieved commercial sales and/or critical attention lesser than, if not approaching, Roc’s, with music sonically indebted to his: Hus “Wavo” Kingpin, SmooVth, Rosati, Giallo Point, SageInfinite, Shozae, Grandmilly, Tha God Fahim, Willie the Kid, Fly Anakin, Jalal Salaam, and countless others whose names appear in our SoundCloud feeds daily.

And then, of course, you say, “Well, what about all those artists who influenced or inspired Roc Marciano and to whom his music is sonically indebted?” For argument’s sake, let’s look at the big ones: Rakim and Prodigy. Yes, you could make a strong case that both were more influential MCs. However — and here’s the ah-ha — neither of them is as renowned for his production prowess as Marciano is. And though they both certainly contributed to important beats throughout their respective careers, neither artist has demonstrated the ability to consistently hold down entire, or even close to entire, solo albums as Marciano has continued to do since making his official solo debut with 2010’s Marcberg.

So, it can certainly be argued that to find a workable basis of comparison for what Roc Marciano has been doing in and for hip-hop over the course of the past decade, one can only look to other nearly-decade-long or longer runs by influential MCs/producers, such as Kanye West, Madlib, Dilla, DOOM, El-P, RZA, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Erick Sermon, Too Short, Pimp C, Schoolly D, and Kool Keith. And until a name from the first paragraph begins to approach Roc Marciano in terms of consistency and influence as both an MC and a producer, then perhaps as long as we’re comparing apples to apples, Marciano’s work is better considered in line with the names directly above. Furthermore, since few if any of the catalogs of these greats are without blemish, and since most all of them are more widely influential as either an MC or a producer, and not equally so in both regards as Roc is, well, I guess when it comes to his still-gaining influence and legacy, all one can really say is… Behold a Dark Horse.

II. Control

Marciano manager Jazz recently confirmed that the cover and title of Roc Marciano’s latest were directly influenced by the conspiracy literature classic Behold a Pale Horse by Milton William Cooper. The phrase comes from the King James Bible, which in the Armageddon myth of Revelation 6:8 reads, “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” Much like the KJB, Behold a Pale Horse contains mad batshit. There’s the secret government’s population control white paper, Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars, which Cooper sourced to a used word processor purchased at a garage sale. There’s the entire Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Cooper introduces by advising readers to substitute the word “Illuminati” for the word “Jew” throughout. Cooper also spent a sizable portion of the book aping on UFO sightings and cover-ups, only to later in life refute all alien conspiracies, claiming that they were the single biggest false flag operation of all time.

And yet, also like the KJB, there are some jewels in there, pearls of practical wisdom that Cooper takes time to reveal while digging the tome’s labyrinthine warrens. The one that comes to mind — and I’m paraphrasing here, as my copy of the book disappeared about a decade ago under mysterious circumstances — is this: It doesn’t matter if you believe in this grand conspiracy theory or any of its many facets, because even if only one man in power does, then countless people are doomed. Before dismissing this as a cop-out, consider how many politicians and CEOs wear their messianic complex like a badge of honor. Consider also that Cooper’s main point here may have been to draw readers’ attention to the nature and potential of control; that those who hold it can mold and manipulate and improve and wreck the lives of others at their whim, that those who do not are already closer to intangible numbers in a ledger than they are free and actualized human beings.

Some who are familiar with Roc Marciano’s work, or the sex trade, might recognize in the above revelation parallels to the relationships between pimps, prostitutes, and johns. As a square, I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that life. I can’t assume that a pimp is powerful and a prostitute powerless, nor can I judge the john or anyone else involved in these necessarily transactional relations. I can only intimate that, as is the case with everything, there are degrees of control and power-sharing. And it’s these degrees, these increments of measure, that make all the difference in the world. It’s these degrees that separate needed questioning of authority from snowballing conspiracy theories, and Bill Cooper from Alex Jones from Ron Paul from Donald Trump. It’s these degrees that revise the literature misnomered history.

III. Ends

Sometime after Marcberg or Reloaded — I’m not sure exactly when, and I damn sure can’t find the interview anymore — when asked about where he wanted to take his music in the future, Roc Marciano said he wanted to sing. The irony here is that while Roc’s success since Marcberg has generally been tied to a renewed interest in 1990s boom-bap, he’s continued to flirt with the idea that his style shares as much in common with that of shiny-suit era Puffy, a pop sound long considered anathema by many hip-hop traditionalists. And yet, over a long enough timeline, all irony fades. If Puff came out today, he’d be considered boom-bap.

Where it once felt novel to hear Roc slip a falsetto ad lib in between lines about singing Rick James tunes in the shower, he now confidently croons hooks throughout a whole album, slipping back into patently smooth murder verses and increasingly melodic cadences without missing a step. One gets the impression listening to Behold a Dark Horse that this project represents the realization of a goal years in the making. Yes, the Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip collaborations lend themselves to this idea, but it’s more than that. Between Rosebudd’s Revenge/RR2 — The Bitter Dose and Behold a Dark Horse, there’s a development that feels rooted in the same evolution that might have occurred between UN Or U Out and Marcberg/Reloaded. It’s as if Roc had been reaching for this sound, planning his way here all along. Perhaps he’d already arrived at the destination, but knew he needed to wait to bring us along for the ride, that we had to see more of the so-called past before we could glimpse the future’s brightness through our foggy present.

On “Diamond Cutter,” Marciano raps, “Fuck who next up/ Rosebudd did its numbers, we doing chest bumps.” Consider the road here. After releasing The Pimpire Strikes Back and Marci Beaucoup on Man Bites Dog in 2013, Roc spent the next four years racking up paid guest features before returning with his first truly independent album, Rosebudd’s Revenge, released on his own Marci Enterprises LLC in 2017. Earlier in 2018, he brought us RR2 — The Bitter Dose, also on Marci Enterprises. The two albums presented Roc Marciano at his most romantic and murderous, peppering anecdotes about beachy lovemaking nearly as far and wide as his foes’ body parts. There was more singing than we were used to hearing from him, but the beats were also darker than ever, driven in part by the cold synths of Arch Druids Animoss and Doc C. On Behold a Dark Horse, though, there’s no need for peppering. Seasoned to perfection, the album documents Roc Marciano cementing his legacy as an MC, producer, and influence in control of his ends — that is, not only of his money, but of his destiny. Behold a Dark Horse.


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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