Despite wide praise for Marcberg's revivalist attitude, this is an extremely niche, lukewarm affair.
I try as hard as possible not to let hype affect me adversely. I feel like my personal crowning achievement was Drake's Thank Me Later, an album whose creator I had panned fairly often over the year leading to its release, and yet it charmed me considerably on its own merits. So the fact that expectations had me so ready to love this album, and yet I am so excruciatingly indifferent to it, makes me wonder what sort of lifespan is left for this type of New York rap. Or maybe more specifically, how the fierce desire from certain sects of the hip-hop audience for music of this type can sometimes lead to certain albums being championed every year regardless of their total quality. That shit is dusty and '95-lite, man!
From the very beginning of the album, I'm reminded of Ghostface Killah's Ironman, though by the time Roc Marciano opens his mouth, Raekwon definitely comes to mind. In fact, it only took about five tracks on my first listen for me to realize that, at best, Marcberg is the missing-link between Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... 1 & 2. Unfortunately, the comparison sinks its teeth deep into the soul of Marcberg, because Roc Marciano has a similarly dense lyrical presence coupled to a nasal, unengaging stove-work type flow. Think Raekwon on "Pyrex Flow" for 13 straight tracks. And speaking of lacking energy and passion, the production here (entirely provided by Marciano) is quite honestly a far cry from the era he's aspiring to. The opening "It's a Crime" is a potentially good chop thrown to the wolves, mangled into stupidness. It doesn't get much sloppier than that, but oftentimes it's because Marciano's production aesthetic is so safe it's hard for him to mess up. He's gunning for the simple, uneventful loops of DJ Premier, but most often he just sounds like a producer in 2010 only somewhat successfully bringing his audience back with him.
It's also interesting to me how, if the artist is not an established player in the NYC coke rap scene, it can be hard for me to take a rapper that takes that style so seriously, seriously. I understand that the subject matter here is not any different from a Gucci Mane or Rick Ross, but for whatever reason, these days it just sounds silly for an artist to be so audibly serious about coke slinging. This album romanticizes the imagery of NYC in 1995 in a harshly unironic manner that doesn't necessarily feel unique in 2010. There is really no artistic conceit here other than the music sounds like the music heads used to love, so why wouldn't they love this? Sure, it sounds like a lost album from the mid-90s, but more importantly it sounds like an album that would have been lost in the mid-90s, exporting perhaps "Snow" and "Ridin' Around" into the neighborhood's local lexicon, but otherwise becoming a swap meet regular among Hempstead regulars.
Roc Marciano's graduation from Pete Rock's posse doesn't seem to help him much here -- like a lot of Pete's modern music, Marciano seems to aspire to the past more than he's actually capable of taking us there. Marcberg is certainly a solid listen, but for me it's not a gripping one, nor is it one of any particular consequence. I prefer Betrayl's The Life 'n' Death of My Hood, released last summer and roundly ignored by the folks that would hail Marcberg king.