Slick Talkin’

Interviews, Published Material

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This article was originally published by Urban Legends in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.

By Daniel Isenberg

The Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Got a Story To Tell.” Nas’ “Blaze a 50.” Kendrick Lamar’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.” These captivating songs all use storytelling as a device to make their raps come to life inside our minds. And though these three MCs and many others have been praised for their storytelling abilities, there is only one who has been undisputedly crowned by rap fans, critics and his peers as the greatest hip-hop storyteller of all-time—and he goes by the name of Slick Rick. And if there’s one body of work that defines this greatness, it’s his debut album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, originally released by Def Jam Records on November 1st, 1988, is a timeless collection of hip-hop hits, anchored by story-driven street raps like “Children’s Story,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Teenage Love.” Hip-hop records will often sound stale when aged three decades, but not in the case of this era-defining opus. Sure, there are moments on the album when the production is defined by ‘80s trends, but Rick’s futuristic rhyme schemes, melodic cadences, crisp delivery, and one-of-a-kind, English-infused accent make the songs still sound as fresh as the day the album dropped. 

Ricky Walters a.k.a. Slick Rick was born into a Jamaican household in South London in 1965. As an infant, he was blinded in his right eye after an incident involving broken glass, hence the distinguishing eyepatch he’s rocked throughout his career. But Rick was shy as a kid because of the injury and spent most of his time inside, where he developed a love for writing stories. And this passion for storytelling would prove to be invaluable when his family moved across the pond during his adolescent years, settling down in the burgeoning home of hip-hop—The Bronx.  

Rick’s coming-of-age in the Baychester section of the BX aligned perfectly with the popularization of rap music, and though he held tight to his British accent, his assimilation into hip-hop culture came naturally. At the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, he formed his own rap circle, The Kangol Crew with fellow MC and classmate Dana Dane. But it was his run-in with Doug E. Fresh at a talent show in 1984 that led to an official release on wax with The Get Fresh Crew, giving the world its first taste of his uncanny storytelling skills. 

On the B-side to Doug E. Fresh’s 1985 single “The Show” was the beatbox banger “La Di Da Di,” a highly-quotable party cut that details a wild encounter—described play-by-play—with an older woman. It was Rick’s breakthrough moment—and one that compelled Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen to sign Rick to a solo record deal in 1986. Lyor spoke to us about his first time seeing Slick Rick perform, and why he was determined to add him to the Def Jam roster. 

“Slick Rick was one of the most unique storytellers I’d ever heard,” Cohen says. “To me, he represented something in such a high quality—unreplicable. He’s a remarkable person, but he is a different type of person. He’s in his own imagination, in his own head. They performed ‘La Di Da Di’ and ‘The Show’ all over the place. That was back when him and Doug E. could do five shows a night in the tri-state area. I saw him, and I wanted to sign him desperately. He was gonna be my first signing, and it was really critical and important to me. All I wanted to do is sign him and protect him as best I could. I knew that by signing him, he would make Def Jam greater. And that’s the only thing that mattered to me—making Def Jam greater. In terms of the storytelling and conceptual architecture, I left that to him.”

From there, Rick worked with the powers that be to piece his debut album together, pairing songs he masterfully-crafted himself with tracks produced by The Bomb Squad and the late Jam Master Jay. Two years later, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was finally released, at a time when Def Jam was thriving with acts like LL Cool J, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. But quite easily, Slick Rick stood out from the pack—and not just because of his accent or the patch over his eye. It was his abilities both as a storyteller on the mic and a beat-maker behind the boards that led to the birth of hip-hop’s newest superstar, and the creation of one of the most revered rap LPs in hip-hop history.

And now, ladies and gentlemen—and Lo-Lifes—the story behind the making of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, as told to us by the G.O.A.T. storyteller himself. Heeeere we go.

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“I was always into telling stories, and humor.”

Slick Rick: “I was just being myself. Everyone else was into battle raps, and—no disrespect or nothin’—there was a one-dimensional thing going on. I wasn’t really into the battle thing as much as telling stories and humor, with my leftover English accent. It stood out because of the accent and the stories, and it gave rap variety instead of just being one big battle for supremacy.

“I wrote them like an essay form, where you have your introduction to what it’s about, your body of the story, and your ending—with a moral message or something. In high school English class, that’s how you’d lay out the format. I’d start with four cute, hot lines. Then I’d just keep going and going until I’d have a whole record length. An intro, a body, and an outro.

“I was always into telling stories, and humor. It’s like watching the Eddie Murphy movie Raw, when he shows you in the very beginning how he used to do stand-up in front of his relatives? It was very similar to that—telling stories in front of your friends, and seeing what makes them laugh. So when I played with my friends in my age group, that’s how we would play. I would tell them stories, give a little humor and shit. Then when rap came about, I just transferred it into rap form. It just rhymes now.”

“Your imagination is just running wild.”

“‘Treat Her Like a Prostitute,’ and all that type of stuff—that’s really just young, adolescent, girl crazy shit. Getting your heart broken, you’re new at romance, your hormones are raging. Think back to when you’re like between 18 and 23, this is the mentality of most youth. So you tell stories that match your age and your environment. 

“It wouldn’t be like a Joan Collins book—it wouldn’t be that sophisticated, because she’s a mature, older woman. It would be more of how kids talk and what’s happening with them at your age. If you were a young adult in the ‘80s, this is how you interact with each other. This is how you talk. Like, ‘Imagine if I met a cute Indian girl, and I was running around with that raccoon hat Davy Crockett was wearing, and I had to meet her parents.’ Your imagination is just running wild.

“And you get it from old TV shows. Like the melody, ‘Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.’ Shit like that. It’s like when Will Smith made ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ over—it was something his age group was familiar with. It’s pretty much the same thing—they all grew up on it. You draw from your environment, and have fun like the kids your age.”

“I tried to take what I was banging on the desk, and transfer it to the drum machine.”

“We used to just bang on the desks, and repeat songs that were popular in the early ages of hip-hop—duplicate the break beats.

“Then, the first time I went to Teddy Riley’s house, I saw he had a drum machine and an organ and stuff, that he used to make songs. I found out what the name of the drum machine was, and the organ that he had, and I got it myself. Once I tried to take what I was banging on the desk, and transfer it to the drum machine, it worked instantly.

“I couldn’t really play instruments, I just knew they had the sounds on it. And if you take, one, two, three steps, you can basically come up with a bassline. Once I got the organ, I knew how to get the upright bass and the sax and the violin loaded up. Then I’d get the drum track together, and then decorate it with the instruments.

“Sometimes, you’d get inspired by other records that was hot, like breakbeats or ‘70s, ‘80s records, and you’d try to duplicate them in your own way. So it has that feel that minorities liked at the time. Anything that moved your feet, that gives you that soul, I tried to put it down like that with the drum machine and the organ. 

“I learned to play the organ—not fancy like Stevie Wonder, just one finger at a time. Because bass lines are not that complicated. The bass player has a simple job. It’s just repetition. Then the violin gives it that nice, angelic feel. And the sax gives it that fulfillment, that substance. So you’re basically just relying on the drum track, and the melody to go with it. 

“I went to the High School of Music & Art, but I was there for art. But hip-hop was like, grabbing from our youth. Hip-hop wasn’t really musically inclined, from Flash to Melle Mel to Cold Crush Brothers—you had a good ear for music, and you’d take other people’s music and make it even better. There was no real musical training like that. Once you learned the drums and put the little melody on top and it felt good to you and your people, you just kept it moving like that.”

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“When you’re making an album, that’s when the pressure comes in.”

At the time, I was only used to making a single here and there. ‘The Show’ with Doug E. Fresh, and “La Di Da Di. I wasn’t really looking at it like a job, like, ‘Oh, I gotta make this and bring it to the record label, hope I get a contract.’ We was just having fun and shit, getting noticed. And if it works that instantly, it should continue to work the same way when you make your own album.

“But it’s a lot more songs when you’re making an album, that’s where the pressure comes in. If I said to you, ‘All you have to do is make one hit record a year’—that’s nothing. But if I said you gotta make, ten, twelve—now you gotta narrow it down to your best ideas. But you still ain’t finished, because they want twelve! So let’s say you got eight, nine. Now you’re gonna have to toss a couple album fillers in there to make the whole cake.

“I had ideas that were just sitting there. It wasn’t really like demos, or anything like that. It was like playing with a toy. You play with drum machine and the organ, you come up with something, like ‘That sounds kinda hot.’ Then you get an idea of how to rap on it—a pattern—and a story that would fit it.”

“It was a laid-back, dark, creepy spot.”

“Back then, there was a studio called Chung King, somewhere near Canal Street. It was a laid-back, dark, creepy spot, but I guess it was the birthplace of Def Jam Records and stuff. So that’s where we went.

“I had an 8-track, a drum machine and an organ at home. Once I got to the studio, now it was 24 tracks, a drum machine and an organ. So now I had 24 tracks, for whatever. Ad-libs, sound effects. You see how ‘Mona Lisa’ has a sound effect of an audience clapping in the front, when I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, and Lo-Lifes.’ That’s because I had 24 tracks I could play with. ‘Mona Lisa’ is like two voices talking to each other, but it’s really just me. I just rewinded the track and filled it in. 

“Most of the sessions, you’d have your engineer, and a couple execs to make sure everything is going according to plan. But when it came time for other producers, that’s when they’d give you their tracks, and then you gotta rap on their stuff. It wasn’t like someone was overseeing my stuff, but when it came to other people’s stuff, it was like that. We did song songs with Public Enemy’s people—Hank Shocklee and them—Jam Master Jay, and that’s pretty much all I can remember.

“Back then, nobody was really doing collabos. Eric B. and Rakim did their own album, LL Cool J did his own album, Public Enemy did their own album. It wasn’t really collabo time yet.” 

“I leaked it to Red Alert.”

“I pretty much made ‘The Ruler’s Back’ by myself, and I leaked it to Red Alert. Def Jam was taking too long to release stuff. I had been on the shelf since ‘86 to like, late ‘88. So I needed something to keep me alive. So I took one of the songs I made at home, and I leaked it to Red Alert. It was a cassette.

“I said, ‘Red Alert, I need you to to play this shit on the radio and keep my name alive, because, I don’t know, niggas is moving slow over here.’ So when Red Alert released it, it rejuvenated my name and career, instead of just sitting there like you ain’t doing nothing, or you’re lazy, letting rumors spread. Then after that, Def Jam started doing what they had to do. It was like, ‘Let’s get this moving, kid. Can’t just sit here for three years doing nothing.’” 

“I wanted to put out ‘Children’s Story’ first.”

“The first record they dropped was ‘Teenage Love.’ I wanted to strangle them niggas. [Laughs.] ‘Cause it’s slow. I got ‘Children’s Story’ in the stash, I got ‘Mona Lisa’ in the stash, so I’m like, ‘Come on, now. What is this, ‘Kill A Nigga’s Career Day?’’ I was a little upset about that.

“The record label went a different direction. They put out the slow one first. I’m like, ‘Nah nigga, you gotta strike while the iron’s hot.’ Then you trinkle down to slow stuff. I wanted to put out ‘Children’s Story’ first, then ‘Mona Lisa,’ then ‘Hey Young World,’ and then maybe ‘Teenage Love.’ But they went with ‘Teenage Love’ first. So what’cha gonna do? They the power. 

“At that time, Big Daddy Kane was out, Rob Base, and lots of fast-paced stuff was running around. So it’s best that you put your best foot forward, then go into slow love songs. See LL can do that, because he’s already famous. And he started off with ‘I Need a Beat,’ and built up a reputation. And he was a ladies man, so he could do that. But you can’t come out the gate like that when nobody’s heard from you since ‘85, ‘86.  

“Hip-hop is not really into love songs like that. It’s cute, sometimes, like LL Cool J shit. But hip-hop is really more upbeat and gritty.

“‘Children’s Story’ was the one I was most excited about, because I knew it was gonna be a hit, before it even hit the air. I knew it was gonna be a problem. When I saw what ‘La Di Da Di’ and ‘The Show/ did with the listening audience, I knew that ‘Children’s Story’ had to match or go beyond it.

“We had just pulled up to a gas station, and we was playing ‘Children’s Story’ in the car. Me, my friends, a couple girls was in the car. And I knew that right then it was a problem. It gave me a sense of confidence, and they wasn’t saying nothing negative, so I knew it was over. Once they started playing “Children’s Story” on the radio, I was good to go.”

“I had my little ring game going on, with the Ray Bans.”

“It was right before Christmas, ‘88. We had an album release party, and we had on Santa Claus hats. A couple other celebrities was in the house, like Eric B. and Run. We was just having a good time. You had girls with the hats on trying to promote it. I had my little ring game going on, with the Ray Bans—it was very exciting.

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The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was embraced instantly by both fans and critics. Def Jam publicist Bill Adler remembers the time around the album release fondly. “It was recognized as a masterpiece from the day it came out,” he told us. “The popular reaction to the album was huge, and the critical reaction was very, very positive—immediately.” And that favorable critic response has continued on to this day, with The Source granting it an honorary Five Mics rating in 2002, and Complex ranking “Children’s Story” No. 1 on their 50 Best Storytelling Rap Songs list in 2012. 

Artists have also used Great Adventures as a source of creative inspiration for their own music, with everyone from Montell Jordan to Mos Def to Action Bronson interpolating album favorites for their own hits, and heavyweight producers like Kanye West still using his vocals to create hooks for modern-day rap releases. The influence of Great Adventures on hip-hop over the past 30 years has been endless, as cited during Complex’s 25 Favorite Albums interview series by legendary Slick Rick collaborators Nas and Big Boi of Outkast, as well as one of rap’s most celebrated MCs of 2018—Roc Marciano.

Nas: “It’s a musical storybook. It’s from a New Yorker with an English accent with an imagination that’s never been heard of before in music. He’s just amazing.” (Complex)

Big Boi: “He was one of my favorite MCs coming up. I had that tape as well. I might’ve been in the 5th or 6th grade or something like that, and he was just the coolest rapper on the planet. Him and Big Daddy Kane were just the coolest guys ever. And not just for the roast. He spit game. He was one of the greatest storytellers of all time, when it comes to hip-hop music. And that was just a great record. You could visualize the words and things he was saying. He was so cool. I’m all about the cool shit.” (Complex)

Roc Marciano: “Storytelling at its finest. Nothing but hits. Records to this day that dudes still have not topped. Who’s made a record better than ‘Hey Young World’ since? Is there anything that’s been released between then and now that can really touch that? Storytelling like ‘Mona Lisa’? Has anyone done that? They’ve tried, but dammit, they failed. Slick Rick is top five for me, forever. Who’s fuckin’ with Slick Rick? There’s nobody that can out rap Slick Rick. Slick Rick’s The Ruler, and this body of work proves it.” (Complex)

It’s clear that The Great Adventures of Slick Rick has been cherished consistently since its release in ‘88. But there still are young rap artists who may have never heard the album. Lyor Cohen stressed to us the importance of these new artists—and fans—doing their hip-hop homework, and delving into Slick Rick’s debut.

Lyor Cohen: “I think all these new rappers—and fans—should spend a couple minutes in understanding the art form. And by doing so, they’ll have to bump into Ricky. I think there’s a lot of things they can take away. In my mind, part of art is about borrowing. It’s just the nature of art. I think they will be richer artists and richer fans for understanding the historical references. And by the way, the joints still feel fresh—to this day.”

As for Slick Rick himself, well, he still gets a kick out of listening to Great Adventures—and performing it—30 years later. And he’s proud of the impact the record has made on hip-hop through the years. 

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“Certain songs will always last the test of time.”

Slick Rick: “Listening to it again 30 years later, some things still crack me up. Some of the humor is still refreshing, and makes me earnestly chuckle. The sex scene part in ‘Indian Girl,’ I still like on ‘Mona Lisa’ when I say, ‘Shut up, eat your slice of pizza and be quiet.’ I like ‘Moment I Feared,’ because it had a gritty effect. But the humor, and the beats. 

“‘Children’s Story’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ will still move a modern hip-hop audience. Certain songs will always last the test of time because of something about them—a James Brown song will always rock a party. Some records are dated, and some can go beyond. And that’s what some of these songs still do—that’s why we’re able to still do shows and bring about intrigue, and have an audience nostalgic about their youth or the ‘80s.”

“I’m flattered that artists would remake the songs they like.”

“I’m flattered that artists would remake the songs they like. It’s a form of flattery. A lot of them are inspired by the stories, maybe it grasped some part of their youth.

“A lot of my records are easy to sample, because you got a lot of nice, crisp, clear sentences that can be used as another individual’s chorus. Hip-hop is a lot of samples, and it was easy to make choruses from my vocals, taking lines and making nice choruses and do what they need to do on their newer records. I’m part of their creativity.

“I liked the Lost Boyz version of ‘Hey Young World,’ and Nas ‘Cops Shot The Kid,’ that joint was hot. And I liked Color Me Badd ‘I Wanna Sex You Up,’ and Snoop’s remake of ‘La Di Da Di,’ that was appreciated.”

“I’m not trying to cater to one small, youthful audience.”

“When I make a new record, I’m not trying to cater to one small, youthful audience. It’s better to show that your audience from your generation still exists, and it draws other ages towards you. It’s like when you see younger kids like Stevie Wonder. 

“You don’t want to seem too preachy, because that’s what everyone expects—that’s not really the market I want to go for. I want to be more of a Redd Foxx. He was hilarious, and that’s what stands the test of time. Like, a Richard Pryor. You talk about where you’re at now in life, and then it resonates. They’re not catering to anyone, and that’s what makes them become classics, icons—legends forever.”

“You gotta keep your identity.”

“It’s still a pleasure to perform—it’s still a joy. If you truly enjoy it, then it resonates with the audience and they truly enjoy it. Then you’re good to go.

“I’m happy that younger audiences enjoy themselves. They enjoy the grit, the soul, the groove of the song. It makes you dance, it makes you happy. Being yourself, your audience comes to you, whatever age—young, old. You gotta keep your identity. There’s a lot of pressure for an older artist to act like a younger artist, but sometimes it won’t work. Because you don’t seem authentic to yourself.” 

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“I ain’t playing no bubble gum trap shit tonight,” exclaims Funkmaster Flex as he addresses the Sony Hall crowd on one of the last summer weeknights of the year in Manhattan. With Slick Rick and co-headliner Jay Electronica waiting in the wings, Flex warms up the “25 and older” rap fans with an onslaught of ‘90s gems, ranging from Brand Nubian’s “Step To The Rear” to Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night” to the DMX, LOX and Mase posse cut “Niggaz Done Started Something.” It’s the type of red carpet rollout only Flex could provide for an artist of Slick Rick’s royal rap stature.

After almost an hour of Flex destroying the decks, Slick Rick emerges from backstage draped in a self-designed tank top, a diamond-studded eyepatch and in his signature, oversized truck jewels—the same ones he so gracefully sports during a cameo in the new French Montana and Drake “No Stylist” video (he even dips out mid-set to change chains, displaying the full breadth of his majestic collection). Backed by his dancers “The Slickettes,” Rick runs through his most notable classics and smiles as the spirited crowd shouts out every quotable, controlling the mic with the confidence of a king. It’s clear that 30 years later, nothing has curbed Slick Rick’s desire to tell his stories—all hail The Ruler. 

Photos via UpNorthTrips and Photo Rob. And a very special thank you to Lauren Nostro!

The Making of Marcberg

Interviews, Music, Published Material

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This article originally appeared on nahright.com on May 4th, 2014.

Words by Daniel Isenberg

The trajectory of Hempstead, Long Island-bred MC/producer Roc Marciano’s career is not that of the norm. He made his entrance into hip-hop as a solo artist a decade before he dropped his debut album, working on group efforts and collaborations (yes, that was him on “The Heist” with Busta Rhymes, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah in 2000) before he ever got a chance to officially flex his skills for self on his own project. But sometimes things just happen that way, and like the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. And by the time Roc released his first solo LP Marcberg on May 4th, 2010, he was in the right position to properly display his godly talents on the mic and behind the boards, and he ended up giving the world a fully self-produced classic that helped put real Rotten Apple rap back on the map.

Just a few days shy of the fourth anniversary of Marcberg’s release on Fat Beats Records, we chopped it up with Roc about the making of the LP in-depth, discussing the time period leading to its recording, the intricacies of his brilliant lyrics and production track-by-track, and the album’s reception after it dropped. And along the way, we touched on his adventurous digging trips in New York City with Large Professor, the night he hung out with Guns N’ Roses rock legend Axl Rose during the “Pop” mixing session, how Sean Price ended up on the “Snow (Remix),” and how he was approached by Jay Z back in the late ’90s about taking his talents to Roc-A-Fella Records. Plus so much more, including where he ranks Marcberg in his growing discography, and what the status is on his upcoming collaborative project with The Black Keys. This is the story of a modern-day classic, told first-hand by one of our generation’s most underrated and prolific rap artists. Salute.

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The UN

Roc Marciano: “I was always a solo artist. I was doing records with my crew The UN at the time. I even gave some of the beats that I was gonna use for my solo album up for The UN project. A few beats that I did for that project were joints that I was holding for my solo shit. Basically, with The UN shit, we put it out, but it didn’t pop off. It’s not that it wasn’t received well. People liked it, but it just didn’t pop off. [So the members of the group] went back to their regular lives, working and doing shit that they normally do. And I decided to focus on my solo career, and start working on the Marcberg project.

“The UN was doing a deal with Loud Records before it shut down. That was actually the plan. So Steve [Rifkind] was already aware of us, and wanted to work with us, because we were working closely with Schott Free and Matty C. We put The UN shit out on the underground, it made some noise, but like I said it just didn’t pop. But I think in the process of making that project, dudes got to really see what I could really do, as far as my producing qualities. Everyone in the crew would have to agree that I pretty much executive produced that project and A&R’d it. I picked most of the beats, and made sure I was spearheading what the music would sound like.

“I think it didn’t work because we were doing too much collaborating at the time, with Pete Rock, and Large Professor. I felt like they should have been sprinkled in there with me and my man Raw, and have just us producing most of the sound of it. I don’t think people got a chance to really hear what we could do. But as far as me coming in and adding some of my tracks, I think that made people wake up inside the business structure we were working within, which was Jon Rifkind who is Steve’s brother, and Schott Free and Matty C. I think that they saw what I could actually do as a solo artist. If they weren’t firm believers before The UN project started, by the time it was done, they were. And I think that’s what helped catapult my deal over at [Steve Rifkind’s new label SRC Records].”

Strength and Honor

“That was a joint I put out in support of The UN project, because I didn’t feel we gave them enough of our own sound. So I went to the lab real quick and put Strength and Honor together. If anyone still had any question of what it was, and you heard The UN album and Strength and Honor, you fully got it now.”

From SRC to Fat Beats Records

“I recorded Marcberg after I got the deal with SRC. He heard the album and had a first single in mind and everything. But the single he wanted me to come out with, it didn’t even make Marcberg. I forgot the name of it, to be honest. There was still some tension in the air between Free and Steve, because Loud just folded one day. People came to their job one day and found out the doors was fuckin’ locked. He didn’t let everyone know what was going on. So there was still bad blood. I don’t know if that was Steve’s problem or what it really was, I wasn’t really connected with it, but they were having issues over that. But being that Steve had faith in them, and he already saw what I could do, it was like, ‘Alright cool, to sign Roc as an artist isn’t a bad idea.’ He had success with Free and Matty’s opinions in the past, so what would be different this time? But to make a long story short, they had a falling out, and gave me my walking papers.

“My ego’s not big to say, ‘Yeah, it’s because of the fall-out.’ I’m sure they had trouble thinking about how to market me or whatever the case may be because of how rap was at that time. It was like big money business going on. Everything was some real shiny shit at the time. So me coming back with Marcberg, a sample-heavy album with a lot of gritty shit, that wasn’t poppin’ at the time. So I’m sure they was like, ‘How we gonna sell this to people?’ So giving me my walking papers probably wasn’t a bad idea.

“Being that there was still respect, he let me walk with my music. He didn’t have to do that. They paid me to do an album, and they didn’t have one record when I signed my deal. They gave me a budget, and I kept the budget, and I produced the album myself. I didn’t pay producers to do the album. I took the budget, and I ate off that album. And nobody had a problem with it because they saw that I could produce.

“After the SRC deal folded, there was nothing going on. No other bidders was coming to the table. I was an artist with no buzz. I just lost a deal. [Laughs.] Sign me for what? There was no other reason for a company to just jump up and sign me. I was basically chilling, like, ‘You know what? I’m gonna find a lane to put this record out.’

“I took it up to Bill Sharp who was at Fat Beats at the time, and he was signing projects up there. He heard Marcberg, and he was like, ‘Yeah, bet.’ When I brought it up there, it was about 80% done. So he took it off my hands, I added a few records to it, and there you have it.”

In The Lab

“I was renting an apartment out in Queens, right in Shadyville. Queens Village. I was making the beats on the 2500. The 2500 just came out, so I didn’t even have anybody to call to help me work the damn machine. I had to live off reading the manual and YouTube tutorials, because all my homies used other drum machines. I had a drum machine that nobody had.

“I got it actually before it came out. Large Professor put me on to his man Armon, he sells a lot of drum machines and shit, right in the Madison Square Garden vicinity. And he had some early, some test models. When I found out he had one, and I saw the tutorials on what it could do, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the machine I’m getting.’ So I went up there, and I snatched that shit up to make Marcberg, then I went out and bought a bunch of records.”

Digging

“I always was into records, but when I use to dig back in the days, we used to snatch shit from thrift shops and spots like that. People’s record collections would be in the back, and you get them for cheap like that. But the new record spots that producers were digging in, I wasn’t hip to. So dudes like Large Professor, and my man Jyere, they would take me to record spots, and I bought a bunch of records.

“I was with Large one time out in Brooklyn at Academy Records, and me and this white dude was about to scrap over the record player, because I was hogging up the record player. [Laughs.] Word up. My record knowledge at the time was limited to the basic stuff that was in regular collections. I knew a little bit, but I was still a newcomer as far as knowing what to listen to. So I would just grab everything. You know, when you go in the spot, you’re probably only supposed to listen to like five records. I’d go in there and listen to like, thirty, forty records. But this dude didn’t like that, and for real, we squared up. It was about pop off. People came and got between us and shit. [Laughs.] Large was like, ‘Yo, you crazy, nigga. You about to knock a nigga out in the record spot. What the fuck?’ But it’s like, I’m not listening to the records in their entirety, I’m just skipping through them real quick.

“We’d go to Academy in Manhattan, Sound Library before they closed. I used to see dudes up in there like Lord Finesse and Showbiz going down in the basement, like, ‘See, these niggas got seniority.’ I stopped going there because it was like, ‘They lettin’ niggas go downstairs and get all the good shit, and then they throw the rest up here for us.’ [Laughs.]”

Recording

“I had my own little mic, but I didn’t do a lot of recording at the crib. I would go over to my man DOA’s crib in Long Island, and he would do my recording and engineering. We laid a lot of the verses right at my man’s crib. He had a little studio up in his attic. It would be me, my man Dino Brave when he was around, my man Knowledge. You know, my same friends was around. We’re up in there smokin’, chillin’. I’d come over there with my rhymes, lay a joint or two, see how they come out, and keep it pushin’. And the newer stuff I did on the album I laid at my man Ray West’s crib [who mixed Marcberg too].

“We knew we was making good music. We wasn’t going in the studio recording duds. I’m a professional. I don’t waste my time. I don’t need to make a hundred records to have a good ratio of songs. If you know what you’re doing, your ratio of good records to bad records should be good.”

Evolving/Self-Production

“I’m not a rapper that raps all day. I grew into being a recording artist. I was growing up in the streets, battle rapping and doing all that stuff back in the days. But when I signed my first deal, I learned how to make records that sound good versus me just ripping a track. That was a hard adjustment to make. You have to put your ego aside. It’s not about trying to blow your mind with the rapping, it’s about fitting in the pocket and making music that people wanna listen to. That’s two totally different things.

“That’s a mistake I made earlier in my career, even by using beats by other people. I wasn’t getting my opinion across on music. I was doing more collaborating rather than putting my full views out there of how I feel my music should go. Too much collaborating didn’t help me with my MCing process. When I started doing my own beats, it made me a better artist. I don’t have to rip your beat because everybody already thinks it’s hot because such and such did it. Now I have to compete on your beat so people are not saying, ‘Yeah, the beat is dope, but he ain’t doing nothing.’ When I got my own beats on, there’s no ego. I can just get right to business. It don’t matter who did the beat. So now I just gotta get in there and do what I do.”

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Track-by-Track Breakdown

1. “Pimptro”

“My man Jyere put me on to that flick, [The Cool World]. It’s a black and white film. It’s earlier, but it got a lot of the same actors as The Education of Sonny Carson. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I gotta use some shit from this.’ It’s all about a gun. Nobody used to have guns back in them days. It was rare to have a gun. These young dudes, they had little gangs. And this dude was trying to get a gun from a pimp. So he was trying to get the bread to get this gun so he could run the toughest gang out in New York. And the dialogue in the movie was dope, so I had to use some of it, for sure.

“That was absolutely inspired by Cuban Linx, The Chronic, all that shit. You want to sit down, and you want the album to feel like a picture.”

2. “It’s a Crime”

“I did that at Ray West’s crib. That was a later cut, added to what I already had done before I initially brought the album to Fat Beats. I felt like it was a good start for the album, just the feel of it. I thought it would help you digest the rest of the project, so I put that in the front. It’s a nice groove, and me just spitting on it. It’s to let niggas know, ‘If you listen to this project and you hear that cut first, you gonna be hearing a nigga get loose on this album.’ I felt like it was a good bar song. Like, expect nothing below that.”

3. “Whateva Whateva”

“There’s about three tracks I added late, and ‘Whateva Whateva’ is another one. I just thought that beat was so crack. I thought that beat was just ridiculous. That’s one of my favorite beats I did. So I felt like that should come next. If you wasn’t feeling like the first beat was all that, I felt like the next one you’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s nasty.’ Just off beat choice alone, that was the next one to go.

“I wasn’t thinking I wanted the hooks to be super-fly. The hooks were afterthoughts. Sometimes I’ll do songs and I’ll put the hook first, but[this album, I never did that. I would let the hook flow from the rhyme, and let the rhyme give me the hook. I wasn’t going into the record like, ‘The hooks gotta be fly.’ The rhymes gotta be fly, and the hooks gotta be supportive of the rhymes.

“My mental was—real shit—not even financially, I just knew artistically it had to work. I had been making music for too long in my life for me to put together a solo album and niggas not get it. To me, the album had to work artistically and musically. It wasn’t about financial success, or would the radio support. I just knew it had to be an album that niggas respected. It was about my artistic contribution to hip-hop. The music had to work, or I would’ve came out as a solo artist, and no one would’ve understood Roc Marciano.”

4. “Raw Deal”

“My man Jyere brought me that sample, and I put it in the drum machine and flipped it that night. Put the little stutter on it, added one of the kicks from the sample, and put it all together. That’s another one of them no-brainer beats. You get that sample and it’s like, ‘Of course this got to be on it.’ Word. That’s just one of those type of joints. He was like, ‘Damn, you move fast! You cooked that up quick!’ I was like, ‘What you expect? This is easy work.’

“All my homies played a part in this album. My man Jyere, Dino Brave, my man Knowledge, Schott Free, they was all around when I was making the shit. So anybody that had anything, they’d be like, ‘You should hear this.’ Skits from movies and shit. People definitely other than the main artist always contribute in order to make a masterpiece.

“That’s Richard Pryor and Max Julian in The Mack [at the end of the song]. It’s some funny shit, give the album some humor.”

5. “We Do It” ft. Ka

“I linked with Ka from the joint that I produced on the GZA’s album. It’s called ‘Firehouse,’ on the Pro Tools album. I rhymed on the album too, but not on that song. Dreddy Krueger was bringing producers to the table to help Genius put his project together, that’s how I got the call.

“He told me that they used one of the beats for the project. He played me some shit, and I’m expecting to hear the Genius, and he’s playing Ka, and Genius is just on the hook. And I’m like, ‘That nigga ill.’ Word up. I understood Ka immediately.

“Sure enough, after they put the record out, Ka reached out because he had liked the production so much on ‘Firehouse’ and he wanted to do some more records. I was like, ‘I ain’t got many beats besides the ones I’m making for my album. So we started kicking it, and I had a couple of joints I wanted to record to finish up the album, and ‘We Do It’ wound up being one of those cuts. We was at Ray West’s crib, niggas heard the beat, went back to the crib, wrote their rhyme, came back to the studio, and we knocked it out like that.

“Some people you meet along on your musical journey and become family. You just understand each other, you’re on the same page musically. Ka just happened to be one of them people. That was just a no-brainer. I’m a big Ka fan.”

6. “Snow”

“I wrote ‘Snow’ at my mom’s crib when I went over there for Sunday dinner. I wrote it on her couch, and my mom was cooking in the kitchen. I had ‘Snow’ on an iPod—all the beats I would make I’d put them on my iPod to ride and listen to them, or to be able to listen to them whenever I wanted. I wrote at least the first verse and the hook, and I was like, ‘This gonna come out aiight.’

“Even if people didn’t feel a certain way about the rhymes, I knew for sure that I made a classic beat. When people started coming to me for production, they’d be like, ‘Can I get a beat like ‘Snow?’’ But it’s like, ‘’Snow’ don’t happen every day in the studio, my G.’ Every time you turn on the beat machine, it ain’t gonna pop off like that.

‘I remember I found that record at Academy. When you hear shit like that, it’s like, ‘I don’t care what it costs.’ Luckily, the price on the record wasn’t crazy. $25, $30 record. But when you hear a certain sample you like, you’re like, ‘I’ll buy it.’ When you hear some fly shit, you don’t care if it’s $150, $200. You immediately look at the price, and be like, ‘Okay, that’s feasible. I’m buying a classic.’”

7. “Ridin Around”

“I thought all the beats just had to be fire. I had something to prove as a producer. When I found the record and heard the switch and everything in it, and took the loop and put drums to it, I was like, ‘Aiight, this is definitely one of those feelings that the album needs in order for it to be well-rounded.’ It wasn’t necessarily gritty. It had a soulful sound, and an uplifting feel. It wasn’t that dirty, like, ‘We out here fucked up’ kind of beat. It was one of those beats that make you feel good. But it was still hard. A full album needs those moments.

“That’s my man Lisaan’dro rapping. He’s one of my homies who I grew up with, one of my good friends. A good guy. He was around, in there chillin’ and shit, and was like, ‘Yo fam, let me take the end away.’ I was like, ‘Go ahead, nigga. We all in here together. Take it away.’ So he hopped on the end. It was one of them organic moments in the studio, up in there high, smokin’, drinkin’. The record’s coming out good, niggas is feeling good, like, ‘Go up in there, nigga.’

“He spits every now and then. He ain’t a dude that’s rappin’ professionally. None of my niggas are trying to be rappers actually. I make music, and some of them just happen to have talent, and if they feel like letting off a shot, they’ll let off a shot and say what they wanna say.”

8. “Panic”

“I was running around, and me and my man ended up in Guitar Center. He was looking to buy something. I went over to the microKORG, it’s an analog keyboard, and it has an old look. So I knew I would get some good sounds from it. I was in there just playing it, and I was like, ‘Yo, I’ma buy this shit.’

“I wasn’t using it much, but I made a few beats with it. ‘Panic’ was one of those beats. I had the sample, and one day I started playing with the microKORG with that little sample. I don’t play keyboard, but I caught some good keys. [Laughs.] Word up. I was playing along to the sample, looped what I was playing, and it was like, ‘This is ready to rhyme to.’”

9. “Thugs Prayer”

“I found that record when I found ‘Snow,’ same spot, same day. I knew I had found two definites. I was playing that record, and I knew immediately, ‘Oh, that’s gonna be on the album.’ When I heard that, I was like, ‘Damn, I was looking for that!’ That shit resonated with me. It was one of those moments where you feel like the universe is coming full circle. That record brought me to times in my life that needed to be expressed on the project.

“That was about a dark period. I had lost my best friend. Me and the homie was kicking it real tough at the time, and he just passed away. It was a dark period, and I figured I’d share a little bit of that on the record.”

10. “Pop”

“I remember when I found that loop, I was like, ‘I got some drums that could go with that.’ I thought the loop was real sinister. That’s another standout in my eyes. We was all at my man DOA’s crib, and my man Kenyatt was there. And when I was done, he was like, ‘Damn man, that’s some hard rapping.’ [Laughs.] I felt like it was more of that Ice Cube, storytelling shit. That’s where it brought me. It’s some of that old school, storytelling rapping over a real hard beat. It was a good fit for the project.

“Axl Rose came to my session at Electric Lady when we was mixing ‘Pop.’ My man Vegas who’s a club promoter used to run with him, and he brought him to the session, and he was vibing to ‘Pop.’ He gave me some love for it, said he liked it. He was real cool, just one of the dudes hanging out in the studio that night.”

11. “Jungle Fever”

“I wanted to make sure I had a concept record on the album. I wanted something slick and conceptual that people would have to really listen to, like, if you don’t listen close you might miss it. I really don’t remember how I came up with the idea of that being the concept actually, it kind of just happened. As I was writing the rhyme, it came to me.

“When you’re on that coke, you’re on that girl. When you’re on that dope, you’re on that boy. So it’s that white girl, so I started finding a niche on how to play it. Then the concept started growing as I was writing it, and I was like, ‘This can actually stretch the length of a song. I can get a song out of this.’ It ended up being my concept record on the album, but it happened organically. Once the concept was coming to me, and I had the full direction, I was like, ‘To call it ‘Jungle Fever’ is a no-brainer.’”

12. “Don Shit”

“Honestly, I don’t really remember much of when I laid ‘Don Shit.’ The homies was around I know that. But one of the moments that sticks out about making ‘Don Shit’ was the drive home, and I was playing it in the car, and that shit was knockin’!! That shit sounded crazy, like something I had never heard before. It was definitely a keeper. On the low, ‘Don Shit’ is one of my favorite cuts off that album.”

13. “Marcberg”

“That skit actually happened, but the recording wasn’t actually me in jail. It was art imitating life. [Laughs.] I did get locked up on the way to the studio. Smoking weed in the car, driving too fuckin’ fast. Got caught speeding, cops smelled the bud. Had to sit in jail and wait ‘til morning to get out, and I missed my session.

“But, I already had the verse. It was actually a verse that I did at the crib on my own mic, and it had a distortion to it that sounded like I was on the phone, so that’s what gave me the idea. I recorded it at the crib, and it wasn’t a good recording. But it still sounded ill—it was still a keeper. So I put the skit of me getting locked up on the way to the studio to record to that verse. Voila.”

14. “Hide My Tears”

“That got pulled because of sample clearance issues. Somebody found out we used it, so I said, ‘Give them their little cheese, I’m not trying to be in court on no suing shit. And to make sure we have no further issues, take that bitch off the album.’ We paid them for it, but we couldn’t continue to use it.

“People who already heard the album knew what the album was, and that it was on the album. That’s gonna be a special edition. People who got that got the real album. But, I don’t know. Other people that don’t have that, they got ‘Scarface Nigga.’ So you’re still getting a quality product either way.

“I take what the beat gives me. My job as an MC is to flow on there and not fuck the groove up. So I went in there, and I wrote the rhymes and laid them like that because it felt natural. It wasn’t about having a double-time song on the album, because a lot of people was doing double-time rapping. But that beat was so hard—that was the best way to flow on it.

“I’m definitely gonna put my own shit on it, but it was a double-time beat. You can’t use certain cadences on a double-time beat. You can, but I just wanted to make sure the record sounded good. And I thought it came out aiight for me rhyming in a double-time cadence. I had an ill Pete Rock double-time joint on Strength and Honor.”

15. “Shoutro”

“I did the hook in the studio with Ray. I had the melody in mind, and Ray was like, ‘Yeah, run with that.’ So we put it together, and then we killed ‘em with the shoutouts at the end. No one was doing shoutout records anymore. So I was like, ‘If we feel it’s a classic project, why not end it in a classic way. Do a little rhyming, and then at the end it’s just shoutouts over a dope beat.’

“What’s crazy is, I caught that loop when me and my man went upstate to see this lady who was selling her collection. It was on the way to some other shit we was doing. We went up there, and the lady had a bunch of bullshit fuckin’ records. But this bitch had like two crates of CD, but not new CDs, like ‘80s, early ‘90s. Just a bunch of shit that was foreign to me. And that sample was in that CD case. I went through a bunch of CDs, and I caught some good music listening to those CDs. Sometimes people miss what happened between like ‘89 and ‘91. You still had a lot of musicians making music. I wasn’t listening to all the alternative rock groups at the time. I don’t know what kind of music it was, but I know I got it out of that CD case.”

*Bonus* “Scarface Nigga”

Marcberg was done, but I was still making music. I felt like there was no need to stop. I still had leftover tracks, and ‘Scarface Nigga’ was one of them. ‘Scarface Nigga’ and ‘Pop’ have the same drums, so that’s why I didn’t want to them both for the album. I just used them differently. It was around the time that we were re-pressing it, and ‘Hide My Tears’ was coming off, so I wanted to replace it with something. And I replaced it with that. The track alone hit so hard. You can’t miss that one. It’s one of those powerful sounding songs, the same way ‘Pop’ is. Those drums pick everything up.

“I got better with the rhymes on this. As I was recording Marcberg, I was getting better and better, and more comfortable as an artist.”

*Bonus* “Snow (Remix)” ft. Sean Price

“P just reached out like, ‘Yo fam, send me that ‘Snow’ beat.’ I was like, ‘Aiight nigga, here you go.’ I didn’t know P like that. I was definitely a fan of his music, so I knew of him. I just respected his music as an artist. I was like, ‘If P wanna get on it, I ain’t mad at that.’ I wouldn’t have sent that record to anybody just because they was somebody that had a name. But I respect P. When he asked for it, I was like, ‘Damn, that makes sense.’ It’s kind of weird how that happened. He was the man for the job. He killed it. And I didn’t expect nothing less. I knew he was probably reaching out because he felt like I felt about the beat. That beat is crack. That’s murder.

“I wasn’t even there that night to do the record. I was just there. I came through chillin’. I was backstage, way behind the DJ. I wasn’t on stage where the people could see me. He turned around, and he peeped me. And I was like, ‘Yo, this nigga gonna pull me out.’ [Laughs.] Sure enough, he was like, ‘Yo put that ‘Snow’ shit on.’ That shit was funny. That’s peace.”

Cover Art

“I shot that in Queens. I took the picture in this alleyway with mad graffiti. And my man Charlie Edmiston visually imposed some the city behind it. I liked the picture that I had, but I didn’t feel it was for the cover of the album with the backdrop. I don’t know where the fuck the new shit he put in was at. But he put that shit together, and that shit looked dope. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s the album cover.’ I wanted it to be simple. Just, me. Then the fire and all that shit was added to the reissue.”

Marcberg Instrumentals

“I didn’t mind putting the instrumentals out, because I’m proud of them. I wanted those instrumentals to be out there so people could hear what I did. That was my production debut, and I wanted to not only make my mark as an MC but also a producer. And I felt like what I did with those songs was strong enough that even if someone raps on them, people know where that shit came from.”

Reception

“Damn man, that shit was so many blunts ago. I just know the reception was good, but it was slow. Eventually, it seemed like a lot of people reached about it. It wasn’t happening like back-to-back, with the phone going off every day. But every other month would pass, and you’d hear something, or this person would say this. I can’t really put my finger on one particular thing, I just know that it opened infinite doors for me. It really cleared up any confusion about who I was as an artist, as you can see with all the fuckin’ features that followed up. [Laughs.] I ended up making music after that with pretty much everybody.

“But still, a lot of people are not convinced with one album. But to follow up with Reloaded was like, ‘Okay, he ain’t no fluke.’”

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Questlove and Jay-Z Debating About Marcberg

“I had other run-ins with Jay. There was talk with us in the past about doing some business as an artist. But I had a deal, I couldn’t just come over there. This is the Hard Knock Life years. He’s an intelligent dude, so I’m sure he remembers. But a few times he had stepped to me about doing something with Roc-A-Fella, and it didn’t pan out. I had a deal already, so it was what it was.

“As far as debates with Jay over Marcberg, maybe he feels like it’s not as hot as Questlove feels it is. Who knows? If they’re talking about it, I appreciate it. In my opinion, it’s all about people wanting to share good music with each other. If he loves it, he’s probably putting Jay on to it, and they’re talking about it. Either way, if people are listening to it, I appreciate it. That’s what I put it out there for. I ain’t put it out there to keep it a secret. I’m glad people fuck with it on different levels. I think more than anything, I’m just surprised when people I don’t expect to like the projects like the projects, like singers like Mayer Hawthorne or a guy like John Mayer, or Axel Rose. That’s when you’re breaking down barriers.”

“For a remix? I’d put Jay on ‘Raw Deal’ or something like that.”

Marcberg vs. Reloaded

Marcberg is the foundation to the house. It’s that simple. That’s the framework. It’s the first brick. It’s the blueprint. The original stone that started it off. To me, it’s kind of been a tug of war between that and Reloaded. I’ve heard people say Reloaded made them appreciate Marcberg even more. It’s different. It depends on the person.

“I don’t have a favorite, but I have favorites for different reasons. I like Marcberg for its production. I think by Reloaded, I’m a better rapper than I was on Marcberg. And as a producer, I love how Reloaded is on the beats, too. That’s a tough one. If you wanna say for rapping, I’d say Reloaded. If you wanna say for production, I’d say Marcberg.”

*Congrats to Roc Marciano of the 10th anniversary of his classic debut. Special thank you to eskay and Jazz!!

Griselda Records x Roc Nation

Music, News

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Wow.

*BONUS*

Watch Conway and Benny’s No Jumper podcast interview below. Stand-up, honest dudes right here. Love seeing them win…

Catch Benny The Butcher and friends performing his latest release The Plugs I Met live at Sony Hall next month, courtesy of UpNorthTrips. Cop tix HERE.