The Green Room with Lil Dicky (2015)

Advertising, Comedy, Interviews, Music, Published Material, Videos

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This article was originally published on NahRight.com in 2015, just prior to the second leg of Lil Dicky’s Professional Rapper tour, and also as he was first starting to write his hit FX comedy series Dave.

Written by Daniel Isenberg

Lil Dicky ain’t your stereotypical Jewish rapper. Okay yes, he has a silly name. And yes, he’s a lanky guy from the suburbs with a beard. And yes, he makes funny songs. He checks all those boxes. But there’s one very important thing that separates him from the pack—he’s not wack. Watch his video for “Lemme Freak” once and you’ll instantly understand. Dude is legitimately nasty with the bars, an insane storyteller, a natural comedian, and a born performer. Stop fronting and give LD his props.

With the spring leg of his Professional Rapper tour starting this week, we got on the horn with Lil Dicky for our latest edition of The Green Room to get a detailed look at what life is like on the road for the blossoming rap star. Turns out things aren’t as glamorous as you might expect, though it sounds like that might change this go-around. Read below to find out all about Lil Dicky’s live show steez, in front of and behind the curtain.

First Live Performance

Lil Dicky: “In my case, it’s bizarre, because I wasn’t a rapper to the world until two years ago. I never really did anything until my first mixtape. So I put it out as a guy in his room making these songs on his computer by himself, and it blew up. And I was faced with the situation that I had to start doing concerts.

“Literally, my first concert was in my hometown of Philadelphia. I sold out the TLA which is like 1,000 people, and I honestly had never even rapped in front of more than like three friends. Ever. I would actually label that day as one of the worst days of my life. Obviously, it’s not a tragic day—it’s a good worst day to have. But in terms of my overall stress level leading up to the show, that day was pretty unbearable.

“After that first show, it felt like I was born to do it. It came very naturally to me. However, my biggest memory is for my first song, I walked out there, and I had so much energy that I went way too hard in the first minute and a half. And I got extremely tired. From that point on, the whole concert was an uphill battle to survive. I was rapping my verses like, ‘Just make it to the hook. Just survive this verse.’ And I did that for twelve straight songs. The stage was huge, and I didn’t know how to pace myself.

“But it was great. It was my hometown. Some 76ers came. Like, this is my first public foray into rap. I knew people were paying attention in my mind, but that fact that Nerlens Noel decided to come to my rap concert just felt like an alternate universe.”

Rehearsing

“In between songs is really stand-up comedy-based. There are planned jokes. So what we mainly rehearse is the transitions. The songs just don’t end and then another one starts. Everything is driven by language. The rehearsal is less about me rehearsing my raps. Although, I want to do some more choreographed dancing. I haven’t done that yet. But it’s basically just making sure we’re all on the same page from a cue perspective.

“We put in like two rehearsal days before the tour. And then, you’re doing it every night which is like a rehearsal too, and then soundcheck every day too, so it just gets better and tighter as it goes on.”

Packing

“I’ve been working on my album, and that’s kind of been my sole focus, so I don’t even know what what my go-to on-stage outfit or what my look is for this tour. Since the tour starts tomorrow and I don’t know it, I’m gonna have to go with what I own.

“I’m less into basketball jerseys than I was before. And I can’t be in any sort of jeans or skinny pant up there. It needs to have air. Like, sweatpants or sweat-shorts are ideal, and those take up a lot of space. So I pack a few pairs of sweats, a bunch of hoodies because the hoodie is a great look on and off the court as a rapper. I pack a few choice button-downs that I would never wear on stage but that I would go to a bar afterwards in. And usually one or two pairs of shoes—I’m not a big sneakerhead.

“My big thing is that I have all of my bathing products sorted out. I bring a loofa, towels. I’m pretty anal about showering so I bring all my facewash. I make sure I have all that stuff at all times. I shower twice a day, and honestly, a lot of stuff that happens on tour is predicated around my showering.”

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Travel Activities

“Last tour, we got an RV and went four weeks straight without going home. This tour, I have shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, then I fly back to L.A. and I’m here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. We’re doing that so I can finish my album.

“I like to rent movies on my iTunes, but then my battery dies. But honestly, there aren’t a lot of movies that I need to see that I haven’t seen. I’m at that place where it’s great when I find out there’s a great movie out that I haven’t seen.

“Usually I’m listening to rap music. At this point in my life, I only listen to rap. The new Drake, the new Big Sean, those are like what I flip and flop back and forth on currently. And Forest Hills Drive, the new J. Cole. I’m in need of a new one. I’m over those to some extent. I’m looking forward to Kendrick’s album, that’s coming out at the right time for me.

“In the RV, there was like a full bedroom, so I was able to have a bed. There’s a lot of weed being smoked. I actually try not to do it during the day, because it will just make me burned out and tired if I have a concert. But everyone else is smoking weed.

“I’m actually working on a TV show right now, which is based off of my life. It’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but instead of being in Larry David’s world, it’s in my world, and I’m a 26-year-old rapper. So I take heavy notes on what’s happening at all times on tour, and then try to put them together. I don’t really write the show on the road. I get all my notes done and organize my thoughts and think about things.

“I don’t think I could be in a moving vehicle and write rap music. I can barely even be in a studio. I need to be at my desk and locked in. I pretty much spent every day writing raps for the past year-and-a-half, and I started doing this whole thing to be a comedian, to be honest. I didn’t know I was going to become as good of a rapper as I became. So when I’m actually on tour, it’s my only time that I can’t focus on writing raps. So I take advantage of that time to focus on writing TV.

“That’s where my head’s at on tour, because when I’m on tour, that’s probably the most entertaining backdrop of my life. So I can imagine a lot of Episode 5 coming from that. Like, I have grown men coming up to me like, ‘Yo, can you sign my dick?’ Stuff like that is happening.

“I just say, ‘No. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I can’t be the guy signing everybody’s dicks. I can’t be that rapper yet.’”

Backstage

“I have friends who whenever I do a show are like, ‘Hey, can I come backstage?’ And I always warn them and say, ‘Sure, but it’s probably way more underwhelming than you’d expect.’ I haven’t been backstage at another rapper’s show, but I imagine it’s far more entertaining. Mine is really just four guys kind of sitting quietly. Half the time people are napping. I don’t really nap, I just kind of sit there.

“I used to never do anything in terms of drinking or smoking before went on stage. I used to just go on sober. Only recently have I started smoking weed before shows. I don’t do it every time, and I can’t go overboard. There’s been times where I’ve gone on stage high and it was too much stimulation to handle. I remember being on the first song, like, ‘Dude, please don’t collapse.’

“There’s usually dinner. A few menus being thrown at us, and then a conversation as to which type of food we should have that night. That’s what goes on, those type of discussions. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, Meek Mill just came through.’

“I’m open to change, though. I’m not absolutely sold on the current construct. And I think because it was it was my first tour last time, I took it seriously as a job. I was as responsible as responsible can be. But I think I’ll get more laidback in terms of letting myself have fun. My New Year’s resolution is genuinely to have more fun. There’s a lot more fun to be had. I don’t have any stories from my first tour to tell my grandkids that would blow them away. Even if it’s for my TV show, I just need to get out of my comfort zone a little more and see what happens.”

On Stage

“I’m still educating people. There’s still a PowerPoint presentation in the show, which I always think is really funny. There’s hundreds of drunk people who came to hear rap music, and all of a sudden I take them through a 12-minute slideshow. I show them a deck. I say, ‘Before I get into this, I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have a little bit of a business background.’ And I get everyone’s minds in the same place for the show.

“I’m not sure if I’m gonna stick with it, but I have added the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to my set list. An acapella where I get real Whitney Houston. I make everyone take their hats off. [Laughs.] I tend to go into the crowd and rap. I go down there, I gotta get with the people. So new things keep presenting themselves, then I keep assessing.

“I don’t know if I’m there yet, but the more money I get—I don’t really care about money—the more I’m going to invest in my show. In three years it will be a Kanye times Book of Mormon experience, hopefully. Imagine me on top of a huge mountain called ‘The Rap Game,’ and there’s chocolate milk pouring down the mountain out of what appears to be my butt, with strippers drinking the milk. It can go a bunch of different directions.”

Dry-Humping Girls During “Lemme Freak”

My favorite person I’ve ever seen live was Usher. And this is a trick I saw Usher do back in the day, when these R&B guys bring girls on stage and do a lot of dry humping. So I always wanted to have an excuse to do that. ‘Lemme Freak’ was the first time I ever wrote a song where I’m asking girls to have sex with them. I’ve never done the song live without doing that.

It’s never really gone bad, but there was one time that the crowd was so male dominant and the girls there weren’t really volunteering, and it took too long to get a girl on stage. It was weird, like I was forcing the issue. But it was funny how it took like 25 seconds to make that happen. Normally, girls scream and they want to do it.

In theory, I don’t ask her permission to do this before, so it’s a longshot, but you could see someone—if they really hated me—suing for sexual harassment. So I make it a point to whisper in their ear as it’s happening, ‘Are you okay?’ That’s my favorite part of the show, when I ask the girl if she’s okay. She’s like, ‘Yeah, this is cool.’ And I’m like, ‘Cool.’ [Laughs.]

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Fan Interaction

“After a show, I’ll go by where I sell merch, and I’ll literally meet anyone who wants to meet me. So if the entire audience wanted to meet me, they would meet me. It takes like an hour and a half. People line up and it’s really fun.

“This is all so new, and I do so much of it by myself. Even now with my level of fame, I don’t really go out much or take advantage of it. My lifestyle isn’t any different than before I started. But when I’m here with all these people that are fans of my music, it’s like they see me as if I saw Denzel Washington, which is interesting to me. It’s so fun for me to meet people. I sign autographs, take pictures, and that whole thing.

“I want people to meet me and like me. A lot of me is reflected in the music, but I’m definitely Dave. 99% of the time, I’m not Lil Dicky. I want people to like Dave.”

Dream Female Tour Encounter

“After the show, I’m signing my autographs or whatever. Obviously, a beautiful girl walks up. And she’s not like the rest of them. [Laughs.] For whatever reason, I’m seeing a brunette. She says something like, ‘I had never heard about you until tonight when my friend…’ Basically, she’s not a huge Lil Dicky fan. She got brought there by a friend, and she just found out about it. So she’ll say, ‘I just found about about you. My friend brought me here. But I just want you to know I’m a believer, and I want you to know that I really appreciate what you’re doing and I think it’s awesome.’

“Then I’ll say, ‘Oh, thank you. What’s your name?’ And she’ll say like, ‘Kirsten,’ or something. I don’t know. And I’ll say, ‘Kirsten, do you live out here? Well, you’ve gotta tell me where I should be going next.’ And I’ll be able to know from that interaction if she’s interested in hanging out. Ideally, there’s a shower at the venue, and I say, ‘Kirsten, I think we should hang out after the show. Let me just shower real quick. Are you down to hang out for like fifteen minutes?’

“Then we end up going to some bar where me and Kirsten are really in our own world. It’s not that loud, and we’re just simply talking. She’s probably like 25, and she’s really confident. And I think it’s a situation where it’s the end of the night and everyone’s leaving, and I’m like, ‘Listen, I can’t leave now.’ I’m just kind of locked in.

“Ideally, we’d have sex. But that’s not what this is about. I think we could end up just talking. To me, when I watch movies and stuff, there are times when you meet a girl and you’re just blown away. I feel like that happens all the time in movies, but it never happens in real life. I’m waiting for that to happen. So I think this is an example of where it’s like, ‘Holy shit. This girl seems like she’s legitimately perfect for me.’

“I’d probably end up spending the night with her, and then try to get her to come with. She never will, because she’s got her own job and her own life. She’s got such an impressive life that she would never entertain the idea of doing that. But we’d stay in touch, and keep texting, and maybe it even turns into like Skyping every now and again. Then I’d see her when I’m back in town, and the connection is just as real. Maybe she moves to L.A., I don’t know.

“It’s not a drunk night where I’m grinding with a girl having the best sex I’ve ever had. It’s like a sober night, where it’s heavily conversation-based. And the first kiss is just as exciting as sex.”

Eating on the Road

“I’m pretty into fast food. I’ve got a bunch of fast food favorites. I’d say the Taco Bell/KFC combo is my favorite thing, because under one roof you’ve got great options. Chipotle is a great thing for me. I love Wendy’s—the Spicy Chicken sandwich has been a big factor in my life. Then, there are occasions where I’ll insist on going to Morton’s Steakhouse one night. It’s fast food, then every now and then there’s an unnecessarily nice dinner.”

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Favorite Tour Stops

“My favorite show I’ve ever done was Madison, Wisconsin. All my shows before Madison seemed to be in major cities. Those are cool, but they’re not like a college town. The first time I went to Madison was the first time I was faced with a college crowd. And they just want it more. College kids go out every night with the sole purpose of having the best night of their lives. It’s really great. Everyone just buys in. So I’m really looking forward to going back to Madison.

“It’s my birthday on Saturday, and I’ll be in Utah. I’ve never been to Utah, so I’ll be spending my birthday in Salt Lake City. Maybe that will be cool. Actually, I’m looking forward to going to Indiana. I feel like that will be a very similar vibe to Madison. Chicago I’m looking forward to. I had never been to Chicago before, and after being there once, I think it’s a top 3 city in America. Minneapolis sold out like a month ago, so I think I have a really strong fan base in Minneapolis. Plus I’ve never been there. Going to places I’ve never been is great. It’s like, everyone’s seeing a PowerPoint presentation at a rap show for the first time, and I love that.”

Upcoming Tour Goals

“My goal is to have fun. The more I have fun, the more fun the shows will be. Beyond that, it’s just growing the fan base and connecting with the people I’ve never met. I think once people meet me, it will be even easier to be a lifelong fan. Then once the album comes out, I have different goals. But this tour is pre-album, so it’s getting people to keep spreading the word.”

The Professional Rapper Album

“I’m making it thinking that I’m going to get a lot of first time listeners. I know my fans are going to be into it, but I’m thinking about it from the perspective of people who haven’t heard anything. I think it’s great. I think it’s one song away from being truly tremendous. I think it’s still tremendous even if I don’t get that last song. But I’m always fighting for that last song, that cherry on top.

“I’m not gonna give anything away, but there are definitely some really cool features. And it shows off my diversity. My style is in the way I say things and my lyrics, but I don’t have a go-to sound. I don’t want to be limited to one sound. Also, before my music sounded like a comedian who could rap. But now, half my songs aren’t even funny. It sounds more like a rapper who’s funny half the time.”

*Bonus*

After our NahRight interview, I became friendly with Lil Dicky’s manager Mike Hertz. And we ended up working together to bring LD to Trojan Condoms—a brand/client I was writing for during my early advertising days—for what would become a long-term relationship.

Here’s the first video we made with Lil Dicky and Trojan Condoms, titled “The Big Talk with Lil Dicky.” I love this so much, and I’m still so grateful I had the chance to work with LD and his team—they really are some of the most creative and talented people on the planet. 

Special thanks to Mike Hertz for all of the above! And big congrats to LD for all the success! You deserve every bit of it!

Fly Art

Art, Music

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I love everything about this new Jay Nice and RU$H tape. Their rhymes are on point, the production by JLVSN is loaded with ill samples, and two of my favorite MCs of all-time—Roc Marciano and Willie The Kid—are all over it. Plus, they got FRKO to do the cover, who you may remember from his work with Action Bronson.

Do yourself a favor and go pump this fly underground rap shit right now.

 

Purple Anniversary

Mixes, Music, The Good Old Days

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… with Side 1 of this brand new DJ Filthy Rich tribute mix, featuring blends, remixes, OG samples, and of course, classic cuts off the LP. Rich always comes correct, so you’re in for a treat.

Stay tuned for Side 2.

KISS MIX

Mixes, Music, The Good Old Days

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Warm up for Monday night’s Verzuz battle with this mix of Jadakiss gems.

Stretch Armstrong Freestyle
Made You Look (Remix)
So Ghetto Freestyle (Hot 97)
Bad Boy Freestyle (Hot 97)
You’ll See w/ The Notorious B.I.G.
From Now Till Then
Checkmate (50 Cent Diss)
F Beanie (Beanie Sigel Diss)
Fiesta Freestyle w/ Styles P
My Lifestyle (Remix)
Whoo Kid Freestyle
Realest Killas (Lt. Dan Blend)
We Run This w/ Jay-Z
Welcome To The Roc Freestyle
Light Up
Air It Out (Original Version)
DJ Clue Freestyle
Get At Me Dog Freestyle
40 Bars Of Terror
John Blaze (Original Version)
Something To Talk About
Child Abuse
It Ain’t Hard To Tell Freestyle (Hot 97)
Who Shot Ya Freestyle
It’s Like That w/ The LOX
Crack Spot Stories w/ Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch and Raekwon
Run w/ Ghostface Killah
All For The Love

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!!