Photo credit: David Morrison
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Roc Marciano is precisely the center of the Venn diagram of me and Ali’s taste. It’s his visual storytelling and a distinct New York sensibility. We have a lot of similar memories of growing up in New York, especially the change that happened as the ‘70s turned into the ‘80s.
Roc says he’s connected to the blues, and that he likes his music to have bite and pain to it. He’s an expert of his aesthetic, like Dashiell Hammett, dedicating his creative energies to a particular style. But we spoke about how he might switch it up as a writer — it’s a question a lot of hip-hop artists who’ve been in the game for a while face: once you’ve mined the high drama of your youth, what stories do you tell?
This is a conversation we’ve looked forward to for a long time, and we hope it inspires you to spend the rest of your day deep in Roc’s catalog.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Roc Marciano, what up?
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, what up, what up? What's going on?
ALI: I feel kind of weirded out talking to you in L.A.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Yeah, right.
ALI: I'd rather have this conversation in New York just because it would feel so right in my mind.
ROC MARCIANO: It's all good, man. I mean, I'm here, so either way, you know.
ALI: Happy you're here.
ROC MARCIANO: Me too, bro. Me too.
FRANNIE: What is your guys' connection to each other? When did you first hear of Roc?
ALI: Wow. This was like 2010 I guess. I was still living New Jersey. I was just about to make a move back to Brooklyn, and it was a video. I saw a video. I can't remember which song it was.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, I put Marcberg out around 2010, but it could've been a Pete Rock joint or a lot of joints. I don't know. Videos, though. I don't know. I don't think I did a video till Reloaded.
FRANNIE: Could it have been a performance video?
ROC MARCIANO: Maybe.
ROC MARCIANO: It could've been that. It could've been a performance video.
ALI: But I was immediately drawn to – it just – especially in 2010, it was the kind of hip-hop you weren't getting that too often, so it was very refreshing.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah. Talk about it.
ALI: It was a, "Oh!" I don't know, just being in New York, it just was like, "Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup." That's all I could say, is, "Yup, yup. Mhmm, mhmm. Mhmm mhmm mhmm." That's all I could say.
ROC MARCIANO: Word.
FRANNIE: I feel similarly. It's just exactly my shit.
ROC MARCIANO: No doubt. I appreciate it. Blessed.
FRANNIE: Did you grow up on Tribe?
ROC MARCIANO: Psh. Did I? You know what I'm saying? Yeah, Tribe is iconic to me, man, and many others. Yeah, I always looked to the Tribe. Where would I go musically, they were leaders, trailblazers. It was like, "OK." When you hear some new Tribe, you like, "Alright. Cool. This is where we going. This is where the game is going." So that's what I always looked to Tribe for, cutting edge, bravery. Always admired that about the Tribe.
ALI: When did you first hear?
FRANNIE: It probably was in – probably like 2013 would be my guess. Marci Beaucoup. I remember that album cover. I remember talking about it, thinking about it. And it was very – I had interviewed AZ for something, and I was like, "Oh, I see what an evolution of that could be."
And yeah I definitely – there's no doubt that it's New York. I mean, to me what I think I responded to the most is I'm a big reader. I really really love to read. And I think there are some artists that satisfy that, in a totally different context, but give you that storytelling and those images, but also just the love of vocabulary and grammar and metaphor. Are you a reader?
ROC MARCIANO: Yes. I definitely read. Definitely.
FRANNIE: I saw in an interview you did with Passion Of The Weiss, you said you were reading a lot of Miles.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, my last project I was reading – I read Miles by Miles Davis. On a lot of musicians I love.
FRANNIE: So the autobiography?
ROC MARCIANO: Exactly. Miles.
FRANNIE: Which is the best autobiography that's ever been written.
ROC MARCIANO: Mhmm. Absolutely. Yeah, it's incredible. But I read that. These are just artist's books. I read a lot on Quincy Jones.
FRANNIE: The one where he asks some people to write chapters for him?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, I got a couple books on Quincy Jones. I don't remember all of the names, but yeah, Quincy Jones definitely been a study of mines. Rick James. I just read Glow.
FRANNIE: Oh nice.
ROC MARCIANO: So yeah, all of that stuff. I try to get involved in a lot of the history.
FRANNIE: What does that do for you?
ROC MARCIANO: It let me know that they were going through a lot of the stuff I was going through, in the creation of my projects, the struggles and stuff like that, and how they dealt with it and coped. So I get a lot of inspiration too, especially the process too. So I read about they process and coming up and how they recorded and where they got their influences from. So it just help me even with my digging and stuff like that. So yeah, I'm like a sponge. I pick up a little bit of everything.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I want to go back just real quick on one thing about how New York we both just sort of feel – obviously that is what you are, but what are those signifiers? How do you let people know that in your music, that it's New York?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, for one, I can't escape my accent, so people can usually tell where I'm from from how I'm talking and my slang. But I think the experiences, how I grew up and stuff like that, that's important to the process of my creating music. So I communicate with the music that's speaking to me, and I think the music probably just comes out that way, cause New York is where I was born and raised. So I just kind of just follow those steps.
ALI: Can you talk about your environment a little bit, because often when people hear of New York and its relationship to hip-hop, it's always more so the Bronx, Queens, Long Island definitely.
ROC MARCIANO: "I got more game than a crackhead from Hempstead." RIP Phife. I'm from Hempstead, so when he said that, yeah, you know what I'm saying? That's what it is in my town. It was heavily impacted by drugs and crack in the '80s. It's low-income projects in Long Island. It's an all-black area. And just, I got a lot of my influence from there. It's almost like a city within the suburbs.
So that's pretty much where I get a lot of my influence – and a lot of other places in Long Island. When you talking about Nassau, even in Suffolk, you got a lot of – they're just all-black communities, so a melting pot, a bunch of people that came there looking for low-income housing, thinking that it's sweet, cause it's the suburbs or whatever. But all together it just –
A great experience though, growing up, nonetheless. It was like a brotherhood, even though you had your problems in any areas where there's crime and drugs, but it's the good and the bad. I'd say the good outweighed the bad growing up, but once the '80s and stuff like that – it got a little crazy. So I draw from a lot of those experiences and things I seen.
ALI: What were the schools like?
ROC MARCIANO: The schools were good in the beginning. Like, I remember we had glee club. We had instruments early. Eventually the instruments weren't in school anymore, and there was no more music class. But elementary, I went to Fulton School. We had glee club. We sang, stuff like that. They had instruments. I didn't take any instruments, but school was pretty good. Yeah, school was good.
ALI: Yeah, I have the same memories.
ROC MARCIANO: Mhmm.
FRANNIE: Of the instruments leaving?
ALI: No, of just in the '70s, life seemingly as happy as – I'm trying to think of what would be considered like a very white picket fence, tree-lined neighborhood. I can't think of any that people may know. But it just was sweet. It was beautiful. It was sunny. It was happy, joyful. And I remember the '80s, it just, things changed.
ROC MARCIANO: Exactly.
ALI: It just was grim.
ROC MARCIANO: Queens and Long Island so close, it's like brothers anyway. You don't cross any bridge to go from Queens to Long Island. So I lived in Queens too for a while. I went to Jamaica High School for a little bit.
ALI: I lived in Brooklyn, but I did for one year stay in Rochdale, cause my father lived in Rochdale.
ROC MARCIANO: Oh, no doubt.
ALI: Like in '81. And I wanted to have a closer relationship with him, so I lived there. But I wound up going to an Islamic madrasa in East New York. But my entire upbringing is all Brooklyn.
ROC MARCIANO: Oh, no doubt. I thought the whole Tribe was from Queens. That's a fun fact.
ALI: Nah, I met Tip in high school.
ROC MARCIANO: Oh, OK.
ALI: And he introduced me to the world of Queens, through his neighborhood, Phife, Jarobi, and everybody on Linden Boulevard and 192. But definitely similarities in just things just drastically – your life being colored differently just cause the invasion of crack and what the government allowed. And we can look at it now from that scope. But I just wanted the fans to hear, you know –
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, that's definitely – that's what it happened in my hood. And we had – it was a nice building. It was called the El Dorados, when we moved in. Next thing you know, you remember when crack hit the scene, it wasn't nice anymore. Each floor had laundromats on them, so we could go and get your – had to lock those up. It got dangerous. People smoked crack in the hallways. It was crazy. Yeah, Terrace Avenue was a rough block. It's definitely one of those spots, one of the worst blocks in America. Yeah, to this day.
ALI: So being 2018, you say to this day, I'm just wondering how when you go into the studio, do you really – you think of the yesterdays or do you think of where you are right now?
ROC MARCIANO: I make it like a gumbo, a melting pot. I go to the past at times, but it's mainly thinking about the future and where I'm trying to take it. But I do draw from the past, cause I like the – I'm connected to the blues, so I draw from the past for those purposes, cause I like that – I like my music to have some bite and some pain in it.
ALI: There's a lot of bite and pain.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, you know what I'm saying? So I draw from the past a lot.
ALI: From your own vision, what does your fan look like?
ROC MARCIANO: My fans look like everybody. That's what I'm starting to notice. All over the world. It's wordly. When I go to shows, there's young people. There's people my age and in between. It's almost like my music is hitting from people from 17 up to like 40, even a little older. So I'm covering wide spectrum, I've been noticing. So how they look? They look like everybody. I mean, not like everybody like maybe Future's audience, but I'm never surprised now.
I used to be surprised, but now I'm not surprised. I've had signings and dudes come from they job, like dishwashers. Mexican dude washing dishes, couldn't even speak English, was in line to get an autograph and me to sign a project. I was like, "He don't even speak English, and he love my music though." So now I'm not surprised, cause it looks like everybody.
ALI: I wonder what the feeling of your music is to someone like that. I can imagine –
ROC MARCIANO: Probably the pain. Probably you can relate to that, to some of the feelings.
FRANNIE: When you say you're connected to the blues, how much of that is that top of your mind when you're digging or when you're thinking about – when you're listening to beats, when you're trying to decide how to proceed?
ROC MARCIANO: I just feel like it's character building. Some of my darkest moments, I felt developed my character so much, so I know when I hear it, you know? I'm listening for it. Cause I feel like those are the dark places that a lot of people don't want to go, so I try to share it whenever I hear it. And I know when I hear it, and then when I hear it, I'm attracted to it. I want to share it, to open up those doors again, stuff like that, almost like therapy.
ALI: Is it like – do you get into a point where you're beside yourself, you trying to get away from it or reminder of it to keep you moving forward? Do you ever feel like there's a pullback?
ROC MARCIANO: You know, I don't really feel like it's a pullback. I kind of look at it like soldiers coming back from war, and just, we share war stories when we get together. It's like Vietnam vets sitting down like, "Yeah, remember this?" It's like the good old days, you know what I'm saying? It's not – cause it wasn't all bad.
So I don't feel like I'm going backwards. At times I feel like I want to explore, open up new options, but that's only musically. As far as my story, my story don't change though. My past is how I create the music, so I don't look at it like letting the past go. I just feel like it's part of who I am, so I just embrace it.
FRANNIE: Was that a transition for you though? Was there a time in your life when you were trying to push things away, then you saw the value in them?
ROC MARCIANO: Oh yeah. I mean, changing your life, growing up, there was a time in my life where I thought I would do nothing but hustle. When crack hit the scene and we could make so much money of it, I was like, "If it stays like this, I'ma do this forever. I don't want to work for nobody." As things progressed and people started hit with a whole bunch of time, you start looking at it like, "Hold up. I ain't for sign up for that."
So doing more music and getting the opportunity to actually do music for a living, that changed everything. Cause I'll be honest, I did not want to work no job for people. I knew I didn't want to do that. So when this opportunity came, I just looked at it as a chance to share my story, not as far as turning my back on where – definitely not turning my back on where I come from, but street life. The opportunity to turn my back on street life was something that I was excited about, cause I knew I didn't want that after a while. I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in jail.
FRANNIE: What form did that opportunity take?
ROC MARCIANO: My first record deal actually, with Busta. Yeah, when I first got an opportunity to actually record for money, that's when things changed.
ALI: What was that like, being around Bus, cause I mean, he's so dynamic on a lot of different levels, obviously from the artist perspective. I mean, he has a crazy business sense. What was that you got from him?
ROC MARCIANO: Bus is a super hustler. If James Brown is the hardest working man in show business, then what is Busta? That's how I felt. I was like, "Who works more than Busta?" Busta wake up in the morning he on it. You know what I'm saying?
So working with him was really a reality check too. I learned that hip-hop could be work too. It was like, "Hold up. I didn't want a job." Now it's like, I got a job, a real job. With no set hours too. You go to your job, come home after eight hours. Dealing with Bus ain't no eight-hour job. It's 24 hours. Sleep is the only time you're off. So that's what I learned, that it could really be work, but it was also a lot of fun too.
ALI: Just chasing your passion, I guess, or realizing what your passion is.
ROC MARCIANO: Mhmm.
ALI: I try to tell people that you don't have to be in a boring state. It's not easy for someone to take a risk to pursue what they love, and to be uncomfortable in pursuing what you love to do, but if it brings you joy and it's actually a passion, what you love, then I don't know what greater thing you could be doing – and you actually get paid doing it.
ROC MARCIANO: Especially when it's affecting people, and you see that it's really moving people. And you can see people are really inspired by you. That actually feeds it too.
ALI: Did you always know that you would be in a position to influence people in a positive way?
ROC MARCIANO: I kind of knew that. Because even early on, before I actually got into the situation with Bus and actually getting a recording deal, before that, I was making demos, and I could see people's reactions. Like, man. Even rhyming in the street, I could see – people would talk to me or tell my older brother or tell people close to me like, "Yo, Roc got something special." It wasn't normal.
Even before I had a record deal, people were like, "Yo, you the best I ever heard." That wasn't un-normal for me to hear. Like, I would hear that from people I respected. Like, "Yo, I ain't never heard nobody nice like you." It's like, "Wow." So that let me know maybe I have a natural talent. So yeah.
ALI: That's dope.
FRANNIE: And that was never frightening to you, to be different in that way?
ROC MARCIANO: I mean, a little bit, because I felt like it put me in a position where I can't turn nothing regular in. It was like, my standards is high. I can't just go to the studio and record a regular song. Every time I rhyme, people want me to sound like the best man that ever rapped. You know what I'm saying? In life, it's not realistic. That's too high of a standard to hold yourself to.
So that could be a little frustrating sometimes, when people like, "Yo, you the illest. You my favorite." You're like, "I'm aight. I'm pretty cool. I appreciate it. There's other people just as great and greater." So I try not to have that pressure.
ALI: So you don't go in trying to really outdo a body. You just –
ROC MARCIANO: No. I try to outdo myself.
ROC MARCIANO: I just push myself. It's like Jordan being on the court. You feel like – you know, after you play the game, you know if you gave it your all. So that's what I try to do, make sure I'm pushing myself. Like, "I could've wrote a better line than that." So it's just really about pushing myself.
ALI: How do you feel – I know, like, the last few projects have been heavily collaborative. Are you going to go back to a full all-out you album?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, my last few projects haven't been heavily collaborative. You mean as far – all producers?
ALI: Features. No no no no no.
ROC MARCIANO: My last project – OK. My last project had one feature. Rosebudd's Revenge Part 2: The Bitter Dose had –
FRANNIE: He's talking about Sabbath.
ROC MARCIANO: What was it that you just put out?
FRANNIE: And Warm Hennessy. That's what you mean?
ROC MARCIANO: OK. See, that's an old project.
ALI: Oh. OK.
ROC MARCIANO: That's an old project I did maybe like ten, 15 years ago. So that just hit the streets or whatever. Yeah.
ALI: See, now I'm just being informed on that.
ROC MARCIANO: Sometimes you – nah. Sometimes you do deals and stuff, and they don't come out till ten years later or whatever.
ROC MARCIANO: So that's one of them situations. Yeah.
ALI: Does that bother you?
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah. A little bit sometimes. You like, "Put it out when I give it to you." Put it out when I give it to you.
FRANNIE: Well, and The Bitter Dose is such a refined step forward also. It's kind of an odd thing. The timing is off.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, exactly. It's like, "I'm way better than this now. Why you putting this out?" But people gotta get they money and hustle, so it's all good.
FRANNIE: I relate though, because often when you have a feature on, even though your voice is – you're often operating in the same sort of range. Like, I miss your voice. Like, Action comes in and you're like, "Oh, I see the way these things are related and it's complementary," but I just want to get back to you. I feel like I just opened my soul.
ALI: I feel the same way. I'm like, "Everyone – yeah, OK." I accept it. But your instrument, your voice, the tonality of it, your flow, the cadences, and then it's just the painting of everything that you just laid out, you describe, and the way you put it together, it's like, it's – for me, it needs to be in its own space. Share it, like –
ROC MARCIANO: True. I feel you. Yo, that's why I do a lot of my albums the way I do it. Cause I feel like even when I'm working on them, I really don't hear nobody else.
ROC MARCIANO: On my music. A lot of times, I'm like, "Do I want to put somebody on this?" And then I start to feel selfish, cause people that I respect, that love me, they like, "Yo, Roc, I can't get on nothing? Not one album? We homies." So after a while, you start to feel like, "Am I being selfish?" It's some space for two features on my album maybe, especially I'ma hold it –
We in the era right now where you be lucky to get three, four songs by yourself, from an artist. So I'm like, "Alright. Cool." If I got a project with 14 songs on it, if ten are alone, cut me some slack. You know what I'm saying?
FRANNIE: Still making a statement.
ROC MARCIANO: And even still – I'll be honest. A lot of times even still, it's still hard to share space on my album. I don't really enjoy doing it all the time. But I know that it's growth, bringing other people in and collaborating, cause I'm just so used to doing so much on my own.
ALI: Yeah, I definitely believe in teamwork and having support. But I think when it comes to certain artists, and not to place pressure on you, just with my idea of it, but for an example, I don't really want to hear Rakim featured with someone else, cause that's Ra, simple and plain. I wholly enjoy everything that's him. I don't want it to be mixed up with anything.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, I feel you.
ALI: That might be me being selfish, cause there could be someone – there's another a voice out there with a flow that actually may compliment him. But in my mind, I'm just – I'm satisfied with strictly Ra. And I feel the same about you. I'm like, "I'm satisfied with Roc Marciano. Everyone else just sit on the sideline and enjoy this." But, you know, that's me being selfish.
ROC MARCIANO: Ah, man.
FRANNIE: Fucking same.
ROC MARCIANO: You sound like me in my mind. You sound like my alter-ego. Like, "Yo, don't put nobody on the album."
ALI: I don't know.
FRANNIE: Maybe only a female voice would be enough of a contrast, a productive contrast.
ROC MARCIANO: You know what? I've been thinking about that a lot in recent times, about a – kind of like Big and Kim or something like that. Cause people would not expect that, so I thought that would be an ill addition here and there.
ALI: That would be.
ROC MARCIANO: Plus, not to mention, females is a part of my music and my subject matter, so it makes sense to have females participating in the process. So yeah, don't be surprised if you hear some of that in the future.
FRANNIE: Cool. So with Rosebudd's Revenge, and it being a part two – so you say you think about your fan, and it could be anybody, but there's also a way in which your fans have followed your career, and they need to sort of keep storylines and themes together in their head. Do you have a musical or a cinematic model – or a literary model – for that? You know what I mean?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, Rosebudd's Revenge was a reinvention process. So I took a break after Reloaded and Pimpire. I just felt like I put so much out at the time. I didn't want to burn myself out, so I took a break and I wanted to – I wanted to go through a reinvention process to keep it fun. That's pretty much what it was all about. I wanted to keep it fun, so that was pretty much how all of that came about.
FRANNIE: OK. Do you have a model for your career, not in terms of somebody who did this and then did this, but the way that their work developed?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, yeah. I want to always be improving. That's important to me. When I'm making projects and working on new stuff, if I notice that I'm not getting better, that's a problem. Then maybe we should just pause, put a pause on everything, cause it's not growing.
FRANNIE: Can I ask a question that – I don't mean to in any way get in your head or anything, but is there something that you specifically in what you're working on now or that you hear in Rosebudd's Revenge, you're like, "I wish this had been better. I wish this line had been cleaner," or, "I wish it had been more dramatic." You know what I mean? Is there anything that you're refining right now?
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, I mean, I always listen back to stuff and be like, "It could've been better. It could've been better."
FRANNIE: But what do you mean "better?"
ROC MARCIANO: Lyrically. I mean, "Yo, I could've killed this harder even." Or, "I could've wrote an iller rhyme."
FRANNIE: You're very hard on yourself.
ROC MARCIANO: That's how I'm always working. I always feel like that. I'm my worst critic. I'm my worst critic. So I'm always thinking that. Like, "I could've flowed on this iller." And sometimes actually when I make a project – that's why I take a nice time for myself, and I don't listen to anything, cause I want to forget it for a minute. And then when I forget it, I can listen back like a fan and then I'm like, "OK, yeah, I killed that," or, "I did alright on that." That's – it's about improvement, so I just want to constantly keep getting better. I just want to push myself.
ALI: When you say improvement, I can totally understand from maybe the way you might words together, but when you say – and from a producer's perspective, cause that's always prevalent with every project, of trying to shift the sound, still make it tasteful to those who want that particular seasoning, but then improving as explorers that we are, as producers and musicians. But when I hear improvement, I wonder, do you ever think of changing your subject matter?
ROC MARCIANO: I do think about it at times, and then I think – I look at myself and making music – like I don't – it's no different than making a movie. I want to give you the exciting parts. My introspective boring stuff, I don't want to bore you with that part of the movie. I want to give you the action scenes, when the shots went off.
ALI: You Quentin Tarantino nonstop.
ROC MARCIANO: The women half-naked running out the building and stuff like that. I want to keep the movie exciting. It's like N.W.A. We all know N.W.A is not – they weren't living like savages in the street. They were just giving you the exciting parts of the music. So a change in subject matter, I struggle with that. Because I'm just like, "I don't want it to get boring." But I do want to challenge myself, and –
ALI: I can't imagine you being boring.
ALI: At all. Like, zero, in any aspect.
ROC MARCIANO: I mean, that's a challenge I look forward to. Cause I think about that sometimes. I'm like, "Alright. My son's getting older. Do I want him to hear my new album and what it's about? Will I make an album that he could hear right now and be like, singing the lyrics without being offensive?" Even though I don't feel like my lyrics are super offensive.
ROC MARCIANO: It's just littered with a lot of imagery that could be kind of dark at times. But that's definitely a challenge I look forward to.
ALI: I mean, I think it's a fair kind of a pushback to – you're not stating it in a pushback way, but just to draw an analogy to a film, cause Quentin Tarantino is going to give you those –
ROC MARCIANO: Blood and guts.
ALI: Blood and guts, period. Point blank.
ROC MARCIANO: Brains on the wall.
ALI: If he doesn't make a film like that, we probably all will just walk away heartbroken completely.
ROC MARCIANO: Or fall asleep. Or fall asleep on it.
ALI: Or fall asleep.
ROC MARCIANO: Like, "Yo, I didn't come here for this."
ALI: Yeah. So from that perspective, and looking at it from there, I think it's a fair way to view it. I'm just curious about it.
ROC MARCIANO: Nah, I mean, that's real. Cause I'll be honest, even when – that's a good question, cause like I said, when I draw it back to a lot of stuff I been through, it's like, I've shared so much I'm running out of – I'm a grown man now, so obviously I'm not in the streets and getting into trouble and stuff and doing stuff I was as a kid. So it's getting to that point. You know what I'm saying?
ALI: Well, I look at it as you could – I think also sometimes when people hear your music or what they consider gangster or street music, that they don't understand, especially those who are extremely critical of it, that if you're looking at just everyday life, we are governed by gangsters. And the life that I guess one feels comfortable in and the delusion that it's comfortable, when you really peel back the layers, it ain't pretty.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, people kill for this freedom we have here.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah.
ALI: So I just think of it understanding life, and I know you understand life, just from maybe not the street element of it but the other gangster element that just seems to be a smoke and mirrors of life that we exist in.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, I mean –
ALI: Just some – cause I cannot picture you being boring at all. And I'm not saying, like, go out there now and be on some crazy political – like, you got that warpaint on your face, but it's some elements. I don't know.
ROC MARCIANO: I mean, I'll surprise you, man. I'm the type of dude, when people think they got me pegged, I will switch it up. That's how I am. So don't be surprised. I'm always looking for a new way to push myself. Who knows what's next? I'm looking forward it, cause if it's not fresh – if it doesn't feel fresh and new, then I can't participate. So I'm looking forward to that challenge.
ALI: Are there any younger artists around you that's really trying to get your – the nod, that come to you with their lyrics, that you feel like, "Come back?" You spar with them?
ROC MARCIANO: I don't really feel like come back, cause I'll be honest, by the time it makes it to me, it's usually decent. Cause I'm not – I'm not scouring the field looking for who's the next. I'm busy working on my own thing. But there's definitely some young dudes coming up that I like, that's coming from the same field that I'm coming from. There's dudes coming up like Lil Eto. He's nice. I like Retchy. Griselda homies. There's cats, man. There's cats. They coming too.
FRANNIE: How does it feel – how do you feel when you look around at people who don't try as hard as you do, and they're more popular?
ROC MARCIANO: Well, everything's not for everybody. I don't really look at it – I didn't want to be popular.
FRANNIE: Why not? I mean, I get it but –
ROC MARCIANO: Cause – yeah. I'm a recluse. I'm good. If I go to the club, when they can get me in the club, I'm the dude standing on the side. I'm not in the middle of the club, in the mix or something. I like to chill on the side and observe. I just like to be in my own little world. That's important to me.
I had to opportunities to, you know, run around, do trap music and stuff like that. I could've did that, or do popular music. But I'm rebellious. I've always been that kind of dude. I don't care what nobody's doing. I like what I like. So I feel like if I'm going to be popular, then I need to be popular for – like, you need to get up on this, not me come to y'all and I get up on that to be popular.
FRANNIE: Oh, never.
ROC MARCIANO: Y'all come over here and, you know, get popular like that. But that's pretty much how I feel about popularity. I'm not really tripping on it. And in my world, I'm popular enough. You know what I'm saying? I'm comfortable with that.
FRANNIE: I think about what you're talking about, like who are the real gangsters and how can we really have that conversation, how can we really transmit that truthful information to people. There's some ways in which that information has to get to really a lot of people who aren't used to thinking imaginatively or creatively about what's happening around them. And so how could that happen unless people start consuming things that elevate them?
ALI: I don't know if I can say exactly how it could happen, but I would like to think – if we take present day situations, I would like to think that people would just be fed up, just innately. Like, "I'm fed up. Oh, you fed up too? Oh, you fed up?" It's a lot of people being really fed up to the point that – and to use the street kind of analogy, like a pimp language, the woman ain't respecting him, cause it's like, "Yo, I'm clear what you're giving me."
So being fed up enough I think would be the revolution for people to be like, "Alright." We don't necessarily need one particular person to step up or a particular wave of something to make us go, "Oh, yeah. I can understand. I see it." It's in front of us every day, I think.
FRANNIE: Yeah. Well what I was thinking about is the way that one could listen to your music and take it metaphorically and apply that to gangsters on the state level. And so if people were to consume Roc's music in that way, and elevate their understanding of what's going on around them, that's part of getting fed up, being like, "Oh, I want more this, not more this."
ALI: I would think that people just make sure that within their own frames they comfortable. They smart enough. I don't see it turning into a revolution as much as it's just an internal revolution, being like, "I'm hip to the game, so I'ma make sure I need to do what I need to do to take care of me and my family. And that's how I'm getting over the system."
And I think that's just what happens when growing up through the '80s, we understood what was happening in the neighborhood, and it was just like, you with that or you understanding that's just a way to put food on the table, make sure that your brothers and sisters – like, if you sitting in a one-bedroom apartment but it's six siblings, like, "Yo, this is just what I gotta do to make sure that everybody's taken care of." You're not making any excuse of it. You just understand the system that you're in, and until you can do things to shift outside of that, that's your revolution.
The other way, I don't know. It's I think harder to do if you just doing it by yourself. If everybody – and not even. Like, right now. Once again, just take where it is. If everybody's really pissed off – and I'ma go there – with the president, right? Are we pissed off enough to really do something about it, or are we just kind of half-pissed off? I mean, that story's still being told, so we'll see. But I don't know.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I don't know. It's just, to me, quality music is kind of transcendent, and I think that's what Tribe was. And I just get frustrated when I see other things, first of all, get pushed, because that's absolutely happening. But also people just gravitate to them, because it's not challenging, because it's super simple, goes down easy.
ALI: That's true. But the truth, good music, when you putting out that raw, it gets through.
FRANNIE: That's true.
ALI: I don't think you're really thinking about the frame of –
ROC MARCIANO: No. I don't worry about the machine. My whole idea is anti-establishment to begin with, cause I feel like that's the roots of hip-hop. We write on the walls. We take the old music and make new music from it. We dance on the street. We put towels down on the street. We gon' dance right here. To me that's anti-establishment, man. It's like, "I'm not tripping on the powers that be."
Like, where I'm from, we make the most out of whatever we have, so we prepared for whatever that might happen. Being in those uncomfortable spaces, I grew up in that, so we prepared for that. Even with politics, we prepared for whatever's to come. Like, what more you got for us? We already made something out of nothing. We gon' do that with the next situation. Whatever they gon' come with, we gon' do the same thing with that. We gon' make the most of it. So that's my stance on things.
FRANNIE: I think that it's interesting to people – it's interesting to me – how you – that there does seem to be a world of collaborators around you – collaborator may be not the right word, like-minded people – and how you sustain that kind of. It's not a like a brotherhood where you have to put in a ton of effort, right, but people who kind of see things the same way.
Is there anybody within the group of people that you work with that pushes you the most, that challenges you the most? And is that a productive type of relationship, you think, to be in, something that's a little bit combative?
ROC MARCIANO: I can't think of anyone pushing me more than me, to be honest. I'm self-motivated enough. The legacy that I'm building, it's important to me, so I really push myself. I mean, my crew that I have around me, I would say we inspire each other. You know, "Listen to this," or, "Check this out," or, "I've been digging through this stuff," or, "I read this." Cause we all know the plan hasn't changed from day one. It's the – just take this shit over and just influence the next crop of artists.
And I succeeded there. So now it's like, OK, the goal is to take it to the next level, to take it to movies, to take it to television, the stuff like that. Show them how the music meshes with that. So yeah.
FRANNIE: Do you mean writing – like, scoring, supervising, or writing, or –
ROC MARCIANO: Definitely scoring and writing.
ROC MARCIANO: Definitely scoring and writing. I really feel like what RZA's doing is something I want to be moving into that field.
FRANNIE: What can you do there that you can't do in music?
ROC MARCIANO: I don't have any restrictions. I don't really feel like there's nothing I can't do.
FRANNIE: So you're not, like, solving a problem by getting into a different medium?
ROC MARCIANO: Mm-mm. No, I just – I'm attracted to it. Sometimes when I hear my music, I'm like, "This sounds like a film coming on."
FRANNIE: I mean, we all feel like that.
ROC MARCIANO: This sounds like this should be in a movie. I'm not saying this should be the club banger, but it could definitely be opening up a Scorsese film, or my music could come in at a point like that. So that's where I'm trying to take it. That's what I mean by that.
FRANNIE: Yeah, that makes all the sense in the world to me.
ALI: Yeah. You just gotta go – I think, not gotta, but easily could go back and just write scripts to every song. Not every song – I don't know. Pick – cause that's, I don't know, a hundred films. But just pick a couple songs, and –
FRANNIE: That's funny. Have people ever done that, optioned a song?
ALI: Not that I'm aware of, but –
ROC MARCIANO: What? Do what?
FRANNIE: You know the way that you can option a book? So you're going to make a movie about the story in the book. You could option a song and be like, "That's my movie, the whole thing."
ROC MARCIANO: I've seen it before.
FRANNIE: Yeah? Who? Where?
ROC MARCIANO: Remember Nas in "One Love?" He said some stuff, and it ended up in Belly. Some of the stuff that he had written about in the rhyme ended up turning into a scene or two. I've seen it here and there. I've seen it here and there, where lyrics have turned into scenes in movies.
FRANNIE: It could be a IP business proposition though, if you were to control it.
ALI: Nah, that's a big thing you just mentioned. I'm like, "Oh yeah!"
FRANNIE: You just had like five ideas?
ALI: Well, nah, I just was – not just five ideas, but I just was thinking and, listening to your music, it made me wonder if someone like a Scorsese or Tarantino or even Spike Lee would listen and be like, "I'm pretty much going to sample this." Without you knowing.
FRANNIE: Yeah. That's the thing!
ALI: You know what I'm saying? With you knowing it. And that – I mean, we sample, so that's just what happens. You just give that information, and it carries on life. But just knowing technology and where things are now and the type of ways that we all could connect with different people, I would think it – especially with your music and people having these episodic series on Amazon or Netflix or something like that, that it would be the next step to getting your music from a musical art to a theatrical art.
ROC MARCIANO: That's where I want to take it, so that's why this is important. So all you directors, filmmakers, man, just know that that's what I'm trying to do in the future. So holla at me.
ALI: I think that with – there're a lot of people who want to be interns and assistants and apprentices and stuff like that, who are in different – coming out of colleges, and they're doing film or they're doing all these different things. And the one thing that I've learned with scoring and working for Netflix and doing a project for Amazon is that if you walk in the door and pitch them on something, and all you do is just press play and it's shot – not meaning you gotta go spend a lot of money. You just get a couple of these cameras. And your story is incredible. They will greenlight you.
FRANNIE: It's the story. Yeah.
ALI: Basically, my thing is if you come in and just produce it, not look for them to fund it to get produced, but you go in and just be like, "I pulled some resources. I got my homie over here who does graphics. Got this person over here who's got a couple of cameras. This person is good with editing. I'm delivering this content that – dialogue, music, score, whatever." And you put it together. It doesn't even have to be a full-on hour. It could be a 20 minute short piece. But when the story is compelling, they go, "Oh yeah. We like this. Oh, you got ten episodes already kind of figured out, written out?" "Yup. Here's your scripts."
ROC MARCIANO: You know what? I started a film, till I noticed how much – how expensive it was, then I was like, "OK. I'ma have to fall back a little bit. Take my time." But I hear you on that, and I'm definitely trying to get back into that, immediately.
ALI: Cause your stories are – man, they filled up. I mean, your lyrics are just – you could pick like – I don't know – two bars and do an hour long film.
ROC MARCIANO: It's a lot sometimes in two bars. Yeah.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah. I could put a lot in two bars.
ALI: And it's comedic. It's dramatic.
ROC MARCIANO: That's important to me.
ROC MARCIANO: Humor's important.
ROC MARCIANO: It can't just be rough and rugged. It has to have humor.
ALI: What are some of the funniest movies that you can think of that landed on you heavily?
ROC MARCIANO: Coming To America.
ALI: Oh yeah.
ROC MARCIANO: That's the one. You know, what's funny is I find humor in Goodfellas and stuff like that, the funny parts of the gangster movies, the dark comedy. What's that movie I was just watching last night? Jennifer Lopez is in it. Clooney's in it.
FRANNIE: Out of Sight.
ROC MARCIANO: It's funny.
FRANNIE: That's such a good movie. That's Soderbergh.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, it's funny. That's a funny one. Death at a Funeral.
ALI: With Chris Rock.
ROC MARCIANO: With Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and all of them. Yeah, that's funny. Just to name a few. Those are good joints.
FRANNIE: Who are other people that are just, like, funny?
ROC MARCIANO: Action Bronson's funny.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I was thinking of him too.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, he's funny.
FRANNIE: Ghost is funny sometimes.
ALI: Ghost is definitely funny.
ROC MARCIANO: Ghost is definitely funny. Busta's funny.
FRANNIE: E-40's funny.
ROC MARCIANO: E-40's definitely funny. Redman's funny.
FRANNIE: Very true. Very true.
ROC MARCIANO: Yeah, to name a few. Them brothers is definitely funny.
FRANNIE: Yeah, there does seem to be such a wealth of opportunity in hip-hop music for the visual arts. It's like, everything that it needs is there. And then hip-hop also has what TV and the movies don't have, what they need.
ALI: Well, it's a rich culture that is built off of people who've been oppressed and just have to persevere and overcome adversity just to be a human being. There's a lot pain and just the life experience, and so those are the best stories I think. Cause you grow from it. You learn from it. Hopefully you learn. Some people don't learn.
I mean, there are a lot of, I think, different disenfranchised people through the ages, but when it comes to people with the dark skin, it's just endless. And no matter how far society gets in trying to balance itself on just being equal and human beings, there still will be – I was going to say one knucklehead, but a group of knuckleheads that just voice a superior way of being that we gotta – it's like, "Not this again! We just – I thought we cleared this."
It's a rich culture, and I think America being a capitalistic country is realizing when you have successes of films like Black Panther or when you have someone like Kendrick Lamar who gets the Nobel Peace Prize –
FRANNIE: He didn't get that yet. You're talking about the Pulitzer.
ROC MARCIANO: Pulitzer.
ALI: I'm sorry. The Pulitzer.
FRANNIE: He still might. I mean, put that out in the universe.
ALI: I mean, it's inevitable that we have to be acknowledged for just our greatness, and so when America sees it can make some green off of it, then –
ROC MARCIANO: It's a corporation.
ALI: It's like, "Yeah, tell your story. Mhmm. We believe – yup, keep giving us those stories."
ROC MARCIANO: Yup.
ALI: So it's like, "Yeah, we will, actually." I don't have any other questions, but as I was saying that, one thing popped in my mind, what does love look like to you?
ROC MARCIANO: What does love look like?
ROC MARCIANO: Love looks like peace, tranquility in my family. That's what love looks like to me – and throughout the world. I mean, I know it sounds cliché, but I want everybody to be happy. So that's what love looks like to me, just people being at peace, being able to walk past each other in the streets and not have an attitude. People being able to eat, have comfortable place to stay. That's love to me. Love is a package deal. It comes with peace and happiness and freedom, justice, equality. You know what I'm saying? All of it's a package deal. So that's love to me.
ALI: Sounds lovely.
ROC MARCIANO: For real.
ALI: Thank you.
ROC MARCIANO: Thank you for having me.
ALI: Nah, thank you.
FRANNIE: Thank you for coming.
ROC MARCIANO: Word.
ALI: For the people that don't know, Roc, he pushed back a flight to come sit and talk with Frannie and I, and we really appreciate – on a Sunday. I'm putting this out there. We usually don't talk about the days, but – you know what I'm saying? I don't know many artists that would do that, and so thank you so much.
ROC MARCIANO: Yo, c'mon, man. Y'all the big bros, man. So this is a pleasure is for me.
ALI: Well, it's appreciated. I don't take anything in life for granted.
ROC MARCIANO: Neither do I. Thank you though, brother, for having me.
ALI: So I just want to acknowledge that, cause that means a lot to us.
ROC MARCIANO: No problem. No problem. I appreciate y'all having me.
ALI: Thank you.
ROC MARCIANO: Really.
ALI: Alright. Peace.
ROC MARCIANO: Peace!