Largely slept on by the masses, but widely respected by artists themselves and those who know the underground, Roc Marciano has, without a doubt, amassed one of the best discographies in hiphop. Revolutionizing a minimalist, grimy boombap sound, it is The Alchemist who seems to have become the quintessential producer for this scene. Announced nearly a decade ago, their long awaited collab album is finally here. While it might not be the genre defining, instant classic that their names and the hype might imply, The Elephant Man’s Bones is a phenomenal album that brings the best out of both artists.
The album opens with “Rubber Hand Grip”, which starts things off with a bang; A droning, dreamy instrumental gives Roc the perfect base to spit and set the tone, while a simple refrain makes for one of the albums’ few standout hooks. “Daddy Kane”, while featuring a standout beat, is marred a bit by frequent collaborator Action Bronson. While Bronsolino is a key player in the New York scene and is generally a great character, this verse is just so over-the-top and in your face that it kind of distracts from the album’s tone.
N—-s comparing MJ to Weird Al Yankovic?
Next, the single “Deja Vu” proves to be a grower; Sounding much better in the context of the album, with its oddly free, wandering keys and Roc’s lagging flow, it acts as a brief, gritty refrain from Elephant Man’s more luxurious sounds.
The tracks “Quantum Leap” and “JJ Flash” are easily the album’s greatest highlights. With smooth, pimpish beats reminiscent of Behold a Dark Horse‘s “Fabio”, this is exactly what many fans were waiting for. Not only does Roc get in his pocket more than any other track on these – spitting the most audacious flexes imaginable – but the blend of futurism and blaxploitation by Al’s chops and synths in simply perfect. This all leads into the title track, where Roc pulls his signature, comedic croon over a truly luscious piano line.
Roc Marciano & The Alchemist – Deja Vu
Elephant Man‘s middle run includes “Liquid Coke” and “Bubble Bath”, two harder cuts full of Roc’s signature style of assigning clever new meanings to simple phrases, making for unique brags. There’s also a feature from Boldy James on “Trillion Cut”, who always delivers over Alchemsit production, and a chilling narration by the legendary Ice-T on “The Horns of Abraxas”. The last feature belongs to Roc’s man Knolwedge the Pirate, an underrated MC who is definitely worth checking for fans of this style; “Zip Guns” has them spitting over a very Daringer-esque piano line.
Speeding in the BMW lookin unassuming
Just me and my Uzi, we lookin like a couple spooning…
My love language is another matrix
Screw your baby mother like some Cartier love bracelets
It all wraps up with a clever, tasteful tribute to Biggie (“I’m channeling BIG without a spiritual medium”), with The Father and The Chemist, two of the greatest and most influential of their time, claiming the throne. Bonus tracks “Macaroni” and “Momma Love” are actually some of the best on the album and round it out nicely. Perhaps with bonus tracks or on the base album, another feature or melodic cut would have been nice to flesh it out further; Conway the Machine is right there with Roc as the scene’s most greatest, most key figure, so another collaboration (a la “Omar’s Coming”, “Rex Ryan”, “Olathe”, “Final Four”, etc.) would have been a treat.
Regardless, The Elephant Man’s Bones is a phenomenal album which brings out the best in both Roc and Al; Breaking out of the New York box of simple grimy keys and brick talk, we get a very forward thinking, yet undeniably tough, luxurious record. The wait was long, but it’s hard to ever come away from these guys’ music disappointed.