Review Summary: Roc Marciano is certainly not the flashiest rapper, though one would be foolish to think Marciano lacks talent. He's the auteur of a very cinematic brand of rap, one with substance and sustainability.
There's an art in subtlety, and Roc Marciano knows this. If Action Bronson sounds like Ghostface - a claim which I find only discouraging to one of the best up-and-coming underground rappers - then Roc Marciano is certainly the Raekwon to Bronson's Ghost; Reloaded even implements the same stripped-down beats and movie samples Blue Chips featured. But what makes Marciano's efforts so notable is how cohesive this record is. If the album's opening track, "Tek to a Mack", teaches us anything, it's that Marciano is well aware of how talented he is and he's going to make damn sure you remember by the time the fifteenth track is done.
This feels like an album from the first wave of Wu-Tang solo records: the beats are simple, gritty; the words carry more weight with each listen; and there's nothing a life of drug dealing can teach you better than a unique flow carrying stories of the streets. And Roc almost carries the entire record with his spitting, using only two features. It's amazing how Roc's languid flow and tough guy voice never border on becoming tedious or repetitive - there's enough variety to warrant multiple listens, which is the goal of any word heavy album.
Roc Marciano has always been one of my favorite featured rappers on some notable raps albums - Sit Down, Man's "Roc Marciano Joint", Blue Chips' opener "Pouches of Tuna", and NY Finest's "It's So G" - and though I slept on 2010's Marcberg, I was excited to see this album announced. Though it isn't entirely produced by the rapper like his previous album, Marcberg, Reloaded does see Marciano bear most of the production weight, adding that auteur watermark; it is a controlled environment Marciano dwells in. The other beats are from lauded producers The Alchemist and Q-Tip - "no rookies, only veterans" seems to be Marciano's m.o. on Reloaded. This doesn't feel like someone sharpening their teeth, despite this being the rapper's second solo album, but someone who has seen the rise and fall of multiple ersatz rap revivalists.
If you're a hip-hop fundamentalist, this album will feel like a welcomed return to form. Marciano is a steam of conscious rapper spitting over low-key, boom-bap beats. "Not Told" slights Nas's outsider perspective vaguely, but Marciano is way too far along to pick any sort of beef with rappers, though I'm sure he'd have no problem squashing anything; he's focused on his own survival, not making any compromises along the way.