Roc Marciano makes rap that you know well already, even as you’re hearing it for the first time: His music exists to remind what NYC rap sounds like in the idealized bubble of your memory, and he’s frighteningly good at it. He’s so good, in fact, that after awhile you forget that his music is a kind of Civil War reenactment, one in which Swizz Beatz plays General Sherman and the Battle of Five Forks is the moment he started fooling with a Casio. Marciano’s rap world exists before all of that, a vanished kingdom of urban despair, gnarled street slang, and unglamorous night shifts conducted out in front of public housing.
His feel for alliteration, and the way it twists rap lines around themselves like bed sheets, is the greatest joy of Reloaded. “The pad is a blank check/ Embrace death, taste flesh/ While the rhyme on the page is still wet,” he raps on “Flash Gordon.” The 15 songs on Reloaded are ticker-tape processionals of these sorts of rhymes, ones that don’t always privilege sense over sound: “Five drops of olive oil in the wok/ Presidential watch, call it Barack/ Black-face shit, with the invisible locks/ It’ll get you shot, it’s like the Hitchcock plot” (“We Ill”) might not mean anything, but it sounds incredible salted with Marciano’s monotone. His voice is a sullen mutter, the kind of monotone that implies illicit deals conducted in broad daylight in view of police, and his verses are so larded with coded language that his verses are like a mini-encyclopedia of NYC street talk. The album is so absorbing, and so rigorous in its channeling of her’on-gray-sky gloom of the era it rightfully belongs to, that after awhile, timelines dissolve and you’re just left with Marciano and his ghosts.