‘The Elephant Man’s Bones’ proves rap isn’t just a young person’s genre

October 12, 2022 — by Vinay Gollamudi
Photo by Pitchfork
“The Elephant Man’s Bones” is Roc Marciano’s first solo release since 2020.
Roc Marciano delivered an album that rivals many of the most acclaimed releases of the year.

Rahkeim Calief Meyer, better known by his stage name Roc Marciano, has been a respected figure in the underground hip-hop scene since the early 2000s. However, in a genre dominated by increasingly younger artists, the 44-year-old Long Island rapper has managed to deliver one of his most impressive efforts yet with his album “The Elephant Man’s Bones.”

The album, released Aug. 26, was a collaboration with The Alchemist (Daniel Maman), who is widely regarded as one of the best producers in the genre. Maman — who garnered attention for producing two songs, “Thug Musik” and “The Realest,” for New York duo Mobb Deep in 1999 — manages to recapture the gritty sound of 1990s East Coast hip hop nearly 25 years later. 

While hip hop albums have been getting longer, Marciano opted to make his album just 38 minutes. This was a smart decision, as the album sounds consistent throughout and doesn’t drag on — there are none of the filler songs present on so many of the hip-hop albums released recently.

The album opens with “Rubber Hand Grip,” setting the tone of the album with its eerie sounding beat. While not one of the standout tracks, it transitions perfectly into the second track, “Daddy Kane,” performed with fellow New York rapper Action Bronson. Both Marciano and Bronson deliver hard-hitting verses, which create imagery with their inventive similes.

The next two tracks, “Deja Vu” and “Quantum Leap,” have a luxurious yet gritty sound to them. In the former, Marciano dismisses his age with the line “The crest on the Gucci knit embroidered // In my forties, I’m still looking boyish” reminding the listener that despite his age, his verses are more polished than most younger artists. 

The title track, “The Elephant Man’s Bones,” is another standout. The Alchemist’s piano beat conveys a reflective and nostalgic mood, making the track one of the most replayable on the album. 

Two of the tracks that are most reminiscent of the old-school sound are “Liquid Coke” and “Trillion Cut.” On both tracks, Marciano delivers rhymes that remind the listener of ‘90s mafioso rap albums such as AZ’s “Doe or Die” and Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” 

Behind the Alchemist’s production, he manages to make a nearly 30-year old subgenre sound fresh and original. Marciano closes out the latter track by saying, “The scarf was a gift from Pablo Escobar // These ain’t no regular old bars, this a five star restaurant,” further contributing to the album’s luxurious feel. The sound is in keeping with his previous albums — it wouldn’t sound out of place in a fancy restaurant or lounge. 

While the latter half of the album doesn’t have as many standouts as the first, it manages to stay consistent and there are no truly weak tracks. “Zig Zag Zig” features a simplistic beat that shows Marciano’s rapping ability at its best, and “Zip Guns” has a spookier sound — created by a piano chord in the background — that makes it sound as though it wouldn’t be out of place on a horror movie soundtrack.

On the final track, “Think Big,” Marciano boasts about his longevity, claiming that he’s “still dominating the league after ten seasons.” The track brings the album to a satisfying close that makes the listener want to go back to the beginning and replay it.

Though it likely won’t receive much mainstream attention, “The Elephant Man’s Bones” sets the bar for high quality hip-hop in 2022. In a year filled with high-profile releases, Marciano’s arguably tops them all.

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