Roc Marciano / The Alchemist: The Elephant Man’s Bones Album Review

August 29, 2022 - Uncategorized

Rumor has it that, in 1987, Michael Jackson made a bid to buy the skeleton of Englishman Joseph Merrick. Merrick, known as the Elephant Man due to his severe physical deformities, spent his life as an object of ridicule and medical fascination before passing away in 1890 at age 27. A tragic figure with a kind heart, he would become the subject of multiple books, stage plays, and movies across the next century, most famously director David Lynch’s 1980 biopic The Elephant Man. Jackson was reportedly moved by the film, finding solace in a scene where Merrick—portrayed by actor John Hurt—is chased by an angry mob through Liverpool Street station and cries out to his attackers: “I am not an elephant. I am not an animal. I am a human being! I…am…a…man!” Over time, Jackson became fascinated by Merrick’s life. He arranged to view his skeleton at Royal London Hospital, where he allegedly offered $500,000, and later $1 million, to purchase it for his collection. Jackson and his estate have denied this story, but the legend lingers.

Roc Marciano and The Alchemist share a fascination with the idea of putting a premium on what they deem to be high art. Both are rapper-producers, Marci from Long Island and Alchemist from Beverly Hills, and both were co-signed by hip-hop royalty early in their careers. Their paths weren’t exactly the same, though. Marci built his status from the ground up after his time in Busta Rhymes’ Flipmode Squad and the group the U.N. came to a close, while Alchemist became a marquee name producing for everyone from 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar to Boldy James and Armand Hammer. They turned their influence and underground grind into flourishing independent businesses catering directly to a clientele seeking nose-bone-shattering rap music. The Elephant Man’s Bones, the duo’s long-awaited full-length, mixes the grime they’re known for with sounds that flutter instead of seething: Imagine your favorite mob-affiliated uncle drunk at a family gathering, spinning funny, disgusting, and melancholy yarns to GoodFellas-style lounge jazz. Toned down but no less penitent, nostalgic but ready to stake a claim to a new future, it’s one of the most indulgently sinister rap records of the year.

By now Marci’s pimp-meets-capo persona is so well-established that he can afford to spend his time burrowing deeper to see how much gold he can unearth. He’s a specialist in the sense of Pusha T or Kool G Rap—his deadpan commitment to bending his schtick around different sounds is half the fun. “Me and my Uzi, we lookin’ like a couple spoonin’,” he says on opening track “Rubber Hand Grip,” the comedy and intimacy of the image never overshadowing the danger of being shot by a man who claims he “made God in my likeness.”

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