In combining three multitalented veteran producer/emcees from opposite coasts, the Gangrene + Roc Marciano collaboration was never setup to be ordinary. West Coast duo Gangrene, comprised of The Alchemist and Oh No, have long been stretching the colloquial understanding of hip hop, twisting and turning sampled sounds into abstract beats for a variety of artists. Similarly, Long Island native Roc Marciano has forged a sizeable underground following with his no frills, boom bap flow, as well as his stripped-down, bass-filled beats. There’s certainly nothing commercial about these artists, and their gritty approach to hip hop is completely apparent from the outset of their EP, GreneBerg.
Marciano kicks the album off with “Momma Told Me”, a slowed, drawn out jazzy beat providing the perfect backdrop for his deliberate, stream of consciousness rhymes. This track is emblematic of Roc’s style as he takes his time in telling how weak your shit is, while leaving you with no choice but to nod your head along: “Watch you crouch, your body got cold like Moscow/ you ain’t tough, hang it up like a Basquiat.”
Anytime you’re dealing with the conceptual in hip hop, there are going to be a few misfires along the way. “Jet Luggage” exemplifies a track that tries to do too many things all at once and loses the listener with its overindulgence. The beat is an erratic collage of sounds and effects, resulting in the masking of any notion of creativity from the lyrical verses.
On the other hand, “New Shit” expertly showcases the seemingly endless possibilities when creative minds link up to create new art. The track’s beat is basic and bare, with a series of looped drum tracks and strings comprising its majority. In this instance, the beat provides a blank canvas for the emcees to work with, which they willingly tear apart in their short verses: “Correction, I infect your body with defections/ infectious, I reject ejections/ we running this shit like elections, bring out your weapons.” These intense, filthy rhymes are followed by a lighthearted flurry of keys and strings, which oddly fit perfectly with the track as a whole.
Showing their versatility as producers, GreneBerg encompasses more than just the gritty streets, as articulated on “Papercuts”, the smoothest joint on the EP. Its waiting room/lounge instrumental soothes as the emcees take turns going in with a continuous, fluid rhyme pattern which seems as effortless as the beat is soft. The easygoing rhyming plays well with the subject matter, with the wordplay taking on a more playful tone: “It’s new money new bitches I’m so sick with it/ they love to count my cash, they love the smell of it/ I might trick on they ass just for the hell of it.”
Further articulating their distaste for contemporary mainstream hip hop, The Alchemist-produced “Sewer Gravy” finds each of the artists exclaiming their superiority compared to today’s weak emcees. In particular, Alchemist spits a rather illustrative rhyme, boasting about his lyrical prowess as he proudly claims, “Sodomize records without a Trojan/ double ‘G’ chains swing in a motion of a semi-circle on my chest, guard my nest.” The track does little to leave anything up to the listener’s imagination, sampling a news report that discusses the billions of gallons of sewer waste that plague the streets and oceans.
Only seven tracks deep, GreneBerg is the right length for these three artists to get creative with their work without straying too far away from familiarity. Fans of their other projects (which include a myriad of collaborative efforts with artists of all varieties) will undoubtedly feel at home amid the sometimes-chaotic production. And while some tracks may lose the casual hip hop head, I doubt anyone will lose much sleep over it; Roc, Oh No and Alchemist are hardly the type to attend to anyone else’s needs. GreneBerg represents a break from the Top-40, Dr. Luke-produced hit-factory records that so many of us bemoan, and proves that there is in fact room for artistic individuality and creativity in hip hop. With no features or hooks, this is a project that places the music at the forefront, challenging its listeners to engage with the content in front of them, and rewarding those who are willing to, at times, be made a bit uncomfortable.
Momma Told Me