Review: Roc Marciano & The Alchemist, ‘The Elephant Man’s Bones’

The long awaited collaboration between two underground titans shifts listeners outside of their comfort zone, seeking adventure in uncharted territory.

When thinking of who epitomizes the modern day underground scene from both rapping and producing standpoints, two names immediately click: Roc Marciano and The Alchemist. These two introverted hip-hop trailblazers are responsible for helping bring the culture back to its roots, revitalizing old techniques such as crate digging and compact rhyming to craft a newly familiarized sound. Their significance to the culture and unique chemistry on and off record has left fans yearning for a collaborative project between the two trendsetters; and nearly a decade later, fans would receive their ultimate wish with this record.

The Elephant Man’s Bones is another unsettling experience, combining sinister synths and mafioso-inspired rhymes to craft an enigmatic escapade filled with crime and punishment.

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Roc Marci and Alchemist have built up a phenomenal repertoire of records over the past decade, exhibiting the execution of minimalistic ideals at a high degree. The two hip-hop heavyweights share a common bond with their incorporation of abstract ideals and stripped-down sound emphasizing sample selection and bars. Their curiosity allows for them to push the boundaries of a dense style, serving as trailblazers for those following their drumless patterns. What many think would end in failure, Roc Marci and Alchemist managed to turn the tides and create a now Grammy-nominated wave.

Roc Marciano woos the world of hip-hop yet again with his pimp-postured rhymes and compact schemes taking the wheel. The Hempsted-bred anti-hero built his career bringing hip-hop back to its roots with his machismo-mannered raps reminding heads of the golden-era. This record holds the same energy, putting on an array of lyrical exercises blessed with a chef’s kiss. The album shines in the grittiness with Marci spitting cold -hearted one-liners that leave a permanent stank face such as (“Soon as the drama came afoot, you got popped in your foot”) and (“Came up on dudes like a balloon filled with helium”).

In addition to Marciano’s menacing rhymes, a reliable roster of features is recruited, each playing to their strengths in this near-cinematic experience. Action Bronson and Boldy James cruise onto the scene with their smooth verses and Knowledge the Pirate taps into to sprinkle his Hempsted-bred experiences into the loop; But the most surprising feature, however, would be Ice-T on “The Horns of Abraxas”, who narrates the ominous story “about doing a fucking favor for a friend”. Certain touches like these show a striking resemblance to the mafioso-film scene, radiating a Godfather-esque aura that keeps the experience enticing. A fitting analogy for someone who’s coined as the godfather of the new underground scene.

And who’s to forget Alchemist’s sinister synths and samples laying the soundtrack to the audio-motion picture. Al takes on the task of crafting an eerie atmosphere, embedded in horror and anxiety to fit alongside Roc’s abrasive rhymes. What makes the production more enticing is the excessive usage of drums throughout the project, exaggerating the supernatural tone and ultimately opting for a more bone-chilling experience. In addition, Roc Marciano and Alchemist are notorious for the lack of drums in their music, and while this was a deal-breaker for many, it shows just exactly what the world was missing out on.

For someone who spent the good majority of his career producing himself, Roc Marciano could have easily kept this project in-house. The Long Island native has made it so far with his own microphone and beat machine, mastering the art of minimalism in hip-hop music in the process, that any collaboration would be considered overkill. However, Marci is all for the culture and understands the impact he’s made on the game over the last few years. as well as the work Alchemist has put in since his rebrand. But how do two powerhouses collide artistically to deliver an offering that epitomizes the decade-long heirloom that the two have passed on for the next generation to build upon. The answer lies within this listen.

This project could have easily served as fanservice, a relic to show that a Roc Marciano and Alchemist collab album was possible, but the two masterminds wanted to go above and beyond to craft a piece of art that would continue to live beyond their worldly presence. Both artists have encountered their fair number of listeners fleeing from their sinister soundtracks, but as the years pass, these same people have come around to see the artistry buried underneath the murky surface. This strong connection to the notion of the notorious bones of the Elephant Man sticks out as we see Roc Marciano and Alchemist finally begin to see their flowers in real time. A celebration of legacy, teamwork and culture, The Elephant Man’s Bones is an acclamation to the realm of underground hip-hop, toasting to two legends who managed to defy the odds and perfect an art form that was once swept under the rug.

The Elephant Man’s Bones is a tribute to the underground scene that the pair helped build, putting on a masterclass of elite emceeing, brash beatmaking and high-level artistry while maintaining the same grit that started their careers. It’s everything fans’ dreamt of from a collaborative effort between Roc Marciano and The Alchemist and more, honoring years of hard work and fellowship in the underground hip-hop scene.

8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Rubber Hand Grip”, “Daddy Kane”, “Deja Vu”, “Trillion Cut”, “The Horns of Abraxas”, “Liquid Coke”, “Zip Guns”