Two reasons to love this song by Roc Marciano, if you are looking to be convinced: the essential genius of the choice of sample, the immediately identifiable 70s anti-love-song by 10cc and how its used and the wonder contained in the way Marciano delivers his rhymes.
Add to this, the core lyricism and indestructible mood of the track too.
There is a repeated three, or four steps forward style to the way Marciano presents his words that is extremely distinctive and powerful. He speaks the content in a way that is theatrical and unnatural – not unlike the way French people speak English, breaking up sentences constantly, with lots of pausing for emphasis.
Certainly, there is much attention given to the intricacy of the wordplay, and yet Roc Marciano speaks as if he is stating something simple, essential – uncontested and true. This gives an enormous power to the tale being told. The way the content is said forces us to listen and this makes it seem timeless, out of time, as if a message passed on from some kind of sage.
This is where the song is so redolent for me, as it is the combination of said delivery and the fractured-imaginative content of the lyrics that fits perfectly with the dominant mood of nostalgia; but the question, though is nostalgia for what and when? (Marciano was born in 1978).
Leave that question unanswered. Let the tension remain, fully aware that the final line of the track is: ‘Don’t let it be left unsaid.’
Speaking personally, just for a minute, this song evokes memories from my lived experience of going to New York as a younger version of my self - catching the plane alone, waking up to see ice on glass, the chests of red squirrels quivering; the steam everywhere, rising from the concrete – because of the intense emotion it contains. Pretty much nothing else in recent hip-hop comes close.
Then, of course, this ‘nostalgia’ is tied to the sample, the so-obvious 10cc sample … (a song that could carry the subtitle, 'Spirit of the 70s')
I keep your picture
Upon the wall
It hides a nasty stain that's lying there
So don't you ask me
To give it back
I know you know it doesn't mean that much to me
I'm not in love, no no …
Using this sample arguably goes against the grain of the production mindset, as it’s so recognisable, so well-known. Check out Pete Rock’s take on the same raw material in ‘Comprehend’ feat. Papoose from his record, NY’s Finest (Nature Sounds, 2008)
This is cool, especially when Pete Rock chops it up, breaking it up and down and all over the place, but the atmosphere is completely different to Roc Marciano’s interpretation four years later. In ‘76’ the sample is central to the music, but remains in a kind of suspended development, as if it’s always on the cusp of becoming … We all know the song, what comes next, but it’s stopped, there.
The lack of development, the resistance to fulfilling our expectations, is key to the power of this music and why it’s so evocative of human emotion, whether it is nostalgia or longing (which are, after all, the same thing perhaps). The video is a perfect fit, directed by Jason Goldwatch, with its washed-out tones and the blurry lack of definition of a Lumet film, or the amateur ‘home movies’ captured on Super-8. Liked this exchange below the video:
'Young don, son'’s under the arm
He treats Lamborghinis like bumper cars
Got scars, chains around the neck like scarves
Your limbs hang out of threads like yarn
I’m the next big thing
Chickenheads cling, the bedspring king
Run the ring, my head is on top of the pyramid
Pictures of me and all my affiliates
We lit phillies like idiots
Kill the lineage, let them know what it really is
Niggas is penniless with skinny ribs
I fire semis at too many wigs
I feel like Billy the Kid, skinny big
You literally live as a guinea pig
If the Timbs ain'’t on deck you know the Pennys is
Your finger still penny pimps
You make me pull the Mac Milly out the Fendi trench
In any event, hold the 12 gauge that’'s heavy as shit
For every clip we let steadily rip
Push your afro back to '76 motherfucker
Hold up, any good year baby
Those some great years baby
’75, 76 know what I'’m saying
’77 and into the 80’s I’m saying word
Seen a lot nigga, word up
Dump with the feds like I'’m on a dead with' one in the head
Don’t let it be left unsaid.'