A couple of weeks ago an emcee out of Queens going by the name Rock Mecca hit me up with a song of his that was really different from the submissions I've been getting recently. The song, New York Noise of off his upcoming 2012 album Pirate Radio Star, had a real throwback vibe to it: a piano loop, a chopped up Fat Joe sample and the sort of gritty lyricism that the New York rap scene used to be flooded with a decade ago. The track would not have seemed out of place on an old Clue for President or Tony Touch mistape, and it got me really curious about who this dude was who had seemingly time travelled straight out of the year 1998.
A quick search on the internet turned up very little on "Rock Mecca": no photos beyond the above Taxi Driver image, and little info to be found other than a link to a production team out in L.A. called Pause Productionz. Even the other blogs that posted the song didn't have any info on him, so I emailed him a few questions to see what was up. After reading his responses, which surprised me by how well thought out they were, I still can't say I know much about this dude or any idea how old he is (vocally he sounds young, but his point of reference seems to be much older). That seems to be the way he wants it to be for now, but in any event he had some really interesting things to say about NY rap and the diminishing concept of regionalism in hip hop.
First, check out his single New York Noise then read on for the interview:
I couldn't find much background info on you out on the Internet, so can I ask how old you are? I'm asking because what I'm really interested in is what era of rap you grew up listening to, and when you yourself started rapping.
That's a good question though because I think we all look for a frame of reference to go along with the music, and that's how we all add to our listening experience, either by reading inserts, or searching the net or reading magazines articles about the artist. The thing is, and you'll see a little later, the theme of this project, Pirate Radio Star, is to take away that frame of reference. So it's just raw music. Some people will be like 'Oh he's a young dude tryna act like this or copy so and so', or 'Oh, he's an old school dude'. Some people will try and guess what the influences are, the very questions you're asking. Some will be able to pick influences out of songs. The way I present the album, I may be a fourteen year old writing rhymes in his room or a fifty year old that use to rhyme in the old school clubs with a Kangol on. Whatever. Without being able to be pinned down, you let the music speak for itself. Pull the listener out of his comfort zone of having everything handed to them. I think there's so much emphasis on the personality and not the music, I'm tryna experiment and flip it around this time. It's no big deal though, so I'll reveal all that later. But to answer your question I started rhyming at the end of high school. I listened to so much of it I just started writing.
There aren't many emcees, mainstream or even underground at this point, putting out the sort of NY style of "street" rap that you have on the two songs of yours that I've heard. With younger kids now that have really only been exposed to the softer edged rap of the past few years (Drake, Kanye, J.Cole, etc) do you think they'll be able to relate to the music you're putting out? Is that something you're even concerned about?
That's a good point. Even the underground sounds like the mainstream now. The subject matter is a little different but the flows and sounds are just like the mainstream. The underground has become big business too so its understandable. I think people out there can definitely relate because what I'm talking about affects people now, it's whats going on today. On New York Noise, I say 'What you want I keep it real or a fantasy life? New York in 88' or whats poppin tonight?'. Its not something that happened years ago that I'm tryna recreate. People can definitely relate to the subject matter, but if the sound is aggressive or foreign, then it's not a concern, as long as it's good. I can't relate to every artist that I like. I think that's what attracted outsiders to Hip-Hop in the first place. You couldn't relate but it was intriguing. Not everybody is the same out there, even if the corporations talk to us like we're all the same. One thing though, is that we can't confuse what people are exposed to and what people actually like so I'm not really concerned.
Have you heard any of ASAP Rocky's music? A lot of writers covering hip hop have anointed him as the next emcee to carry the torch for NY, but he sounds like a southern rapper with his flow and the beats that he uses. Your own music is immediately identifiable as "New York," so I'd be curious what your impression of Rocky was if you've heard any of his stuff, and your thoughts on him potentially becoming the face of NY hip hop.
I haven't heard his stuff yet but seen him here and there on the Internet. I wish him the best. I think we'll see more of what you're describing in the future though as far as defining sounds. We won't define sounds by regions anymore. There's no such thing as a local sound these days because everybody everywhere is exposed to everything. It's hard to have a local scene so the new kids don't come up only listening to someone from their neighborhood which is how you develop a local sound. They grow up listening to whatever Radio One and Clear Channel determines since they got the same songs playing on the radio in every city. We all hear the same thing. Since the South are ten years strong at the top now, anyone who kinda got into Hip Hop during that time are going to sound like that and they'll be influenced by it. And that's going to go on for a long time. The next generation will sound like the people that are shining now regardless of where they're from. Radio programmers got the same songs playing all over the country, the world even, so guys in New York will sound like guys in Atlanta and L.A. and the U.K. and so on. As far as being the face of New York, it's a tough cross to carry but everyone anoints their champ. Corporations got their champ, the streets got a champ, the critics got a champ. I don't mind just having a cult following that really appreciates the music I make.
Since you're from Queens, I'd be interested in hearing who you think is the greatest Queens emcee of all time: Nas, LL Cool J or Kool G Rap (or someone else)? Was there any one emcee from Queens that really influenced your own style?
Man that's one of those Jordan vs Kobe vs Lebron type of questions. Its hard to compare greatness because there are a lot of outside factors in this game. Some guys didn't get the push they deserved or the chances others got. Some guys benefited from what others did before them. Those guys you named all had an influence, because even if I missed their era, I went back and studied them. And that's what I was saying before, the youth are inquisitive so they go back and check stuff out. They go outside of what they're force-fed and seek new stuff out. Old stuff too. Old folks are more close-minded and stuck in their comfort zone. But those you named all influenced each other as well as myself. I think Queens itself is an influence because there's so much history and competition. If I sound like someone it may be because we walked the same blocks, went through the same avenues, etc. But I wouldn't say any one emcee defined my style.
Can you talk about your plans for Pirate Radio Star? When do you think you'll be releasing it? Who is handling the production? What's the next song you're planning on putting out?
Pirate Radio Star will be released early in the new year. Its pretty much done. I'm just putting the finishing touches on it at this point. Everyone that heard the album is feeling it and bumping it every day so I'm sure its going to make an impact out there. I'm deciding how to approach releasing it. Maybe I won't reveal my face, like a real pirate radio host. Make the cover all black or all white. Just let the music speak for itself. What I hate now is that there's so much side talk and beef and theatrics that the album takes a backseat. The rapper is so busy selling himself he forgets to sell the album. I want this music to be at the forefront. What's funny though is that most of the producers are from Europe. It just turned out that way. And the same way someone from New York sounds like they're from the South, you got people out in Europe making beats like they're from Brooklyn. It's all about your influences and what you like, what you're exposed to. The next single though is called Top of The World. I think people are really going to feel that one.
Any last words?
Pleasure vibin' with you man. Just telling everybody out there to stay tuned for the Pirate Radio interrupting your regular programming real soon. If you like it, look for it. You'll find it.
Big thanks to Rock Mecca for taking the time out to do the interview. I think his words speak for themselves, but I have to say I was surprised by how well thought out and insightful his responses were. If I was on the fence before doing this interview, I'm now definitely interested in seeing where he goes from here.
And finally, here's the other single that Rock has put out so far: