On September 3, 2021, Montreal producer Nicholas Craven set a specific corner of Rap Twitter on fire. Drake had released Certified Lover Boy that day, a mostly forgettable collection save for its opener, “Champagne Poetry.” Instead of the tinny, trap-adjacent drums he typically favored, an unadorned, syncopated upright bass provided the rhythmic backbone of the track’s first half. It switched to a soul loop in the second, the low end slightly enhanced to keep the pulse intact. The lyrics were typical Drake fare, but he was in his technician bag, flirting with complex rhyme schemes. He’d carry them for several bars at a time, only to pull them apart carefully, as if curious how they fit together in the first place. This all sounded very familiar to a certain subsection of rap fans, including Craven, who tweeted, “Roc Marciano is the direct reason ‘Champagne Poetry’ exists.”

If you scan through Reddit threads, YouTube comments, and tenth-anniversary retrospectives, you’ll find loose consensus that Marcberg, Marci’s 2010 solo debut, laid the groundwork for much of today’s rap underground. By the late aughts, focus had shifted away from the gritty Golden Era New York sound in favor of animated Atlanta trap and humid Texas funk. Contrary to the zeitgeist, Marcberg traded in frayed, ashen sonics, referencing and updating the bleak winter menace of East Coast classics like Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth and Big L’s Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous.

The Long Island rapper-producer’s dusty, claustrophobic sound owed a lot to ’90s forebears like the RZA and 4th Disciple, but it felt more thoughtfully modern than hollow throwback. Marci slowed tempos to a crawl and stripped his samples of anything superfluous—sometimes forgoing drums altogether—and rapped in gravelly, menacing monotone. Arguably, groups like Griselda and the Umbrella Collective, or scenes like the Lynn, Massachusetts universe surrounding Estee Nack and al.divino, wouldn’t exist without the diligent study of his catalog. To hear Marci’s minimalism mimicked by the biggest rapper in the world, a man known for echoing innovations by those levels below, meant Marci had transcended. His latest album, Marciology, is the most overt recognition of his living legend status. The title casts it as a text to pour over: This is Roc Marciano the inimitable auteur, still finding ways to tweak what he’s already perfected.

As a producer, Marci wields minor-key loops like a hypnotist’s pocket watch, intensifying the trancelike groove with each repetition. Marciology features some of his outright trippiest work, sounding ripped from the soundtracks of obscure European heist films. Marci’s clearly inspired by the opulent spaciousness The Alchemist supplied for their 2022 collaboration, The Elephant Man’s Bones, but intent on deepening the mushroomy experimentation of 2020’s Mt. Marci. He helms ten of the album’s 14 tracks, crafting an unsettling psychedelic atmosphere; everything feels as off-kilter as a salvia breakthrough, recognizably part of Marci’s palette, but decisively weirder.

“Floxxx” has the tension of a Sergio Leone standoff, its jittery hi-hats and keyboards churning through a two-chord vamp, kick and snare holding solid as eye contact. On “Went Diamond,” droning strings anxiously slide through splashy ride cymbals, while the drums on “Gold Crossbow” tumble drunkenly around the staccato piano notes. Strangely enough, the cuts that sound the most like previous Marci records come from the guest producers. The Alchemist provides two luxurious, nearly percussion-free tracks (“Bad JuJu” and “Higher Self”), while Animoss’s contributions (“Goyard God” and “Tapeworm”) tap into the smoggy Blaxploitation vibe that colors much of Marci’s earlier work. They blend perfectly, however, taking cues from Marci’s tightly controlled, spartan worldbuilding.

It’s astonishing what he can do with so little. Marci keeps ample daylight between the instruments in his beats, leaving plenty of elbow room for his incredibly dense writing. He’s in top form here, spinning superhuman mafioso tales from impenetrable thickets of rhymes that contract and expand like gasses changing form. On “True Love,” which pins a sparse vocal sample between shuffling drums and a dubby bassline, Marci unspools dizzying stanza after dizzying stanza: “Lord, would you please have mercy on us/For the turf, he was warring/My fatigues was dirty when I wore ‘em.” His knack for disquieting detail remains sharp as well. “Motherfuckers got the gall to call my phone/Talking bout the bullet holes in your daughter room,” he says on “Gold Crossbow.” “That’s the warning when you ignore the rules.” The combination of his dry, raspy voice and cool delivery hides these grim moments in plain sight, reaching their full skin-crawling potential on repeated listens.

Marci’s flow, which often sits just off center, caroming over the ends of bars or bursting apart mid-thought, is just as influential as his production chops or lyrical abilities; you can hear it in verses from artists like Willie the Kid, Knowledge the Pirate, and CRIMEAPPLE, all rappers Marci’s worked with extensively, two of whom show up on Marciology. CRIMEAPPLE’s homage-paying appearance on “Killin Spree” is especially potent, namechecking Marci’s first two albums as formative to his style. They sound great together, master and student fully occupying a shared, singular world. But Marci’s not one to rest on his laurels; 12 records in, he’s pushing himself in new directions, nailing cascading triplet patterns on “BeBe’s Kids” and rapping with a slight L.A. slink on “Higher Self.” He still sounds hungry, eager to discover new wrinkles in his approach.

About a third of the way through the title track—the first song on the album—Marci bluntly asserts “I done created a lane,” perhaps his most concise, straightforward statement to the depth of his legacy. It’s a fittingly mind-bending opener, with pinging sample-and-hold bleeps and an atonal bassline weaving through steady drums as Marci assembles a complicated mosaic of syllables. The song bears a striking resemblance to Three 6 Mafia’s “Playa Hataz,” an early-’90s classic with a similarly trudging tempo and detuned synth notes. Both Roc Marciano and Three 6 Mafia are now institutions, powerhouses who’ve left an indelible mark on rap music. Their influence has only strengthened over the past 30 years as more people discover their immense catalogs. Marci knows his music’s impact, offering Marciology as the decoder ring for an entire generation of hip-hop. It’s a universal key that works even as Marci himself changes the locks.