Image via Jay Worthy/Instagram

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Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived in Tokyo Bay on July 8, 1853 with the goal of coaxing Japan out of 200 years of seclusion. During the Edo period, Japan shunned diplomatic relations, forbade foreign travel, restricted trade, and banned Christianity. The United States bristled at these restrictions given its growing commercial interests in the Pacific. So President Millard Fillmore sent Perry to Japan with four U.S. Navy ships armed with Paixhans guns to force the issue. Upon arriving, Perry went ashore and delivered a missive to a representative of the Tokugawa Shogunate: “It’s not about East or West. It’s about power and money, riders and punks. Which side are you on?”

Roc Marciano and Jay Worthy are among the premier stylists on their respective coasts. Roc Marci deconstructs and reimagines mafioso rap and blunted soul. Artists who came before and after him mimic his style. For a certain sect of rap fan, he’s the most exciting figure in New York hip-hop of the last decade. Jay Worthy made his name talking Compton gang shit over undiluted ‘80s funk from collaborator Sean House. They lean into anachronism and leave all the coked up synths and drum programming in place. Jay has projects with Alchemist, Harry Fraud, and DJ Muggs to his name.

Roc Marci has lived in Los Angeles on-and-off since at least 2012. His proximity to LA’s beat scene may have influenced left turns like “C.V.S.,” “Saks Fifth,” and “Wicked Days,” but his demeanor and creative choices are overwhelmingly rooted in New York. Nothing Bigger Than The Program is Roc Marci’s West Coast album. For their full-length collaboration, Jay brings Hempstead’s coldest to Gonzales Park. The streets widen, the dialect shifts, and different strains perfume the air. There are guest features from Kokane and Kurupt.

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Nothing Bigger Than The Program is more of a journal than a crime drama. Jay eschews the larger-than-life boasts employed by Roc Marci that turn the latter into a kind of wagyu-devouring superhero. Jay’s raps stay closer to the soil. He burnishes his bonafides with allusions to triumphant shootouts, but also dead friends and the indignities of drug dealing (“I remember swallowing baggies; that made my heart murmur.”) He admits more setbacks than his g-funk forebears.

Making a West Coast album doesn’t mean Roc Marci indulges in cliches. There’s no funky worm or “Black Superman” interpolation. But Roc’s production, or maybe Jay’s beat selection, has a markedly different pace and tenor than albums Roc produced for artists like Stove God Cooks and Flee Lord. “My Own Two” has a laid back wistfulness that recalls “Today Was a Good Day.” “Wake Up” is uncharacteristically sunny. But even so, the album runs the gamut of Roc’s style, including the weird stuff. “The Field” sounds like a giallo horror soundtrack while “The Plug” omits its drums. To his credit, Jay competently flows on all of it.

East and West haven’t been the focal points of hip-hop for some twenty years. Jay Worthy and Roc Marciano don’t make cheap plays for nostalgia, but they hew closer to the ‘90s canon than the biggest artists from their cities. This earns them the regard of purists who will be pleased to watch two elite standard bearers mesh their styles. On Nothing Bigger Than The Program, Roc and Jay sit atop ever growing legacies and enjoy the fruit of Steve Harvey’s diplomacy.

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