Venue: Jazz Cafe, London Date: 16 March 2015
There are some things in the world of Hip-Hop that are as good as guaranteed. Wu-Tang will always be for the children, DJ Premier will always be the king of the scratched hook, and Pharoahe Monch will always deliver a memorable show.
Regardless of how many times you may have witnessed the gifted Queens, NY emcee rock a stage, you never leave feeling like you’ve simply watched an artist going through the motions, or that Monch hasn’t given a performance his all.
Pharoahe’s latest sold-out gig at London’s Jazz Cafe was no different.
Backed by turntable titan DJ Boogie Blind and talented UK band Ezra Collective, with Kamron of Young Black Teenagers fame acting as an engaging hype-man, Monch expertly navigated the mixed crowd of older heads and younger fans through sixty-plus minutes of intricate verbal gymnastics, pounding beats and brilliant showmanship.
Arriving onstage with minimal fanfare, the Organized Konfusion lyricist spent a few moments silently pacing back-and-forth like a boxer on fight night, focussing on the task at hand before launching into an urgent blast of the Black Thought-assisted “Rapid Eye Movement” from his recent “PTSD” album.
Closely followed by spirited performances of the synth-heavy”Agent Orange” and police protest song “Clap (One Day)”, Monch took the opportunity to comment on the recent Stateside events in Ferguson, encouraging everyone in the packed venue to clap their hands as he passionately rhymed acapella, resulting in a poignant moment of interaction between artist and audience.
Whilst the sweating emcee exited the stage for a short break, it was left to Boogie Blind to entertain the crowd, with the X-ecutioners representative dropping a quick-fire routine which found LL Cool J’s timeless “Rock The Bells” being skillfully deconstructed and reconstructed at breath-taking speed, once again proving that turntablism is something that really needs to be seen as well as heard in order to be fully appreciated.
As the lights were turned down low and a single chair placed centre-stage, Pharoahe made his return to dramatically deliver two of the darkest tracks from “PTSD”, the moody “Time2” and sombre “Broken Again”.
Sitting down, head in his hands, Monch communicated the raw emotion of each track’s subject matter via his body language and facial expressions as much as he did through the actual lyrics, at one point using a toy gun to simulate his own death.
After a brief display of skin-tight musicianship from the members of Ezra Collective, Monch lifted the mood, encouraging the crowd to sing the hook of his Rawkus-era single “My Life”, which then led into the intense gospel-feel of the Alchemist-produced “Desire” and the radio-favourite “Oh No”, with Pharoahe pausing to pay a sincere tribute to the late Nate Dogg.
Taking a moment to give Kendrick Lamar props for his latest album, the boundary-pushing wordsmith encouraged the crowd to respect the craft of lyricism and help “preserve the culture”, as right-hand man Kamron stood to the side nodding intently.
With the horn section who had arrived onstage moments before then replaying the opening Godzilla sample of Monch’s signature late-90s banger “Simon Says”, the audience was immediately turned into a rowdy mass of jumping bodies, as the grinning emcee gleefully delivered the track’s infamous instructional hook.
Returning for a brief encore which included the Organized Konfusion classic “Bring It On”, the veteran microphone fiend graciously thanked the crowd for their continued support, leaving the stage to the sound of Keni Burke’s 80s quiet storm anthem “Risin’ To The Top”.
In a rap world which finds here-today-gone-tomorrow acts consistently receiving undeserved accolades and attention, Pharoahe Monch continues to stand as a shining example of genuine talent, creativity and artistic authenticity.
Organized Konfusion’s 1994 single “Stress” found Monch posing the question, “Why must you believe that something is fat just because it’s played on the radio twenty times per day?”
Over two decades later, Pharoahe is still providing a worthwhile alternative to the redundant and shallow product which is repeatedly being pushed and promoted by the mainstream music industry.
Thankfully, if the capacity crowd at this particular show was anything to go by, there are still plenty of people out there who’re willing to listen.
Footage of Pharoahe Monch performing “Broken Again” and “The Jungle” at London’s Jazz Cafe.