Tag Archives: W.A.R.

New Joint – Pharoahe Monch

Pharoahe Monch ft. Jill Scott – “Still Standing” (Duck Down / 2012)

Powerful video from Monch’s 2011 album “W.A.R.”.

52 Best Albums & EPs Of 2011 (Part One) – The Doppelgangaz / Rashad & Confidence / Elzhi etc.

Another year has nearly passed by already, which, of course, means another twelve months worth of Hip-Hop releases have been unleashed on the rap world, whether on vinyl, CD or download format.

Whilst some heads will still say that Hip-Hop is in a state of demise, personally, I feel that 2011 has been a good year for the music and artform. Of course, the majority of music championed in the mainstream doesn’t represent the best that Hip-Hop has to offer in the present day, but, as always, if you dig deep enough you’ll find a wide array of beats and rhymes to satisfy your musical hunger.

For the record, the albums and EPs that I’ve included in my five-part “Best-Of…” obviously aren’t the only releases that deserved attention this year, but they are the ones that received the most rotation in my small part of the Hip-Hop universe.

So agree, disagree, or don’t care either way – as Black Sheep once said, the choice is yours.

The Doppelgangaz – “Lone Sharks” (Groggy Pack Entertainment) – Lurking in the shadows of New York state, grimy duo EP and Matter Ov Fact managed to turn leftfield observations of homelessness and alchohol-fuelled dark alley antics into moments of Hip-Hop brilliance on their latest release. The pair’s penchant for unpredictable subject matter and moody, boom-bap production ensured “Lone Sharks” stood-out as one of the most unique and imaginative albums of the last twelve months.

Heavy Metal Kings – “Heavy Metal Kings” (Enemy Soil) – Fresh from the success of his impressive 2010 solo album “Season Of The Assassin”, Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz teamed-up with brother-from-another-mother Ill Bill for this violent, rowdy ride through a world of conspiracy theories, religious imagery, gleeful gunplay and hardcore Hip-Hop. Featuring pounding production from the likes of DJ Muggs and C-Lance, “Heavy Metal Kings” was music to riot to.

Rashad & Confidence – “The Element Of Surprise” (Ill Adrenaline Records) – The perfect example of being in the right place at the right time, NY emcee Rashad’s chance online encounter with Boston-based producer Confidence led to the recording of this fine slice of true-school Hip-Hop with a new-school twist. Drawing inspiration from the jazzy, dusty-fingered soundscapes of 90s greats such as Pete Rock & CL Smooth and Gang Starr, “The Element Of Surprise” avoided simply retreading old ground thanks to Confidence’s undeniable production prowess and Rashad’s heartfelt rhymes. Word to Lord Finesse!

People Under The Stairs – “Highlighter” (Piecelock 70) – Almost fifteen years after their debut release, West Coast duo Thes One and Double K dropped their eighth album on the rap world, this time around mixing live instrumentation with their lyrical b-boy antics. Proving that it is possible to mature gracefully as a Hip-Hop act, “Highlighter” found the Cali homies presenting listeners with a more sophisticated and refined sound without losing any of that fun-loving PUTS spirit in the process.

Pharoahe Monch – “W.A.R.” (Duck Down) – With only three solo album releases in the last twelve years, former Organized Konfusion member Pharoahe Monch is the epitome of quality over quantity. The latest effort from the Queens, NY native contained Monch’s usual high-standard of lyrical gymnastics that touched on socio-political themes as well as rap dominance, plus a handful of choice collaborations with the likes of Styles P, Jill Scott and Royce Da 5’9.

Apathy – “Honkey Kong” (Dirty Version) – Demigodz general Apathy’s career has been full of ups-and-downs over the years in terms of label dramas and underground politics. Yet thankfully, Ap has always been able to channel his frustrations with the rap game into potent doses of raw, intelligent Hip-Hop. “Honkey Kong” found the gifted Connecticut emcee dealing with the financial instability of subterranean rap life, commenting on the fragile relationship between fan and artist, and giving props to his hometown, all via verses full of wit, passion and a genuine respect for his craft.

Styly Cee & Cappo – “The Fallout” (Son Records) – The two Nottingham natives joined forces on this action-packed collection of high-octane tracks that effortlessly bridged the gap between old-school and now-school with Styly’s hardcore Zulu beats crashing beautifully into Cappo’s spectacular multi-layered wordplay. Notts rocks the house, once again.

Oddisee – “Rock Creek Park” (Mello Music Group) – Inspired by the same Washington park made famous in the 70s by The Blackbyrds, Oddisee’s epic instrumental project captured a variety of moods from the water-calm mellow to the sun-splashed funky. The D.C. resident has spent recent years solidifying his reputation as a talented Hip-Hop beatsmith, but with this project he proved himself not only as a great producer, but also as a gifted musician with universal appeal.

Celph-Titled & Buckwild – “Nineteen Ninety More” (No Sleep Recordings) – Obviously not content with verbally obliterating a quality selection of vintage Buckwild beats on last year’s “Nineteen Ninety Now” album, Demigodz punchline king Celph-Titled dug a little deeper in the D.I.T.C. producer’s basement crates for this further collection of back-to-the-future beats and rhymes.

Elzhi & Will Sessions – “ELmatic” (Jae. B Group) – A year ago, the idea of an artist remaking Nas’s rap milestone “Illmatic” would have been viewed by many as Hip-Hop blasphemy. Yet former Slum Village member Elzhi rose to the challenge and put a Detroit spin on classics usually associated with an NY state of mind. Credit for the success of this ambitious project also has to be given to the Will Sessions band, who perfectly captured the brilliance of tracks originally crafted by the likes of Pete Rock and DJ Premier. But it was Elzhi’s personal rhymes and clever wordplay that elevated “ELmatic” above being viewed simply a tribute project.

Ryan Proctor

Part Two coming soon.

Live Review – Pharoahe Monch

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 30 October 2011

Stood at the front of London’s Jazz Cafe stage, one arm raised, a defiant look on his face, legendary NY emcee Pharoahe Monch made it very clear what the venue’s packed crowd could expect minutes into his one-off show.”I came here tonight to represent for lyricism in Hip-Hop,” the former Organized Konfusion member stated. “This is for the heads. If you’re a new Pharoahe Monch fan tonight might not be for you.”

It’s almost unbelievable to think that it’s been 20 years since a youthful Monch debuted alongside friend and rhyme partner Prince Po, launching their brand of cerebral wordplay out of the New York borough of Queens and into the rap history books.On this particular night, it was clear Monch wanted to ensure the audience knew that the passion and love for Hip-Hop that fuelled his art two decades ago was still the inspiration behind his music today.

Accompanied by X-ecutioner DJ Boogie Blind, Pharoahe immediately launched into tracks from his current album “W.A.R”, including the expert verbal explosion that is “Evolve”. Reaching back to his 2007 album “Desire”, Monch announced he was going to perform the three-part tale of betrayal “Trilogy” in its entirety for the first time, bringing the track’s dark lyrics to life via one-man theatre (complete with a plastic gun, flowers and police tape as stage props).

Vocalists Mela Machinko and Showtyme were missing-in-action this time around, but rather than take anything away from the overall performance it allowed Pharoahe to totally dominate the stage, perhaps even giving the veteran wordsmith the opportunity to perform tracks better suited to the one emcee / one deejay show format.

The playfully arrogant “F**k You” had the crowd shouting the hook alongside a gleeful Monch, whilst the anti-police brutality anthem “Clap (One Day)” was brought to a rousing finale as the asthmatic lyricist recited the track’s final verse accompanied only by the sound of the audience clapping rapidly in unison.A short but effective display of turntable brilliance from Boogie Blind was met with loud appreciation, as the gifted deejay proved that practice really does make perfect by destroying LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells” with a respectful nod to the late Grandmaster Roc Raida.

With Pharoahe promising to take the crowd back in time, it was slightly surprising, and mildly disappointing, that he only went as far back as material from his 1999 debut solo set “Internal Affairs”, choosing not to dig into the classics contained on Organized Konfusion’s three albums.

Yet by the time the “Godzilla” sample from the night’s obvious closer “Simon Says” sent the Hip-Hop faithful into an instant frenzy, it was obvious that nobody was going to be asking for their money back.

Ryan Proctor

New Joint – Pharoahe Monch / Styles P / Phonte

Pharoahe Monch ft. Styles P & Phonte – “Black Hand Side” (Duck Down Music / 2011)

Taken from the former Organized Konfusion emcee’s recent album “W.A.R.”.

Album Review – Pharoahe Monch

Pharoahe Monch formerly of Organized Konfusion W.A.R. We Are Renegades  Audio CD Front

Pharoahe Monch

“W.A.R.”

(Duck Down Music)

There are rappers. There are emcees. Then there’s an artist like Pharoahe Monch. A virtual demi-god amongst discerning Hip-Hop heads, the lyrical king from Queens has been amazing listeners with his verbal gymnastics for precisely twenty years now, having debuted in 1991 as one-half of Organized Konfusion alongside childhood friend Prince Po.

The pair’s debut single, the upbeat “Fudge Pudge”, was definitely a dope head-nodder that sat well amongst the jazz-infused sounds of the time from the likes of Main Source and Tribe, but it only hinted at the lyrical explosions that were to be heard on Organized’s self-titled debut album released later that same year. Cuts such as the complex “Releasing Hypnotical Gases” and concept-driven “Prisoners Of War” found the pair playing with flows, verse structure and language like poetical mad scientists, mixing the influences of  golden-age heroes such as Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap with their own love of comic books, science-fiction and vocabulary.

Although the duo released three albums as a partnership, it’s 1994’s “Stress (The Extinction Agenda)”, OK’s darker sophomore effort, that most fans consider to be their best, thanks to its almost flawless blend of brilliant wordplay and classic dusty-fingered production. It was also with this album that Organized stans really began to argue over who was the better out of the two, Monch or Po? 

To say that Pharoahe consistently outshone Prince would be unfair, as both were masters of their craft. However, on their 1991 debut the pair had seemed evenly matched, yet on its follow-up Monch did begin to gain more attention, not necessarily because of what he was saying, but how he was saying it. Classic Pharoahe verses on the album’s title track and the legendary Buckwild remix of “Bring It On” found the  former musical student of the late, great Paul C. gleefully playing with the constraints of structured rhymes, stretching out lines for effect, stuttering words, adopting different vocal tones, and generally rubbing the faces of lesser emcees in the enormity of his lyrical might.

All of which meant that by the time Organized Konfusion went their separate ways following 1997’s “The Equinox”, the rap world was hungry for a Monch solo project. A craving that was satisfied by 2000’s Rawkus-released “Internal Affairs”, which of course featured the timeless crowd-pleaser “Simon Says”.

But after such a memorable beginning to his solo career, Pharoahe’s output over the last decade has been sporadic to say the least, with Monch not releasing a follow up to the critically-acclaimed “Internal Affairs” until 2007’s “Desire”. So it’s something of an understatement to say that lyric-lovers have been heavily anticipating this new album from the self-proclaimed “God’s gift to vocabulary” since news broke of Pharoahe’s partnership with independent powerhouse Duck Down. With great power comes great responsbility, as the saying goes.

Straight off the bat, let it be said that “W.A.R.” is a good album. Is it a classic? No. Is it an album that sounds like it should’ve taken four years to complete? Probably not. But does it sound as though Monch has gotten lazy with the pen or lost his creative spark? Definitely not.

Although Pharoahe’s delivery may be a little more subdued and refined than his earlier excursions on wax, that doesn’t mean that his lyrical prowess has become any less impressive. One of Monch’s best performances on the album comes early on the Exile-produced “Evolve”. Over ethereal choir vocals the talented lyrical technician toys with his flow and cadence, delivering playful lines such as “So phenomenal with mics I don’t like myself, Sadomasochist emcee, I bite myself…”, subtly building a complex web of wordplay that hits from every angle with punchlines, metaphors and rhymes within rhymes.

The Marco Polo-produced title track sounds like theme music to a protest march, capturing the essence of Monch’s renegade rap persona perfectly with stomping drums and a searing rock guitar solo from Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. Amidst the chaotic soundbed, Pharoahe covers media manipulation, genetic experiments and New World Order dictatorship, claiming that he’s “guilty as charged if intellect’s a crime”.

The anti-police brutality anthem “Clap (One Day)” finds Australian producer M-Phazes doing his best DJ Premier impersonation, whilst the soulful “Black Hand Side” features a sensitive-yet-streetwise Styles P pouring out heartfelt ghetto angst as Monch ponders the future of today’s younger generation as they attempt to navigate their way through the senseless violence of the inner-city.

The Diamond D-produced “Shine” is another immediate standout, with the D.I.T.C. member supplying a warm backdrop of thumping beats and melodic chimes, as the asthmatic emcee boasts how “each line of speech is designed to transcend time”, with songstress Mela Machinko’s gritty vocals adding an organic dimension to the track.

“The Hitman” is proof of how a skilled lyricist can make familiar subject matter sound fresh, as Monch targets music industry politics and the lack of support for underground rap artists, attacking the obvious without saying the obvious (“If you are not performing fellatio for radio rotation, What’s the ratio for radio play at your station? If you’re not paying to play the record is dead, Puts a whole new spin on Radiohead”).

On the inspirational “Still Standing”, a beautiful blend of soaring strings and horns, Pharoahe ponders how challenges he’s faced both personal and professional have shaped the man and artist he is today.

Whilst fans will have little to complain about when it comes to the quality level of Monch’s rhymes throughout “W.A.R.”, the same cannot be said for some of his beat choices. “Let My People Go” is built around solid but unsurprising production from Fatin “10” Horton, whilst performances from Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9″ on “Assassins” are hampered by a track that just doesn’t have the impact to match each emcee’s dynamic vocal presence.

“The Grand Illusion (Circa 1973)”, a rock/rap hybrid, also fails, sounding like a cross between an outtake off the last album from The Roots and a hungover Rage Against The Machine.

Yet that said, “W.A.R.” is still a strong effort that will do nothing to damage Monch’s reputation as one of the most advanced microphone masters of his generation. To still even be in the music business two decades after your debut would be considered a success by some, but for Monch to still be considered one of the best in his field twenty years after first unleashing his skills on the world is a testament to both his integrity and artistic individuality.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t take the NYC legend another four years to drop his fourth solo album.

Or would an Organized Konfusion reunion project perhaps be too much to ask for?

Ryan Proctor

The War Report – Pharoahe Monch

TheHipHopChronicle.Com caught up with Monch in Texas at SXSW 2011 to talk about his new album, working with Nate Dogg and collaborating with Immortal Technique.

Lyrics To Go – Pharoahe Monch

Pharoahe Monch interview and freestyle on Canada’s The Come-Up Show – some interesting comments about the current state of the rap game made here.