Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Pharoahe Monch: Rap it up and start again

Pharoahe Monch
Pharoahe Monch Pharoahe Monch Pharoahe Monch Pharoahe Monch

‘Monch is a mixture of Marcus Garvey, Miles Davis and Bob Marley!” well that’s how he describes himself in one of the tracks from his latest offering W.A.R. Initially this was just gonna be a straight up review of the new album, but when the PR company rep’ing him offered me some telephone time The Beat Genius’s brain clicked into gear and I started to get excited.

For here is an artist whom I‘ve followed for many years right from back in the day when he was part of Organized Konfusion when they were killing it as MC’s along side O.C. [D.I.T.C. in the making] and Q-Tip right through to when PM hooked up with Rawkus for the ‘Internal Affairs’ album and with all the Soundbombing tracks and the Lyricist Lounge guests and features.

You have to understand that this is the man that has delivered us some slamming Hip Hop Anthems like ‘Simon Says’, ‘Push’, ‘Oh No’ & ‘Fuck You’ all of which will get any party rocking and all demonstrate a distinct difference in style and influence yet Monch effortlessly manages to ride the tracks like a pro bronco cowboy and steps off from one bucking steed to the next with ease and finesse. This obviously presented me with a considerable issue on what to chat to the man about. Obviously the primary goal is to speak about the new album but as you know I’m deep. For me, speaking about how PM got to this album is as relevant as the album itself. How was I ever gonna make a 20 min slot work and get down with PM in order to grasp what this album and it’s concept means? Fuck it, I jumped in feet first and just got on a level with him and it flowed – in fact we over ran by 15 mins cause we were just connecting.

I asked about the intro track on the album called ‘The Warning’ and features guest vocals from UK actor Idris Elba, which to me shows a very cinemagraphic/gamer side to his creativity - which Monch confessed that he is a big gamer and, like me, has wasted many hours on his PS3. He went on to say that he is an aspiring scriptwriter and that this is something he penned over a year ago. We both agreed and recognised that gaming, as good as it is, is a major distraction and I explained that as such I gave mine to my best friend because of just that and he admitted that he boxes his up when he’s writing.

I mentioned that this intro track gave me the impression that this was going to be a themed or concept album and although I can hear how each track leads to the next or is vaguely related I was surprised that I take this format. Monch came back saying that he is aware that he is not a commercial rap artist but is regarded as an underground MC and that despite many labels who have tried to mould and direct his artistic inclinations, he has had to fight hard legally and in many other ways to maintain his own integrity as an artist which he attributes to his sound and direction. He cites his upbringing as very important to both his musical influences and his strength of character, which have enabled him to have the courage to be so upstanding and do what he believes in and express himself and his spirit which I guess comes over in his lyrics which is something that he is renowned for.

The obvious question to follow that with was what are his influences? With a reminiscent cheeky giggle Monch says Rock music from his older brother [explains the Hendrix fused ‘Fuck You’ track] and a lot of Jazz, which his folks were in to and in particular he mentions his father was a big Miles Davis fan.

Now I have to make a confession; by this time I had actually stopped writing notes simply because I was that comfortable and the conversation was jumping off in tangents here there and everywhere. So please excuse my flakey style of bringing this to you, but this felt more like two friends catching up than a telephone interview.

I took him back to one of his earlier points about how he thought his fans were more underground than commercial and I felt duty bound to let him know about some of the big gigs I’ve been too over the years and how DJ’s rock his tracks in between acts along with other Hip Hop bangers and that ‘Simon Says’ ALWAYS gets the crowd hyped. I told him I’ve seen Kid Capri, Grand Master Flash, Jazzy Jeff, Green Lantern and even our own Skits at EPMD a few weeks back drop Pharoahe Monch to a crowd of 1500 people who all react and bounce in time reciting the key lyrics so yes whilst he’s no 50 Cent or Nelly, to call himself underground might be a bit of an understatement and certainly not fair to say. He took my point gracefully and I could hear he appreciated the sentiment.

Whilst I was on the subject of live shows, I asked when we could expect to see him next and he confirmed that he’ll be at the Scala in Kings Cross, London on April 8th [Ed - please confirm]. Monch informed me about how he likes to writes tracks that allow him to perform well and display his lyrical prowess and dexterity. So I asked whether it is a consideration for him at the point of writing about how tracks will sound on the radio or live and he came back with a definite yes. For Monch, everything he writes is a performance piece and it is paramount to him how a track sounds live. Live performances are his bread and butter, it’s how he pays his rent, it’s his job, his skill. Like any other tradesman in order to keep getting gigs he has to ensure that his work is his best and his fans keep wanting to go see him. It is clear to me that Pharoahe Monch cares very deeply about this latest album project and I don’t doubt that he cared just as much about his last and no doubt he’ll feel the same about the next if not more so. Each release for Pharoahe is like an Opus where he puts the best he has at that time in expressing how he feels about the things that he is passionate about and that comes over in his productions and certainly in his lyrical performance and delivery.

Monch is without a doubt one of the old skool MC’s who takes on board the live aspect of his performance and recognises that his connection with his audience isn’t just about Promos Video on MTV/BET, but it’s the live part where you win fans that will support you. He obviously learned that lesson from when he and Prince Po were furiously touring as Organized Konfusion with the likes of De La Soul back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

This album will not disappoint any PM fan with a slick blend of live instruments, chopped up Jazz loops and some of the dopest beats from producers like EXILE, MARCO POLO, M – PHAZES, FATIN, DIAMOND D, MIKE LOE, SAMIYAM, ADAM DEITCH, ERIC KRASNO & PHAROAHE MONCH himself, this album is sure to hit the spot for even the fussiest Hip Hop high brow listeners out there. Couple that with guest Vox appearances from JILL SCOTT, STYLES P, CITIZEN COPE, JEAN GRAE, ROYCE DA 5’9”, IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE, VERNON REID, PHONTE, MR PORTER, MELA MACHINKO, SHOWTYME & DJ BOOGIE BLIND and you have something that will deliver upon what it promises.

The Beat Genius is reaching this one with a 10/10 and is my recommendation that you pre-order this album or forever regret sleeping on it like the countless souls I know who didn’t listen to me about his ‘Internal Affairs’ album – try and buy that one now, see how far you get.




From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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