Published Jun 20, 2007Eight years is a long time to put out an album, but for Pharoahe Monch, the timing couldnt be better. Word of a new album from the veteran hip-hop wordsmith has been circulating for years, but aside from intermittent yet impressive guest appearances or one-off tracks, Monch has retained a low profile, waiting for the right situation to arise. "I think it would have been worse for me to put my record out with the pressure of labels hinting that they want the top R&B chick whoever that was at the time on the single and a bunch of fucked-up marketing schemes. Who knows what would have happened had the record come out three years ago?
Sticking to his creative guns has been a hallmark of Pharoahe Monchs career since he emerged as a member of Queens NY duo Organized Konfusion in 1991. Firing off complex polysyllabic rhymes with an irregular flow, partly informed by his asthma affliction, Monch is known for his conceptually vivid and provocative imagery, asserting himself as a highly influential, if underrated figure.
His 1999 "Simon Says single, despite its off-kilter vibe, turned out to be his biggest hit, catapulting him into the mainstream spotlight, if only for a moment. But the songs success meant the songs uncleared sample from the movie Godzilla stuck out like a sore thumb; legal action and a lawsuit promptly followed and the song was removed from future pressings of his Internal Affairs album. But Pharoahe has no regrets.
"If I think back, if [record label] Rawkus cleared the Simon Says sample, I mightve been 11 times platinum and I mightve bought a Ferrari and I might have crashed into a fuckin lake or something, says Pharoahe. "I cant look back and be judgmental like that. You really got to appreciate things for what they are and hindsight will kill you. You really have to deal with the power of now instead of what happens in the future.
Right now for Pharoahe is all about Desire, his sophomore solo set, which provides a compelling insight into how deep-seated emotions can fuel you to transcendent heights or cavernous lows. "It takes you for a ride emotionally, politically, socially, says Monch, who in person emits an introverted and meditative presence. "A retrospective and introspective [look] into who I am as a person a little bit. Often regarded as an MCs MC, Pharoahes voice is noticeably imbued with a more pronounced spiritual bent, spurred on by the palpable influence of the pulpit. Indeed, he refers to himself on the title track as the "poetical pastor. "Thats what I grew up with. So when people hear me singing now, its kinda like Is this something new? he says noting Organized Konfusions first album featured a gospel choir. "Its kinda of always been there and been kinda experimental.
On Desire, style and substance co-exist to deliver potent messages. "When the Gun Draws is a conspiracy-theory ridden meditation on violence, revisiting of an old Organized Konfusion song "Stray Bullet, while "Welcome to the Terrodome finds Pharoahe covering and updating the Public Enemy classic for a post 9/11 world. "I naturally started to try to implement notes and not be monotone because certain things would give me certain emotion, he says. "Its the truth versus the tone, versus a lot of different things. If you look at a Martin Luther King speech, or a Malcolm X speech, or anything that might raise your hair Im trying to do that all the time.