Published Apr 14, 2011The initial thought of Pharoahe Monch dropping a new album seems as quaint as the '80s Monchhichi toys the hip-hop artist is partially named after. (Younger heads, look it up). Since emerging on the scene as a part of "alternative hip-hop" duo Organized Konfusion way back in 1991, Monch has remained a socially conscious enigma, a rapper/producer destined to give the hip-hop scene the perpetual rope-a-dope. Fuck being on time or being trendy, dropping music on his inspired time encapsulates Monch's musical journey. The debut of his third solo album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) reveals that the Southside Jamaica, Queens-raised artist hasn't missed a beat or hot lyric since his last project (2007's Desire) or even the seminal 1999 debut Internal Affairs. Three relevant albums in the span of ten years is virtually unheard of in the world of hip-hop. Released late March, W.A.R. (Duck Down) is perhaps one of the biggest hip-hop releases in 2011. It brings Monch's trademark boom-bap to speak on TMZ-influenced culture and muddled political insanities of the 21st century.
The irony is, shit is going on Japan but in New York we have a nuclear plant, 200 miles from Manhattan, on a fault line. So while we're over here desensitized, we could be faced with the same situation," he says over the phone from his New York label's office. It's been 20 years since his Organized Konfusion debut but W.A.R. sees that he's still got the Matryoshka doll lyrical wordplay, the abrasive production and the forceful socially conscious message. The title refers to his infamous issues with former labels, his chronic asthma condition and general thoughts on the state of the world. In speaking with him, however, it's clear that Monch feels he's in a peaceful place in his career.
What's trendy about the current music scene?
The trend's over. The song's over. All this novelty. I just feel that people are evolving not on a social level but worldwide. The conversations I have with people show they understand the issues. You see situations like Egypt and Libya and see how they got started. The tide changing in terms of a collective of likeminded people – even in those situations – are saying that now it's time. That being said, W.A.R. is all-encompassing in that it's dealing with internal as well as external. Personal issues like my asthma, and [music] business issues as well.
Why is now the right time to drop this album?
I just try to do the music you want to see implemented in the culture. I came up on Coltrane and Zeppelin and Hendrix and Stevie, music that had a long shelf life. When I was in high school I gravitated to that and was left wondering why is this shit still hot and they did it so long ago. So I'm just trying to write something that's a little layered and little timeless instead of perhaps what's trendy.
It's been a minute since the last album. Do you ever sit back and think about your entire discography?
When we talk about [1999's] Internal Affairs to now, Internal was great and incredible to me even with the label issues. Desire was also great for me. I never had an album that [connected] so well in the UK and abroad and I spent a lot of time touring. I feel like it takes time for your life to grow and for you to expand. I never bought into what people said about time and hip-hop. Back in the day, you get a dope song, buy some jewelry and then you stop. I was always more expansive and career based. Why don't we have the freedom to create art in my genre? In hip-hop it's like "hurry up!" Time is relevant. Just the other day I was doing an in-store and a kid comes up with all three solo albums. He could have bought them in a 30-day span and to him, he's going to listen to them back-to-back in a week and say which album is his favourite. I wish I had more [albums], but I think that these three are really fucking dope.
What motivates you to do music at this point in your career?
I love it man. I'm inspired to do it. We talk about [the long gap between albums] but I never saw it like that. Time is relevant to us in how we see it. I know that I want to increase my production so mentally I'm already on [album] four. But it's going to take what it's going to take. My audience is raving about this W.A.R. album and I can't disappoint them and be like, "Let me take advantage of this new trend of people rhyming over fucking polka songs."