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ThePr e mi r e I s s ue

Published by Ken Glauber on April 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm Two years ago there were a series of webisodes released to promote 2009’s Blakroc; a project between Dame Dash, The Black Keys and some of the best rappers that hip hop has ever seen. It is a terrific preview into the preparations and writing that goes into any given verse. Plenty of rappers like Rza, Raekwon and Jim Jones like to smoke a fat blunt before getting in the booth, but Pharaohe Monch sits himself on a couch and mutters to himself for a few moments. In most experiences with Pharaohe, sitting down is not involved, especially due to his famous track “Simon Says,” which of course demands us all to “get the fuck up!” However, next thing you know, he’s getting a little boozed up to prepare for his verse, and finally he’s behind the mic, and the Pharaohe is at his throne. Two years later we see the release of W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). The album plays like a satisfying meal, and W.A.R. fills the plate again and again with each listen. So many rappers have tried and failed to retain their classic sound while expanding or experimenting, but Pharaohe Monch pulls through as always. Monch deserves praise for his performance on the album. So many fans will forever ask for another “Simon Says,” but thankfully Pharaohe is careful to provide much more. The album is a crayon box of all different colors. “Haile Salassie Karate,” from producer Samiyam, who has previously worked with Flying Lotus, provides a classic Dilla-esque beat with soulful “oohs”, an effective jazz snare, and a sporadic bass line that comes in and out like you’re messing with your headphone jack. These sort of beats generally prove tough to spit over for a rapper without imagination. Pharoahe comes through with plenty with raps like “The apocalypse backed by popular demand. Innocuous, but still leave a stage with blood in my hand for the populous, put a fist in the sky.” The album carries a mood of importance, mostly due to its epic and dramatic production on tracks like “Calculated Amalgamation,” “Assassins,” “The Grand Illusion” and “Still Standing,” all of which feature grandiose drums with ample crash cymbal. Pharaohe matches the production, particularly on tracks like “Calculated Amalgamation,” which calls for something more than a flashy verse about being superior to everyone else. He raps “Found myself standing in a room full of mirrors, even my reflections disrespect you like a freshmen during hazing… Raised the bar so high that the bar is afraid to look down.” Other tracks on the album serve as a blank piece of construction paper for the rapper with all of those crayons. “Evolve,” and “Shine,” provide Pharaohe with a simple, straight forward beat to strut his classic stuff on. On “Evolve,” he raps “so phenomenal with mics, I don’t like myself, sadomasochist mc, I bite myself. But not cameo though. There’s no Grammy to show for the love that people hand me on the street.” The album gets a little bit generic at points, lacking any kind of new, relevant studio techniques, as well as any fancy new tricks on Pharaohe’s part. “The Grand Illusion” with Citizen Cope feels sort of like a discarded Beck song from the ’90s, and Pharaohe’s doesn’t sound like he is in his raw, rugged element. However, in terms of the entire album, Monch keeps it interesting. He switches up the flow often enough so we don’t get bored, but not too much, so we don’t get lost. He covers an array of heavy topics that include political commentary, social commentary, the state of music, self-perception, and his past and future, all thrown together with an entertaining and amusing side of punchlines. Guest spots on the album include Royce Da 5’9, Phonte, Immortal Technique, Styles P, and more, but Pharaohe tops them all with his imaginative way of fitting words together, and his unmatched ability to squeeze in spare syllables with finesse. The album is much more compelling than many of the recent releases from rap vets like Pharaohe Monch. The impact of the album feels more like a novel from a forgotten great author. If you’re in need of reminding just how important Pharaohe Monch is, cop this album. $18.79 out of $20.00

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