There was a time not too long ago when the lyrics of Pharoahe Monch was considered ahead of its time, futuristic, and yet as the music evolved into new eras, everyone loved him but so-called experts refused to rank him up there with alleged greats. Pharoahe Monch doesn’t need validation, although I’m sure there’s a bit of that ego in him which says “fuck that, of course I want that recognition” but having a hard work ethic has made him one of the best MC’s of the last 20 years. He is now making music in his third decade, how many people from back then can still sound “of the future” and “in the now” without people ever having to think of what came before?
Okay, maybe that last comment was kind of rude so let me say it differently. With quality artists, you always should acknowledge what came before, because they wouldn’t be what they are without everything that lead to it. Yet with his new album, Pharoahe still sounds like he’s speaking to people of the future, hoping for everyone to catch up someday and yet a lot of what he has been speaking about for the last 20 years is being realized today. W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (W.A.R. Media/Duck Down) is a collection of songs that fits what some would call an audio movie. There are no interludes even though some of the tracks are as long as them. Instead, the pace of the album and how it’s programmed show how important the process of making music is for Pharoahe, as you get a sense of the horrid outlook he has on the world we live in, which maybe is a reflection of how we view ourselves. These songs are filled with metaphors and complexities that show classic Pharoahe, but by taking a deep listen to tracks like “Haile Selassie Karate”, “Let My People Go”, and “Calculated Amalgamation” you realize he has always been speaking like this, it’s just that he’s capable of looking for, exploring, and discussing new stories and ideas. This is the kind of hip-hop that seems perfect for sci-fi junkies, those who seek to use metaphors as ways to speak in code so that those easily offended will not realize they’re evil ways are being exposed. Yet you don’t have to hang out at Comicon’s or Dungeons & Dragons to understand what he’s talking about, he’s direct and to the point at times almost too direct but that’s how he cuts and soothes listeners at the same time. He knows he’s capable of saying something that will make fans go “wow, now this feels good, I sense something great here” while fans will put faith in him, knowing that he’s in control of his destiny and people admire the paths he’s willing to take.
In other words, W.A.R. is what The D.O.C. once called “Rhythmic American Poetry”, a/k/a the essence of R.A.P., a dialogue that isn’t just someone speaking out of his ass just because he admires the sound and smell of his own verbal farts. Pharoahe Monch is a communicator, and fortunately there are enough fans who put faith in what he does in order to keep hearing it year after year. As a hip-hop record, people need to listen to this and understand what proper programming and producing can do and sound like.