20 Times Pharoahe Monch Proved He Was Ahead of His Time
Plus, he's delivered some of the best verses in hip-hop history and created song concepts that other MCs probably wouldn't even go near.
Today, we honor Monch for his mind-blowing lyrics, his productions skills, and his seeming commitment to always push the hip-hop envelope. Also, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention his Organized Konfusion partner, Prince Po, in this write-up since he made a significant mark as well.
So here's to Pharoahe Monch, and here are 20 times that he showed us he was ahead of his time.
When Organized Konfusion dropped their sophomore effort Stress: The Extinction Agenda in August of 1994, they brought all of the same elements that were on their self-titled debut, but some of the songs were slower, which made the words easier to take in.
The song "Thirteen" is an excellent example of the slight change, and it also shows how Monch was leaps and bounds over a lot of MCs at that time.
"Pharoahe, I'm no slave to the rhythm / I whip it then I take its name and change its religion / Then I chop the foot of the f--ckin' beat / For trying to escape the track now it's obsolete," he spits.
Monch didn't break out his singing chops much, but when he did it was unique. "The Light," off 1999's Internal Affairs, is a perfect example.
Before artists like Kanye West and OutKast became known for producing their own albums, Prince Po and Monch did it and showed a lot of rappers how to be self-contained.
The group produced their entire debut by themselves, made all the tracks except for three on the Stress LP, and crafted a good portion of the beats on their follow-up, The Equinox.
Monch produced a few songs on his solo debut too.
It's not that the Queens native invented rhyming in triplets, which today's generation calls the Versace flow thanks to Migos, but he was doing it a lot earlier than others.
Also, rhyming in triplets was just one of Monch's flows, and he'd often use three, four or five different cadences in one song, if not one verse. And this is from a guy who has always had asthma.
It turns out Monch didn't clear the sample for Akira Ifukube's "Gojira Tai Mosura," but it gave him a bigger audience and gave listeners a straight-up classic.
In an interview with Complex, the New York wordsmith said he lost "tons" of money by putting out the record.
With seemingly a zillion MCs releasing a zillion songs per second, not many have dropped a three-part story in one single cut. Pharoahe did it, though, on his brilliant 2007 LP Desire.
The song is appropriately titled "Trilogy" and it has all the juicy elements of a good drama like sex, infidelity, love, and murder.
Covering a classic song is always risky, and in hip-hop, it's even more difficult.
That's because it's usually not done since typically, the whole purpose of rap music is to create your own memorable lines and phrases.
But a few MCs have successfully pulled off the hip-hop cover, like Snoop Dogg doing Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh's "La Di Da Di" or Black Star covering KRS-One's "Stop The Violence."
Some might say that Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" is an even harder song to emulate for its faster tempo and the way Chuck D delivers his lyrics.
Regardless, Monch nailed the song by combining his own words with Chuck's.
Pharoahe seems to approach his songs like a method actor and fully immerses himself into the characters he creates in his rhymes.
For example, in "Broken Again," off his 2014 album PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he tackles the subject of breakups and compares it to escaping a drug addiction.
Again, it's the characters and concepts that Monch creates that makes his music so compelling.
On the song "Inventro," which of course Po gets full credit for too, Monch takes on the role of a baby in his mother's womb, and he wants her to get an abortion.
Po plays the part of the baby's twin, also in the womb but wants to be born.
"Sh-t, I'm pissing in the abdomen / Two and a half weeks old already thoughts of stabbing men / Unraveling plots and plans for thieving and sh-t / Immune to the gospel not believing in sh-t / Where the f--k do I go from here? / 'Cause when the afterbirth disperse it's hard to persevere," spits Monch.
These days, T.I. does it. So do people like The Game and Jay-Z. Heck, Nas became a legend from doing it.
We're talking about meshing traditional street rhymes with lyrics that contain some social consciousness. In many cases, you get one or the other, but Monch has been balancing the two for over almost three decades.
"They thought I was backpack, slept / Didn't know that he kept inside the knapsack," he spits on "What It Is" to let you know he's not the average conscious rhymer.
A lot of folks have talked about, dissected, and expressed their love for Nas' "I Gave You Power," where he rapped from the perspective of a gun.
But two years before that, Pharoahe and Po wrote a similar song and rhymed as if they were bullets that were just fired from a pistol.
"No remorse for the course I take when you pull it / The result's a stray bullet / N----s who knew hit the ground running and stay down / Except for the kids who play on the playground," spits Monch on the song.
This is one of the weightier song concepts that Monch took on, but along with Jean Grae and Royce da 5'9", he pulled it off wonderfully. The cut starts with Monch setting up the story.
"In 2013 the world government placed sanctions against free-thinking individuals ordered to force people to adhere to one way of life," he says.
The three talented rappers play the parts of assassins whose job is to infiltrate the world government headquarters and restore free thinking. If that's not creative, outside of the box songwriting, then what is?
This might be one of the best chess metaphors of all time, and the visuals Monch creates in just a few lines is genius.
"Nightfall, I snuff the rook / Then I'm looking for the original book which contains the words of God / Six hours until dawn / My quest to capture the queen without being seen by the pawns / Call me bishop, bishop takes rook, rook takes pawn, pawn takes knight / Knight takes queen, queen takes the original King James version / I'm surging up when I'm emerging," he rhymes.
Styles P has churned out some incredibly strong material with some MCs who've been considered as underground rappers throughout the years, like Talib Kweli, Saigon, and Smif-N-Wessun.
But Pharoahe was the first from that community of lyricists to collaborate with Styles on "The Life."
The two would later connect on Monch's "Black Hand Side" featuring Little Brother's Phonte.
The song "Push" from the Queens rapper's Desire album is a perfect example of this specific talent. And the video is dope too.
The collab was for Monch's intro track for his 2011 W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) LP. Elba plays a lieutenant who discovers classified information that he's about to release.
The skit is high drama, and it sets off Monch's third album perfectly.
Organized Konfusion's debut dropped in 1991, and Monch's last solo album was in 2014.
In between those years, he kept busy by recording, touring, popping up on movie soundtracks and writing for others. And he never compromised his sound or musical approach along the way.
If there's anyone who can show a lyrical kind of rapper how to stay in the game for a long time, it's Pharoahe.
Sean "Diddy" Combs didn't recruit a lot of the Rawkus artists to ghostwrite for him, but he made the right call when he got Monch to pen two songs, "Hold Up" and "The Future," from his 2006 Press Play album.
Monch and Po weren't the first to devote an entire LP to one single concept, but they did it pretty early on.
On the duo's album The Equinox, they take on the characters of Life and Malice and go through a movie's worth of action and drama.
In an old interview, rapper Nelly described the different ways an MC will attack a beat. Some, he said, will rhyme on top of it, others underneath it, and some will flow inside the track and be in the pocket.
Monch does all three and many more. Plus, his flow is never the same from one song to the next.