The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Pharoahe Monch-Desire

Hip-hop history is littered with MC’s blessed with scythe-sharp flows and Byzantine lyrics who couldn’t pick out a dope beat if their life depended on it (see also Kass, Ras). Now I wouldn’t go as far as to lump Pharoahe Monch in with the tin-eared rabble, but over the course of five albums and 16 years, Pharoahe has produced just one single capable of cracking Billboard’s Top 100. And even that lone quasi-hit, 1999’s ”Simon Says,” peaked at #97.

Of course, with most rappers, an inability to select mammoth show-stopping beats would be the death-knell. Imagine T.I. stripped of Just Blaze and Toomp’s trunk-rattling bangers, or the Game without his Dre-aping cadre of no-names. But with Pharoahe, it almost doesn’t matter. After all, the mark of a great rapper isn’t what he does with a banging beat, it’s what he does with a mediocre one.

With the exception of maybe Ghostface, few rappers in history have ever successfully transcended ho-hum soundscapes better than Pharoahe. With a knack for clever similes (“leave you die laughing like John Ritter”), complicated internal rhyme schemes (“Pharoahe’s flows blow shows like afros”), and a voice that rocks and sways with the hell-fire and brimstone cadence of a Pentecostal preacher, the beats very often take a backseat. And rightfully so.

Pharoahe Monch: A Huge Fan of Comical Misunderstandings

In that vein, Desire, Pharoahe’s long-anticipated return to the rap world after a near decade hiatus, is very much a mixed bag. Beat-wise nothing stands on its own merits, lacking the grimy cohesion of Pharoahe’s self-produced Organized Konfusion jaunts and the straight-out-of-the-bowels of hell turmoil of Internal Affairs. Constructed by a hodge-podge of producers, from underground leading light Black Milk, to Alchemist, to long-time collaborator Lee Stone, to Kon Artis from D-12, to Monch himself, Desire’s successes stem chiefly from Pharoahe’s unimpeachably brilliant rhyme skills.

Where Internal Affairs felt like the work of a deranged sociopath bent on murder and mayhem, Desire feels almost tranquil in comparison. Of course, Monch’s penchant for conspiracy mongering is still indulged: Citbank is watching over you, the Klan is somehow involved with clearing music samples, the United States is controlled by a Masonic conspiracy, etc. And there’s still gun talk a-plenty, with “When the Gun Draws” revamping the Organized Konfusion classic “Stray Bullet,” as Pharoahe somehow sounds fresh in spite of the tired trope of rapping from a gun’s perspective.

But Desire is so much more than a mere rehash of past glory, thanks to Monch’s ability to balance his cerebral paranoia with a healthy dose of experimentation. Celebratory first single “Push,” provides one of the album’s most satisfying moments (even if it could use a bit more rapping), with Pharoahe enlisting Tower of Power to lace the track with a swaggering and soulful slice of East Bay Soul. “Desire,” the album’s second single moves with similarly funky rhythms. On it, Pharoahe sounds the most sanguine he’s ever been, triumphantly declaring victory over his demons and label woes. Even “Body Baby,” the record’s maligned third single succeeds, as Pharoahe manages to turn something that could’ve resembled Gnarls Barkley at their worst, into a modest triumph.

Wanna Buy a Mon-chi-chi?

Sure, it’s not all perfect. A skit about “the stranger” (yes, that stranger) head-scratchingly concludes the end of “Let’s Go.” The Soulquarian, Erykah Badu-assisted funk of “Hold On” shows why Badu shouldn’t be allowed within 100 feet of great rappers. A Milk production on “Bar Tap” shamelessly appropriates Premier’s brilliant beat for “Betrayal.” And don’t even get me started on the nine-and-a-half minutes of “Trilogy,” which manages to indulge in some Love Below-esque levels of wankery.

But despite its flaws, this record is—and will remain—better than 99.9 percent of all rap albums released this year. Once again devoid of a perfect booming beat capable of snatching radio airplay, Monch isn’t about to escape the subterranean rap ghetto anytime soon. But Desire will satisfy anyone seeking intricately constructed and brilliantly spit verses from one of the best rappers to ever do it. Hell, it’s a Pharoahe Monch album in the year 2007. What else do you desire?

Originally Published at Stylus

MP3: Pharoahe Monch-"Desire"
MP3: Pharoahe Monch-"Push"


At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Zilla Roc. said...

I like the album, although it's a little too short for someone who hasn't dropped since '99.

I still have "What It Is" on repeat--that track is an MC's dream.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Dan Love said...

Great review Jeff, and I agree entirely with your summary. There certainly are some throwaway tracks here but generally speaking it's a very solid release.

Will I still be playing it in 6 months? I dunno, and ultimately it is longevity that proves an album's true worth for me. We'll see...

Thanks for the add on your blogroll, apologies for being so rambling in the 3 comments I dropped on the previous post.

Take it easy fella,


At 12:08 AM, Blogger Human said...

Suzanna Somers can still get it.

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Peter Divito said...

good review. i just feel like pharoahe has set the bar so high this album was bound to be disappointing. 8 years off and past material=your new album gets the cold shoulder.

At 2:18 AM, Blogger doctashock said...

I still haven't heard the whole album, and I ask this not so much to clown but just to double check my hearing... Is that a sample from the opening chords to one of the Scooby Doo themes for "What it Is"?

check it at bout 1:06 in:

At 4:25 AM, Anonymous haloedbmyname said...

I bought the CD and listened to it on a trip down the coast from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. I was most impressed by the song “trilogy” which expertly tells a story of adultery, extortion, and revenge. The production on this album is earnest and can be enjoyed for its attempts to create soul from synths, some live collaboration, and carefull samples. The lyrics are thought provoking and clever and are most impressive when Pharoahe is using his skills to describe a situation (i.e "Hold on") rather than bragging about what he is and what you are not (i.e."what it is").
The songs “Body Baby” and “Bar Tap” are not good. Positive erudite rappers can never contact the sexual immediacy that dumb-assed rappers who can’t think passed their dicks seem to conjure into hits almost unconsciously. Another issue is that the use of R&B choruses on every song is kind of like when three times dope got with Steve Arrington from Slave for live from Akniculous land (read: not good).
That said, I would recommend you buy or download this CD. It may be the only thing to save you from the thug-rappers of the future who will weigh you down with a platinum chain and then suck your brain out of its skull.


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