Elevator 23: Pharoahe Monch

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Pharoahe Monch has high expectations of himself. As he approaches a new project he sets the bar high. There are few other rappers in the world who marry wonderfully ambitious concepts with carefully constructed delivery. Once they’ve listened to Pharoahe Monch rappers of all ages are quietly embarrassed by their own lack of creative spark. Queens-native Monch is a humbler of artists and he should be honoured for this.

His contribution to the art of hip-hop lyricism is extraordinary.  Intricacy, wit, precision, melody, tone: if you’re doing a master’s degree in rap vocals you study Pharoahe Monch.

I first encountered Monch as part of the group Organized Konfusion in 1994 and I thought, “Oh, I guess this is the standard everybody’s gonna have to judge themselves by from now on”. ‘Stress’ and ‘Stray Bullet’ are not songs you forget.

His solo albums Internal Affairs [1999], Desire [2007], and W.A.R. We Are Renegades [2011] all have an epic, cinematic quality to them addressing global issues as well as emotionally nuanced narrative explorations most notably this tragic trilogy of songs.

Here he returns to the firearms issue:

In a 2011 Village Voice interview Monch laments: “There are real issues going on — I can’t believe the art world in general is removed. I feel like, you know, obviously in the ’70s and the ’60s the artists were more in-tuned with the world and social issues, but the world is so connected to digital information now that I don’t understand how peoples’ hearts are removed from Japan and Libya. We have a nuclear reactor less than 200 miles from here. How come that’s not being talked about?” The answer: those in the celebrity rap elite are too afraid to speak truth to power and the wanna-be celebrity rapper copies their flaccid chatter. In contrast Monch is outspoken politically, socially and prophetically. Check how dynamic rebel music can be:

And yet Monch enjoys salting each project with gritty, nasty rap songs that get rooms of drunken students swearing in unison, songs that you would have to mute the moment your grandmother entered the room.

And he also writes beautiful, inspiring soulful songs that would make him your mum’s favorite rapper. See:

He can and will surprise you.

In this Believer interview he talks about his writing process and his biggest influences.

Maybe it was inevitable that Monch would be one of my 70 elevators: he’s a master of his craft AND he’s an acrid voice of dissent fighting for a fairer, blacker, more beautiful planet.

Download his song ‘Stand Your Ground’ for free here.

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