Thursday, August 23, 2007

Desire by Pharoahe Monch

Why the hell does this man get so little love?

Most people are at least familiar with his 1999 single "Simon Says" which was well, live as any single I've ever heard. However, once Monch got sued by Toho Music, it was like a 500 ft. electricity shooting lizard monster stomped out his career. Internal Affairs is now out of print as a result, so be proud if you bought it (it's worth finding a used copy btw, it's a super solid album). Since then, Monch has been featured on some collaborations like "Oh No" with Mos Def and Nate Dogg and "My Life" by Styles P. But the fact is, it's been EIGHT YEARS since Pharoahe Monch last dropped an album. Needless to say, there's been a lot of anticipation for this release.

So why, WHY WHY WHY, WHYYYYYYYYY would you not advertise the second coming of a rapper this fucking good? By the time this album dropped most people I knew, including a lot of heads or fans or whatever you wanna call people who like to listen to and talk about good music, had no idea that it was being released. I saw no features on iTunes, no posters in stores, no listings on new release racks. The week it came out, I went to six different stores to buy it. None of them were carrying it. People had no clue what it was. I asked three of them to order it for me, and despite the fact that I was told the order had been placed and that it should arrive in a week, a month later those three places still don't carry it. Even with True Magic's ridiculously strange release situation last year, I was still able to find the actual album with relative ease (despite the fact that no one was aware it had come out). Artists like Mos and Pharoahe already have enough trouble getting mainstream attention, who is screwing them like this?

Desire's lack of attention is particularly upsetting because it is every bit as solid as Internal Affairs and certainly better than 95% of the garbage out there. While certainly not groundbreaking, Desire has an incredibly refreshing sound. Here's the breakdown:

Lyricism/Content: 8
Monch's lyrics show genuine insight and thought, though they always seem to stop just short of profundity. There are few if any moments in this album where the listener may be lost, wondering what the track is actually about; instead, Pharoahe's words have a rare clarity and focus. His use of metaphor and imagery is effective and consistent, but the point-of-view style in "The Gun Draws" falls quite short of its lyrical predecessor by Nas "I Gave You Power" or the vivid personification in "Me and My Girlfriend" by 2Pac. Still, Monch proves himself an immensely powerful story-rapper in his narrative piece "Trilogy". There may not be any lines on this album that will make your jaw drop, but you'll be nodding in agreement as you bob your head the whole way through.

Flow: 9
Pharoahe Monch's flow is plain fucking ridiculous. He seamlessly moves in between singing and rapping, sometimes blending the two to such a degree that you're not sure which is happening. Monch manages to completely own an original style, yet ventures to channel other emcees on tracks like "Beyond the Thunderdome" where he becomes possessed by Chuck D. In fact, every time Monch raps it's like he is the doorway for some powerful spirit he has summoned up from another world. Don't be mistaken though, Monch's style varies with almost every track, check the difference between "Desire," "Let's Go" and "What It Is" to see just how much he can change up his flow. The only thing wrong with his flow is that there is so much strength behind it that you tend to feel a little worn out by him eventually; it'd be nice if he could relax a bit more. But then again, he wouldn't be Pharoahe if he did. By far Monch's strongest aspect.

Production: 8
Pharoahe took a step back from production and let a wide range of producers work on the album, so it's impressive that the tracks are so consistently good. The sound and feel of each track matches Pharoahe's flow and content nicely (or perhaps it's the other way around...) so that the entire album develops a really nice unity of sound. The name of the game on this album seems to be "get hyped" whether referring to Alchemist's instrumental for the title track (which btw, is amazing) or Black Milk's instrumental for "Let's Go." Even the most serious or sensual songs have a very strong, driving rhythm. Production highlights are the title track "Desire" by Alchemist and "Push" produced by Monch himself. Production low-points are Denaun Porter's "Body Baby" and "When the Gun Draws" which both feature derivative, boring production, and also Lee Stone's "Hold On" which comes off too sentimental and cheesy for a track which is lyrically much stronger. Every other track on the album features completely crisp, solid production that won't disappoint in the slightest.

Experimentation: 8
Monch plays with his flow on every track. Songs like "What It Is" and "Welcome to the Terror Dome" are highly conceptual in nature. The three act drama "Trilogy" is produced and performed with intensity and maturity. Monch remains unafraid to change styles, suddenly break into song, or allow a beat to ride out for a minute and a half with no lyrics between verses. There's not exactly anything NEW on this album, but Monch is nothing if not unusual.

Overall Album: 8
While this is definitely the best thing I've heard drop so far this year, it's just not quite a 9 for me. The incredible wackness that is "Body Baby" coupled with some derivative songs like "So Good," which takes it's cue from neo-soul-aimed-at-seducing-women inspired tracks like "Mind Sex" by Dead Prez and "Star 69" by Common (who's flow Monch straight up bites on this track as well) really hurt the album. In addition, it's too short for what it is. The album feels like about two more tracks are needed to really close it off as strongly as it opens. While "Trilogy" is a great song, it's not an appropriate closer. More than anything, while consistently very good, the lack of anything that genuinely wows on the album makes it a bit unmemorable, and not a great contender to be a classic. That said, the album is really really good and anyone who likes hip-hop and can appreciate good emceeing and production should pick this up. I just hope you can find it =)

I leave you with Pharoahe being awesome at a live performance, as he always is:

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