Pharoahe Monch - Desire

Posted July 2, 2007

U luv hiphop? Nu 50 track iz hot, even if he lip sink, LOL. A few years ago that would have...

Desire Album Review

U luv hiphop? Nu 50 track iz hot, even if he lip sink, LOL. A few years ago that would have been gibberish, now everyone under 40 knows what I’m talking about. What’s text messaging have to do with hip-hop? Hip-hop’s a living culture, and like every living thing it interacts with its environment. For the record I’m not above textin' till my fingers hurt, but in today’s pre-packaged world everything is designed to be easy to consume, we’re even cramming our thoughts into small screens that require no thought to read. Is it any wonder hip-hop’s done the same?

Damn that intro was deep; it must be because I’ve been listening to Pharoahe Monch’s new album Desire. Pharoahe’s widely regarded as one of the best MCs in the game, yet it’s been eight years since his last album. Why the delay? He explains on the track Free: “the label’s the plantation/now switch that advance for your emancipation.” Oh it’s like that? Yeah it’s like that.

For everyone thinking Desire’s just a political backpacker record, think again. Pharoahe’s flow has been described as multi-syllabic and complex, and it is, but it’s also raw and uncut. This is the man that broke on the scene with the head-stomping classic Simon Says. Pharoahe’s no egghead rapper; he’s more in the tradition of Nas, an MC who can speak on politics with a tight flow. Pharoahe’s definitely intensely intelligent, but it’s a sign of how little we’ve come to expect from rappers that his vocab’s considered so extraordinary.

The title track Desire is a perfect example of Pharoahe’s ability to craft head-nodding tracks with an analytical edge. The Alchemist produced song is a soul influenced joint that rides a clapping beat and a strong melody with a laid-back heat reminiscent of New York in the summer. Vocally Pharoahe covers it all, from hip-hop’s lack of soul to making you, “feel the clips(e) like Pharell.” In short Desire’s just the song to remind us that hip-hop is first and foremost about loving hip-hop. The second single Push keeps the revolutionary party rolling with a deep horn section provided by legendary funk band Tower of Power, and soulful vocals by Showtyme and Mela Machinko (who appear throughout the album). Pharoahe also produced the track, along with three others on Desire. In all the talk of his lyrical ability, people overlook that Pharoahe’s a talented (though not outstanding) producer with a unique musical vision.

Dope political raps are rare. People rightfully tune out when they feel like they’re being talked at and told what to do, a lesson a lot of so-called underground MCs need to learn. With that in mind Pharoahe could have done a track telling kids to stay away from guns, but instead he comes with the creatively powerful When The Gun Draws. In the opening verse he adopts the persona of the bullet: “Good evening, my name’s Mr. Bullet/I respond to the index when you pull it.” By the end of the track he’s touched everything from the Biggie and Tupac murders to the J.F.K. assassination. That’s more than some rappers do in an entire album.

Unfortunately Desire ends on a soft note when Pharoahe attempts to go into slower and more melodic territory. Hold On features the beautifully eccentric Erykah Badu and is an inspirational track to let young black girls know they’re valuable. The intention is great, but it’s musically under whelming. For all his fire spitting Pharoahe hasn’t mastered putting some deep emotion into his vocals. The next track So Good, a sexually charged slow jam, has the same problem. While he deserves some props for going against expectations, he just doesn’t have the sex appeal factor. Either you have it or you don’t; Pharoahe doesn’t (but maybe in another eight years.)

Hip-hop’s not an all or nothing game. There’s nothing fake about knocking some conscious, lyrically driven hip-hop during the day then partying like a rock star at night. So go to your local record store and cop Desire, but listen to some radio club-bangers during the drive. Now that’s real hip-hop.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted July 2, 2007
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