Words by C. Paicely
Weak And Ridiculous. Waning As Relevant. Withering Authenticity Realized. Truly amazing is the abundance of phrases we could employ in describing the current state of Hip-Hop, but Pharoahe Monch provides a new acronym for his third studio release. One of anger, ambition and audacity: We Are Renegades.
For Pharoahe, largely ignored by the mainstream since “Simon Says,” this is a return before rendition; an attempt at transporting all takers back to the early 90s before he must relinquish control of our minds back to bubble gum and Pepsi. The theme of W.A.R. is overtly militant but innately reflective, worthy and almost contingent upon a repeat listen.
The album opens with cold breaths from Idris Elba and a framing of the whole project as a message from a loosely defined past, a time capsule. The tracks that follow properly reintroduce Monch as the word-over-word lyricist he fails to fail to be, tearing through the dozens of reasons he beasts with ease. On “Evolve,” the man openly ditches the “top five all time,” proclamations in favor of revealing his uncanny coldness via lines that proclaim “vernacular-original, miraculous spectacular flow.” Such intricate lyricism dominates the rest of the album.
So ol’ Monchhichi can spit. Duh. The production would be the more key concern for most of us anyway, right? Enveloped in a sea of sounds, ranging from guitar riffs to piano runs, the title track, “W.A.R.,” scored by accredited purist Marco Polo, serves as a rewind-worthy monster with echoes of Monch’s past work pumping through angry shots at the established order. Other sounds lack the same symphonic punch, and the beats take a big backseat to the voices. “Assassins,” for example, gets its dopeness only from Monch, Royce Da 5’9″ and Kweli cohort, Jean Grae. The noisy heavy metal-inspired beat is relatively forgettable.
As the key P.O.W., the production straddles the fence between wicked and weak. Fortunately, it tends to tip to the good side, with “The Grand Illusion,” “Calculated Amalgamation,” and ‘”The Hitman” all hitting the mark and keeping up with Monch, mosty with help from grungy guitars. Everything feels nostalgic and will appeal to old-heads who harp on the passionate days of Hip-Hop. Setting in at the crest of the halfway mark, W.A.R.’s definitive track may just very well be “Let My People Go,” a soulful call for change, implementing a heartfelt spin on a Michael Jackson line in the hook. Monch even borrows Juvenile’s “Ha” flow for part of the second verse for added effect. Props to PM for spiritually and oddly making early MJ and early Juvi work on wax.
Pharoahe Monch is one of those rappers who may always suffer from Kweli Syndrome, an unheard great who lacks the open ears to receive proper acclaim. It sounds unfortunate but we secretly love it this way. The bandwagon may come and go, but he belongs to true Hip-Hop heads, and them alone. The rest of the world isn’t ready for W.A.R.