Pharoahe Monch may never get the respect he deserves. While he’s been crowned a king of the underground for his one-of-a-kind flow, most casual fans will only remember him for urging, “ladies, rub on your titties.” With radio fare taking its ear away from Pharoahe over the years, the New Yorker’s kept busy by releasing his long-awaited sophomore album, Desire, in 2007 and constantly touring the globe. Yet, no matter how much time Pharoahe takes away from the limelight, underground heads are at his beck and call when he returns to the mic. Therefore, it’s only suitable that W.A.R. picks up with Pharoahe Monch standing as the Moses of the rap game, chanting “Let My People Go” while bridging the gap between mainstream, underground, and beyond.
Pharoahe properly introduces us to the experimental nature of W.A.R. on “Calculated Amalgamation.” With his flow intact, Pharoahe boldly asserts, “raise the bar so high, the bar’s afraid to look down” on the single-verse track. Headphones cannot do this beat justice, as the triumphant and unpredictable swing of the drums is meant to be heard over a loudspeaker. Despite a chiller instrumental, Pharoahe does not slouch on “Evolve” as every line dropped over the subtle choir-laden production is striking as the punch of a prize fighter. Immortal Technique’s semi-cliché hook about being a renegade feels out of place when it first echoes over the title-track, but it proves to be strategically placed when it kicks in after the first verse. Pharoahe paints a vividly ominous picture with lyrics, “cloned chickens walking around without heads/the food is contaminated the water has lead in it.“ With his second verse, the Organized Konfusion emcee outdoes himself with an epic verse; “While the American brain remains dead and dormant/my stimuli’s supplied by my endorphins/the mind’s eye greater than pi and broadband/I break on through to the other side without doormen/it’s not the doors, man/I am equipped with a better memory chip than dolphins/with more keys to open more doors than four foremen to executive rooms where they’re walking on all fours, man.”
Profound and street-wise, Pharoahe Monch molds a great record out of M-Phazes’ boom-bap centric production on “Clap (One Day).” The song incorporates multiple musical elements such as terrific scratches by DJ Boogie Blind and an accapella rhyme couplet from Monch over a myriad of handclaps. “Black Hand Side” drops the tempo for Styles P to move in and provide a memorable verse for an updated version of “The Life.” “Let My People Go” sounds inspired by artists the likes of Brother Ali, as Monch attempts to expose the juxtaposition of greedy preachers. “Shine” is creditable for Pharoah’s abstract flow, but is ultimately filler compared to the magnitude of surrounding tracks on We Are Renegades.
Ultimately, the most stellar production on W.A.R. comes at the hands of Australian producer M-Phazes, who masterfully flips samples on “Clap,” “The Hitman,”"Assassins,” and the musically apt “Still Standing.” In fact, even the careful efforts of renowned instrumentalists Exile, Marco Polo, and Diamond D lack the punch of Phazes’ compositions. All three M-Phazes produced tracks are standouts, although “Evolve” and “Black Hand Side” are worthy picks that demonstrate Monch has yet to fall from his position as one of New York’s most exemplary rappers. In fact, rappers that can’t flow should put “Haile Salassie Karate” on repeat and study it. Pharoah proves why he’s one of the most innovative mic blessers by painting 360 deals as being akin to triple sixes on “The Hitman.” Atop a bass line resembling Jadakiss’ “Show Discipline,” Monch overlaps with the witty pun, “I make headlines like corduroy pillows.” He backs up his claim of being “a mixture of Marcus Garvey, Miles Davis and Bob Marley” on “Assassins.” With a tongue-twisting cadence, Monch spits, “never skateboard slang like ‘gnarly’/more like weed in my whip when I go to get top like Charles Barkley” and steals the spotlight from guests Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9″, who are both noteworthy in their own right.
We waited eight years for Pharoahe Monche’s sophomore follow-up, Desire, to drop in 2007. Yet for W.A.R., Pharoahe cut the waiting-time in half. Arguably, it’s even more calculated than its predecessor, as there’s a continuous theme of rebellion throughout the album’s thirteen tracks. The revered New York emcee effortlessly spits hot battery acid on all thirteen tracks, making sure the album’s setbacks never come at the hands of his illustrious wordplay. Monch is one of those emcees that doesn’t need mind-altering production to remain captivating. However, certain inconsistencies in the instrumental department take away from the replay value of select cuts. Nevertheless, the combination of rewind-inducing bars, fascinating concepts, and unique structuring retains Pharoahe Monch’s status as a renegade in a world of watered-down music.