Album Review: Pharoahe Monch – Desire

I’ll admit up front that I’m not big into hip hop.  There are very few artists in the genre that are able to grab and hold my attention.  Atmosphere, Lyrics Born, and a few crossover and foreign acts like Why?, Dizzee Rascal, The Streets, and Junior Senior, for example.  Every now and then, though, an artist comes up that really pleases my ear, and Pharoahe Monch is no exception.  His last album, Desire, came out in June of 2007, and I have no idea why I am only just now getting around to writing about it except that the title song of the album popped up on my iPod today when I had it on shuffle and reminded me of how good he is.

Hailing from New York, Pharoahe Monch is a gifted lyricist with an incredibly clean flow.  He has been involved with some hip hop heavyweights, such as Mobb Deep, Nate Dogg, J Dilla, and Diddy, and he co-founded Organized Konfusion with Prince Po.  His first solo record, 1999’s gritty Internal Affairs, spawned the controversial hit “Simon Says,” a tune that was supposed to launch Monch into the mainstream.  However, his success was sidelined when the record was pulled from shelves for the use of an unauthorized Godzilla sample. 

Eight long years later, Pharoahe Monch re-emerged with the release of Desire and a new, more soulful sound.  The album deals with several topics, such as love, sex, war, politics, all addressed with Pharoahe’s heated and complex delivery.  It’s a hell of a record, and Monch does well to sidestep many of the hackneyed and stagnant hip hop styles that plague the genre.  Tracks such as “So Good” and the title song showcase a more tuneful and soul-drenched  backdrop for Monch’s lyrical twisting.  On the other side, tracks like “What It Is” burn with an abstract heat as the Pharoahe drops freestyle bombs over sparse beats.  Monch gets political on bonus track “Agent Orange” and “Book of Judges.”  All the while he holds the songs together with his wicked delivery, spewing metaphorical tangents and free associations that boggle the mind.

This is an excellent record, and one that gives me hope for the future of hip hop.  Check it out.

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