By David Ma
Pharoahe Monch ’s uncanny abilities continually push his longtime success. His talent for bending words like play-doh in precise staccato and tempered, complex deliveries with actual content is why cats like Eminem (on “Rap God”) view him as the venerable one, the emcee whose work rappers study. If his outings with Organized Konfusion were mainly centered on verbal gymnastics, his solo joints were in a sense more toned down, more conceptual and less defined by wild cadences. And while rapid annunciation was certainly flexed on solo projects like ( Internal Affairs , Desire , and W.A.R. ) his recent songs on P.T.S.D. are drawn from his own accounts of psychological unrest, and are, according to him, the most pronounced and artful he’s ever been:
“I’ve always tried to kick complex styles on verses. It was always rhyme schemes then. I was thinking of that while doing ‘Bring It On’ recently at a show. But it also made me think those verses and those songs will always be there and now I have a bigger catalogue so I can move forward. I have severe asthma and was on a bunch of drugs that just made me think differently—and not in a positive way. Now, I’m on my writing shit. I know all artists say that, but I seriously think it’s true with the new one.”
P.T.S.D. is Monch’s fourth solo album, and for an artist who emerged before the ’90s began, he remains effortlessly sharp, still inducing quizzical looks while bringing his oeuvre well into this decade. A peek into the concepts and oration of others that have inspired Monch’s own, here are 5 records that profoundly moved one of the greatest to ever do it.
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1. Led Zeppelin — II (Atlantic, 1969)
Pharoahe Monch: As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world. Around junior high is when I came across this album. In particular, the track “Ramble On” spoke to me, especially the lyrics about “I’m goin’ round the world…” and I’m “On my way…” The song starts with this pitter-patter of drums, then Robert Plant rides the beat and I basically felt I was going to be that person — a traveling man. It was something that stuck to my ribs and something that remains my favorite to this day. Not just his lyrics and the amazing beat but just the tone of his singing expresses the sentiment of the song too. I’ve always tried to do that when rapping, kinda like KRS would do with the tone of his voice back in the day.
2. Eugene McDaniels — Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (Atlantic, 1971)
Pharoahe Monch: “Supermarket Blues” is the cut. Eugene was a writer and vocalist and even became a reverend. He has a really interesting story and some of his writing is very political. As a rapper, you always want to stay on the forefront and it’s humbling to hear another artist achieve what you’re going for — except they did it like 25 years before you [ laughs ]. On the song especially, he talks about simply getting up in the morning and going to the supermarket and getting groceries. He picks up a can of peas and a lady accuses him of stealing and the police come in and beat him down. He’s now bleeding all over the place because all he wanted was a lousy can of peas. The writing on this album and his entire vocal performance is such an inspiration.
3. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam, 1990)
Pharoahe Monch: I was already a rock fan but Chuck and the Bomb Squad conveyed so much emotion with sound and noise it felt almost like rock to me. Their music was just so finicky. I always tell Chuck that lyrically on that record, he makes you rewind over and over again. It was amazing to hear, ‘Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me, straight up racist, simple and plain!’ and Flava‘s like, “Fuck him and John Wayne!’ That’s hardcore to me. There are definitions of what hardcore rap is and to me, this is the hardest. They put themselves out there on purpose for a greater social and political statement. This is what radical music is. It was one of the first times I caught goose bumps from hip-hop.
4. David Axelrod – Songs of Experience (Capitol, 1969)
Pharoahe Monch: Axelrod creates such dark pictures with his songs. My cut on here is “Divine Image.” By the title alone, you’d think it was a beautiful and uplifting track. But you find that it’s so hard and so dark [ laughs ]. That’s the thing I like about Axelrod; he conveys emotion and will take it there. I’ve always loved creepy, dark music. I’ve always really liked sad tones too. Just the overall vibes music can create has always been something I’ve really felt. Axelrod especially does that on “Divine Image” and this album just really gripped me. There are so many moods on it.
5. Kool G Rap – Road To The Riches (Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros, 1989)
Pharoahe Monch: Just the way Kool G Rap delivered was insane. His multiple layers of rhythms and lyrics, I thought, let you hear the thought processes in his brain. And he was very innovative as an emcee. Just the way he puts things together struck me. I could stop right there but then you have songs like “Men At Work,” which was absolutely mind-blowing. I must’ve been in high school when I first heard this album. Man, I loved all that Juice Crew stuff. But the way G Rap flexed the syllables in all his songs were absolutely fucking perfect.