Pharaohe Monch Interview

Pharoahe Monch is a walking hip – hop institution. He got his start in the 80s with close friend Prince Poetry, and together they eventually created the group Organizied Konfusion. They went on to drop some albums that catapulted them into the New York hip – hop scene. Now a few years later, Pharaohe is solo and he’s on the warpath. Our friend in the east, Jonathan Baker, hooked up an interview with Pharaohe Monch at his recording studio in New York and here’s what went down:

I caught Pharoahe Monch during a lunch break at Mirror Image studios in midtown Manhattan. He was in the process of tweaking “Godsend,” one of the last tracks on his blistering fall – release album Internal Affairs. As we sat down in the engineering room, his body seemed to sink heavily into the end of the black velvet sofa across form me. Draped in a green sweatshirt and loose black carpenter shorts, Pharaohe looked like a man who’d swapped his fair share of sleep for deadlines and artistic excellence. I wondered how many millions of clicks and whirs were exploding in his brain as he waited patiently for me to begin and if he were freestyling responses in anticipation of my questions or if he were already far beyond that.

Internal Affairs is a solo project built on the experience Pharaohe gained with Prince Poetry as the duo Organized Konfusion. They dropped three albums in the 80s and the 90s and became New York legends. Sadly, the genius in their music was eventually overshadowed by promotional, distributional, and contractual problems and the two drifted apart. A sense of relief passed over Pharaohe’s face when he talked about recording music for Rawkus Entertainment: “The label is dope because they have their ear to the street and a very personal relationship with their artists. If you need them, they are there. It’s a very close – knit feeling.”

A self – acknowledged workaholic when it comes to the studio, Pharaohe’s excitement about spending hours in the sound booth is linked, surprisingly, to the industry executives who surround him. He places unusual trust in the label and the judgement of people like co – producer Lee Stone and manager Rene John – Sandy. “I’m my harshest critic,” he reasoned, “and they’re perfectionists just like me.” He freely revealed that he learned a lot laying down vocals on the single, “The Next Shit,” with Busta Rhymes. They finished it in one day.

Although Pharaohe is the hottest solo underground rapper in New York, he lacks the street swagger that so many rap stars try to sell. The real fury lurks in his music and stems from the introverted personality he developed as an asthmatic kid growing up in Jamaica, Queens. He used to create his own games, watch sports on television he was often unable to play, and spent hours listening to Eugene McDaniels, Jimi Hendrix, The Police, and John Coltrane. We discussed the mental dichotomy of Troy Jamerson versus Pharaohe Monch. He explained, “Pharaohe can let it out. It’s an outburst – physical and chemical release of hormones allowing people to judge. It’s therapy.” To him, the simple meaning of life is that we are born into existence and then go elsewhere. So, as he lives, he sets himself up for the afterlife by honoring his spiritual side.

Pharaohe’s lyrics run from creamy smooth to straight – up inflamed. At times he can be emotional and unprintably filthy, then switch into fifth – gear lunacy in ejected spirals of repressed thoughts. On “Behind Closed Doors” he schools: “How I made it, you salivated over my calibrated – raps that validated my ghetto credibility/ Still I be packing agility unseen, for really my killing abilities unclean facilities/ For more than military tactics I’m seen extreme confidentiale/ My exterior serene with the potentiale of a killing machine.”

I asked him about his creative process and he broke it down for me: “This album is 60 – percent freestyle, notations, and vomiting stuff out andd 40 – percent written.” His eyes glazed as he went on to describe the silver ’98 BMW 528i he recently bought, and dreamily depicted the exhiliration of driving and rhyming and letting motion and music “unravel padlocks” for him. That Pharaohe managed to load so many check – your – melon hits into this album while scores of artists scramble to string together a few assembly line commercial tracks is commendable. Maybe that’s why hip – hop blue chips like Common, Canibus, Black Thought, and M.O.P. chose to spit lyrics with him on the disc.

Minutes before he left to finish “Godsend,” I asked Pharaohe about his future as a rap artist. He considered my question and said, “That Led Zeppelin shit is still hittin’ fifteen to twenty years later. I want my rhyme flows to last forever, too.” Internal Affairs hits CD racks October 19. Treat yourself and feed your soul.

– Jonathan Baker