Pharoahe Monch declares “W.A.R.” – Listening party & album review

I’ve been to my fair share of listening parties, but nothing as interactive as yesterday’s Pharoahe Monch event for his new album slated to drop this month, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)

Sitting in NYU‘s Cantor Film Center amongst a slew of Hip-Hop’s apparent neo taste – makers, the revolutionary sounds from the acclaimed lyricist’s third solo album thumped with enough force to fill out the auditorium space and keep heads nodding throughout.

The album, being released through the legendary underground indie label, Duck Down, is Monch’s third (due to his claims of being “a slow writer”) and most focused effort. Showcasing the full range of skills that he’s displayed here and there on his previous albums, he goes into different pockets and zones while maintaining a consistent tone that falls in line with his overall message of bucking the system…Whatever you interpret that system to be through the loosely conceptual trip that he takes you on as you listen to W.A.R.

With Pharoahe and his manager taking turns on stage explaining the recording and thought process behind each song and the project as a whole,  we get a peek into the mind of the artist following a viewing of an overly dramatic commercial spot for the album. I look behind me, and find that I’m sitting in front of Duck Down records head Dru Ha, and I FINALLY get to see Jean Grae in person (worth it!). I look to the side, and see a bunch of familiar faces. Those of my peers. I look in front, and see the man of the hour himself. He looks a little nervous, like the few other times I’ve seen him, but at the same time he looks confident…Like he’ll die for the words he put on every track of this album. As he should be.

The commercial was actually the intro for the actual album, featuring a voice-over from Idris Elba. It leads us to the introductory song, “Calculated Amalgamation” that is equally dramatic and futuristic sounding. It’s clamorous and dark, reminiscent of Monch’s work as one half of Organized Konfusion back in the 90’s. But what makes this project so crispy and refreshing is the inclusion of live instrumentation, mainly at the endings of each track. Instrumentalists from groups such as Soulive and the legendary In Living Colour join in to accomplish that. This aides in tying together the songs and keeping a cohesive feel despite the varying musical influences and sounds. The fluctuation is also balanced out by the sequencing that establishes moods juxtaposed in ways that help the linear movement. The early part of the album is boisterous and aggressive. It smooths out in the middle, allowing subtler themes of revolution to take the lead before growing loud and harder once again towards the end.

By the time we reach the incendiary first single “Clap”, it becomes understood why it needed to be accompanied by a video which doubles as a mini-movie starring who most of you may know as “Chris”, the emotionless hitman for “Marlo” of The Wire fame. The message is striking, still creative, but this is the beginning of the midpoint of the album where the boom meets an air of soulfulness.

Pharoahe is at his wordsmith best, marrying punchlines with political pointing and poignant sentiments about social norms and ills. Highlights include “The Hitman”, where he metaphorically takes on the industry Status Quo, “Black Hand Side” feat. Styles P and Phonte, and the electric revival of  “Let My People Go”.

There were plenty of messages thru the course of the night. The most important; Support true artistry and spread the word. Most importantly..Don’t bootleg his shit!! Hence no clips of the videos or songs in this post. But the album officially drops on March 22nd and the mini-movie will be included with every purchase. If you are a pharoahe fan or even if you aren’t and this post has piqued your interest in some way, I say it’s going to be one of the most memorable releases of the year! This is what Hip-Hop is about. As someone who’s always been a passive Pharoahe listener, I can say that I’ve been put on to the movement.

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