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By Toshi Kondo

Boston, MA – Unfortunately the city of Boston is traditionally known for having some very antediluvian perspectives on race relations and all things associated with minorities.  Having an understanding of this would make one realize how monumental the hosting of the first annual Hiphop Peace & Unity Festival in this great city was;  a cosponsored event by Boston’s own fledgling Grit Record/Inebriated Rhythm imprint and the Mayor’s office that not only brought together the city’s Hiphop starved masses, but did so without one incidence of violence.

With a lineup for the concert that included everyone from legends like KRS-One to underground favorites like Pharoahe Monch, the City Hall Plaza buzzed as the 25K plus in attendance unified in their love of Hiphop and all things Bostonian (more Paul Pierce and Nomar jerseys then you could shake a stick at).  Other acts like Little Brother and DJ Honda came out to support the artists and share in the festivities.

Although, the impatient crowd nodded along approvingly with some of Grit’s fledgling talent, including Shuman (who quickly gave all out of towners a vocal tour of the city with his Boston anthem “Landmark”).  However, you could feel the excitement surge through the crowd as local on-air personalities started announcing the arrival of some of the bigger name artists (Krs-One, Big Daddy Kane, PMD, Skillz, and of course Beantown’s own ED. O.G. & Krumbsnatcha.

With his brown full-length jumper now weighed down with sweat and loosely tied around his waist, the residuals from rocking the crowd into mass hysteria, I huddled with Pharoahe Monch as he decompressed in the greenroom and between the pounds he exchanged with some of the day’s fellow performers and backstage onlookers (Little Brother & DJ Honda) to discuss life, politics, the future direction of Hiphop, the insightful lecture Krs-One lead on the eve of the festival and why his forthcoming LP has been so laboriously delayed.

HHS: It’s been almost four years since your last album.  What kind of things have you been doing?

Pharoahe: Basically for like the first two, I was uh, like the first one I took a little hiatus.  It got crazy after “Simon Says” and I was on the road and I just took a break after that and about a year after that I started working on the album.  Priority dropped their distribution with Rawkus.  That held the whole project up and um…

HHS: I thought I saw that it’s through Geffen now?

Pharoahe: Right, after Priority they went to MCA, then MCA folded and now they’re with Geffen.

HHS: Oh, so it’s not even with MCA anymore?

Pharoahe: Right.

HHS: So did Common get picked up then?

Pharoahe: Pretty much, fortunately and it’s good for hip-hop, Geffen is dropping a lot of the R&B and they’re keeping straight hip-hop and it’s going to be like Hip-Hop/Rock.

HHS: Oh yeah?  And that’s the direction it’s going in?

Pharoahe: Yeah.

HHS: Okay.  That’s hot.  Okay, this is kind of a long one.   You seem to show a certain amount of disdain for beats on tracks such as “Rape” and “Thirteen”.  Is this just your way of showing that you stand on your own as a lyricist in contrast to a lot of MCs who seem to need dope beats as a crutch to compensate for lack of lyrical skill?

Pharoahe: Are you saying the “Rape” beat wasn’t dope [laughter]?

HHS: No, no what I’m saying is that you’re showing that you don’t need the beat to make you dope where a lot of MCs seem like they need the beat to be dope in order to sound dope.

Pharoahe: On the real that’s a good question because I have a lot of things written that I wait to find the proper music for because I think lyrically the stuff might overpower the music and it’s a thing of mine where when I do hear good music or challenging music or upper echelon tracks, it is a challenge for me not to be defeated and I guess it’s something that hurts me.  I learned how to work within the frame of music which is important too and it takes a skill as well, but just coming from a realm of MCs and admiring a lot of top MCs it’s like when I hear something that I’m attracted to, it’s like I have to beat the beat.

HHS: Do you feel like earlier in your career some of the beats sometimes overpowered your lyrics?  Because right now you seem like you really kill it when you come on the track, like the beat is not even there.  So do you feel like earlier it was something that overpowered you?

Pharoahe: I think it was more prevalent earlier then it is now actually.

HHS: What is your perspective on the lack of nuclear weapons turning up in Iraq?

Pharoahe: It’s a false war.  And people are more afraid of sex in this country than war.  We have a president who have us fighting a false war but if he gets busted having sex with someone that’ll be the end of his career.

HHS: Yeah, you heard about what happened in Britain right?  How the guy that was possibly going to testify against Tony Blair, they think he might have got killed.  But it was suicide supposedly.  That’s the “official” story.

Pharoahe: That’s crazy.

HHS: You’ve always been an extremely creative lyricist.  What are some of the elements that you use as stimulus?  Books?  Art?  Current events?

Pharoahe: Right now, it’s just life, man.  I went to a speaking engagement yesterday and I was really enlightened and I know that I’m going to create something from that.  Like I tried to record…

HHS:  Where was the speaking engagement?

Pharoahe: It was at the Strand Theater (Boston) and Kris (KRS-One) spoke and then we had a panel and even some of the politicians enlightened me to a lot of things.

HHS: What kind of things?

Pharoahe: One of the politicians said that just as you guys are asking us not to view commercial pop hip-hop in the same vain as underground hip-hop, conscious hip-hop or whatever stereotypes, he was like all politicians are not the same.  Some politicians are in office trying to fight the same fight that we’re fighting.

HHS: It’s hard to see though.

Pharoahe: It’s very hard to see.

HHS: Because you’re always reading about the crazy stuff politicians are doing…

Pharoahe: And people just spit at him like Rrrrghhh [laughter].

HHS: It’s a perspective I’ve never thought about.

Pharoahe: Yeah, exactly.  It just made me think and maybe I wouldn’t speak on it in the realms of politics but just in the realms of how people are quick to judge.

HHS: Right, because I’m sure a lot of politicians are frustrated everyone thinks they are crooked just like artists are frustrated that everyone thinks hip-hop is just violence when it’s not.

Pharoahe: Exactly, but if you’re a part of a regime in a government that is designed to stifle the fact that people need to free their minds, I’m not even going to go into a long answer.  Part of a government that’s engraved within the matrix and can’t be a part of something good.

HHS: Right.  Okay, when you see everyone from major label artists such as Joe Budden to underground favorites like Gang Starr suffering low sales, does that worry you?  Like just the state of the industry right now.

Pharoahe: Nah, I’m not concerned with sales.

HHS: Okay.  But you have to live.  I mean this is what puts food on the table.

Pharoahe: I haven’t had a record out since ’99. I’ve been touring.  I just did eight shows with Mos and Kweli on the West Coast.  We got a tour coming up.  I got a tour with Fishbone and M.O.P and artists make more money performing than they do with their record sales.  I’m more concerned with, the next record I put out, I need people to feel it.  That’s why it’s taking a minute because my record label (Rawkus) is trying to force me to make some pop bullshit.  That’s not going to happen.

HHS: Aright.  Being an established artist that’s seen hip-hop become a worldwide phenomenon, what direction do you see the music going next, in terms of the vibe?

Pharoahe: Hip-hop is going to go where the audience allows it to go.  Not to sound corny and cliché, but if they allow it to go in a certain direction and they’re fooled, then it’ll go in that direction.  My thing is a fight for quality in terms of, we need to get on the airwaves, conscious, ignorant, hardcore, gangsta, just a variety of music instead of it always going one-sided.

HHS: Okay.  What can your fans expect on the new album in terms of production, guest features, and concepts?

Pharoahe: It’s a very conceptual album.

HHS: Very conceptual?  Like Prince of Thieves conceptual?

Pharoahe: No.  Straightforward.  Not a lot of skits but the songs are provocative.  They ask you to use your mind a little bit.

HHS:  Since fans haven’t heard a new album from you in about three years, what changes can they expect from you as an artist on the new album?

Pharoahe: It’s just a natural growth, man.  I mean in that time period, love lost, love gained.  Just the wisdom that you gained from getting older and experiencing new things.  You put your life on the record and I’m that much more wiser than I was before.  My idea is to help somebody who’s 18 get that lesson before reaching my age and have to experience it.  I think that’s the beauty of music and speaking and art in general has power to do that so I mean that’s why I try and create in the form the way that I speak and bring it to people metaphorically.  And one thing that does, like jazz your interpretation of a record the first time you hear it and the 100th time you hear it might be two different things. Your interpretation of “Agent Orange” now might differ five years from now once you hear it as a turn of events and the world changes and you get older, those words might mean something different to you metaphorically.  So it’s important for me to stay in that vain when I’m writing.

HHS:  So when can fans expect the new album?

Pharoahe: Hopefully near the end of this year.

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