28 March, 2011@11:21 pm
The curse of the classic album. Every artist in the world wants to release an LP that shifts the paradigm of music as a whole, and remains timeless to listeners decades later. It’s arguable whether or not Pharoahe Monch did this on Organized Konfusion’s Stress: The Extinction Agenda in 1994, or later with his debut solo LP, Internal Affairs (rated @@@@@ here in 1999). Whether or not the hip-hop collective consciousness agrees about these two records being classics, both were incredibly good LP’s, a point which nobody can contest. So the curse of the classic album is ultimately having to live up to that standard with each consecutive release.
W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) is a strong LP, but does not live up to the standard set by Monch’s previous works. A concept LP, the album cover trades Desire‘s mummy-wrapped Monch for a gas-masked one, setting it in a post-apocalyptic landscape, which just so happens to look a lot like the hood right now. Monch uses the LP as a platform to spread his brand of gospel, touching upon a multitude of topics in the streets and the industry, much like his previous works. “Clap (One Day)” is a scathing dis towards the po-lice, over M-Phazes’ 9th Wonder-esque chops, while “The Hitman” goes after the record industry with Pharoahe’s brilliant penmanship. “If you are not performing fellatio for radio-rotation / what’s the ratio for radio play at your station / if you’re not paying to play, the record is dead / puts a whole new spin on radio-head.”
Lines like that last one evoke memories of a young Pharoahe Monch, combining rhymes-within-rhymes, punchlines, a conscious message, and clever wordplay. That kind of thing is all over the album, but rarely do we get the type of verses that find Monch channeling other-worldly entities like he did on “Stress” or “Bring It On (Remix)”. The production is solid, but toned down in places. For instance, “Shine”, produced by Diamond D is of the classic D.I.T.C. variety, but Monch’s verses seem more like stream-of-consciousness rather than that of the Neo-Geo-32-bit-computer-chip-when-he-spits variety. The same can be said for the opening track “Calculated Amalgamation” or the somber, Exile produced “Evolve”. The message is there, the fire-and-brimstone Pharoahe delivery is not.
Still, when the beats are a bit more abrasive, the claws come out. The title track “W.A.R.” (feat. Immortal Technique) and the lyrical power-shake “Assassins” (feat. Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9) find him in his element. The album closer “Still Standing” sounds inspired, acting as the record’s most personal track, speaking on events that have effected his life thus far.
While yes, we are being critical, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) is still a solid LP and is recommended listening. As a fan of Monch since “Fudge Pudge”, this critic has a twenty-year catalog to put this album up against, so the bar is set pretty high. Definitely an improvement over Desire, Monch’s latest might not be his best, but shouldn’t have a problem pleasing fans old and new. W.A.R.‘s on.
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