Pharoahe Monch is one of those rappers that “real” heads will always say they admire, but he rarely appears on top ten lists–or even top 20s. And at the same time, many of his albums make many “best of” lists. Even mine. Twice. Across two decades.
Quietly maintaining both integrity and quality, Monch this year has launched a very different kind of project. Th1rt3en is a rock/rap album with a live band. Yeah, rappers have performed with live bands in the past–especially in the ’90s–but when they do, it is usually jazz or live instrumentation imitating typical beat-and-sample based backing tracks. And it’s usually The Roots.
But Monch sought out rock guitarist Marcus Machado, who cuts blazing solos into every single cut. And drummer Daru Jones, a Grammy winner who plays a wide variety of styles, having played country with Dwight Yoakam, rap with Talib and Slum Village, and toured with Jack White. These are two guys who have played music their entire lives–just as Pharoahe has been in the rap game for the past 30+ years.
The results are terrific. Monch is not a singer and doesn’t try to be. He’s more like Gil Scott Heron, rapping hard over Black Sabbath. His two-piece band swell and soften brilliantly on songs like 666 (Three Six Word Stories), one of my favorite cuts because it shows off Monch’s extraordinary and unique style of lyricism.
The songs are smart and political, angry and hilarious, ironic and powerful, weaving together references to satanic sex and The Exorcist with the events of 2020 that brought racial violence to the forefront of American culture at an uprecedented level. Attacking Trump. Doing horrorcore with intelligence (something rare as fuck). There’s even one about The Wizard of Oz.
No, this not a typical hip hop record. The closest it gets is with Fight, featuring Cypress Hill, which, frankly, is one of the less interesting songs here. Approach with an open mind and accessible ears, though, and you will be rewarded.
This is a hip hop album that stretches beyond the genre, twists it, and then winds back into the very heart of it.
And for my second album of the week: Tha Wolf on Wall St by Tha God Fahim and Your Old Droog.
Fahim and Droog are both underground hip hop workhorses who release multiple albums every year, and whose voices are so distinctive that you’ll never mistake them for someone else in a rap line up. They’ve worked together many times before, but this is their first album of true duets. Also on board for a few songs is Mach-Hommy, another frequent Droog collaborator.
After the jazzy intro of “All Bidness,” we get the much brighter title track, which has a ’90s Guru kind of feel. Fahim takes the lead on most of the songs, and the entire thing speeds by quick, with lots of great lyrics. And there’s even a sample of Alan Watts!
Another solid album from Droog, one of my personal favorite rappers of today.