Pharoahe Monch, This Means W.A.R.

Pharoahe Monch doesn’t have a huge catalog, but his potency on the mic is immeasurable. As one-half of the ’90s underground duo Organized Konfusion, Monch and his partner Prince Po dropped three notable LPs beginning with their 1991 self-titled debut.

After the group’s last album, 1997’s The Equinox, Monch embarked on a solo mission two years later with the release of Internal Affairs on Rawkus Records. The album, led by its fiery lead single “Simon Says,” cemented Pharoahe as a top-notch lyricist and a force to be reckoned with. His next project Desire was released after a lengthy hiatus in 2007 on SRC/Universal Motown, but after he grew disappointed with the performance of the record, Monch refused to re-up with a major label.

This fall the Queens veteran will instead be dropping his upcoming solo LP, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), independently on his own company, W.A.R. Media, through Duck Down Records. It’s been three years since fans last heard from Monch, but the man is ready to speak so listen up or get the fuck out. It seems that over the past few years the term lyricist has taken on a negative connotation. As someone highly regarded for his lyricism, do you agree?

Pharoahe Monch: It has. We’re facing all of these different mind control issues where the powers that be are trying to shape what the up-and-coming artists think about the music sensibility of hip-hop so that they can have more control over it. But there is no bigger example of lyricists selling than Jay-Z and Eminem. But yet they try to push that, “if you’re a lyricist, then you can’t make viable music in the marketplace.” And that shit is a lie… And when that shit cuts through on the airwaves people are able to tell. Like Sean Price, or like Jay Electronica’s [“Exhibit C”] record cut through. When you hear them you got a whole city like, “What the fuck is this?” Yeah, it’s exciting to see lyric-driven hip-hop break through like that.

Pharoahe Monch: Now this is a beautiful time in music. I was doing it for a while, I remember a time when the major radio stations weren’t playing hip-hop at all and we were on WHBI and Mr. Magic and Supreme Team and listening to these stations for our hip-hop. I can hear the most commercial artists going harder right now at their skill set then they were five years ago because records are not selling and muthafuckas are like, “I need to put a better product out.” I give the credit to the fans that were like, “Yo, this shit has got to change.” Great commercial records and great pop records are great records. When they’re great, they’re great—I love them. When they are bad, then they’re bad and I hate ‘em. It’s the same thing with the underground. Is there any rapper that you hear that makes you feel like, “I gotta step my shit up lyrically?” Who moves you?

Pharoahe Monch: [Laughs]. Aww, man. I don’t know, man. I don’t really find inspiration from that MC-wise. So many other things send me back to the lab. I’m a fan when I go to these shows [however]. I’m a huge hip-hop fan. I really want to go to the front row [when I’m at a show], but I know that I can’t because somebody will be like, “Yo, go on stage.” But that’s where I wanna be. But in that mode, [when] I’m at a Styles P show or I’m at the Sean Price show and I’m laughing at the lines… This muthafucka got so many lines. Like I’m really enjoying it, that what’s makes me happy about myself in this time. I’m glad that there is still good music out there. I really enjoy the Blu shit, the Black Thought shit, Jean Grae’s shit. All that shit, man. I’m backstage like a kid still. What led you from Universal Motown to do a deal with Duck Down Records?

Pharoahe Monch: I started my own label called W.A.R. Media. I had did that as soon as I asked for a release out of my Universal contract. It’s something that I wanted to do because I’m a visual artist as well. I went to art school. I just see things in that way. The way that marketing and advertising was being done in the music industry currently, I just felt like I either had to get a job in the marketing department or I need to get the fuck off the label. That being said, they were interested in picking up my option, but I was feeling like if it was gonna be the same type of marketing thing. Especially in the paradigm that the music industry is in right now, I was like, What are we really doing? So I asked out… I talked to a lot of distribution companies and other companies about doing partnerships. And when it came down to it, there were a lot of people interested… We sat down with Dru Ha [co-founder of Duck Down Records]. These are dudes who have been doing the independent thing for a minute. What can we expect from the new album?

Pharoahe Monch: The growth was in the challenge. The thing about Desire that I really loved was that none of that stuff was safe for me to do. I started feeling like a lot of the music was safe. Even if I’m Pharoahe Monch and I’m lyrical and technical, but it starts to become comfortable to me because that’s what I’m doing on a regular basis. Its like, He’s not even taking chances any more. A lot of the music on that record wasn’t necessarily safe for me to do; I pushed it artistically. This W.A.R. record is the same thing. [With] the message, the audience I’m looking to find and lyrically the shit is insane. How so?

Pharoahe Monch: It’s just a hardcore sensibility, but it’s unapologetically lyrical. It’s high-vocabulary. Where you feel like, Okay, he should stop; it’s fuckin’ 24 more bars. It’s that way this time because the message is that of renegades. I know this isn’t for everybody and I’m not trying to make this for everybody. If this ain’t for you, then this ain’t for you. This shit is so honest. This shit is so honest. This is me for the first time talking about my near-death experiences with asthma and my sickness. It’s war against that, war against the industry, war against the machine, war against authority [and] the war against yourself to grow. —Rob Markman

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  • AZ40

    AWWWWWWW Yeahhhhh!!!

  • gaddic

    Pharoahe Monch is one of the all-time greats

    2. Jay-z
    4.Kool Grap
    5. Pharoahe Monch

    easily the best top 5
    that war sounds like another internal affairs

    • Donknottz

      Black Thought and Redman

      • oskamadison

        Can’t forget about the great Funk Doc Spot.

  • DV8

    “We’re facing all of these different mind control issues where the powers that be are trying to shape what the up-and-coming artists think about the music sensibility of hip-hop so that they can have more control over it.”


    this is why you hear shit on the radio and they call it hiphop and its not.

    Yall better wake the fuck up!!!!

  • avenger xl

    Pharoh monche needs his own stans because he is a perfect example of an incredible personal lyricist that can go introspective,experimental etc… that hasn’t got his due.

  • Sha

    Pharoahe Monch is truly one of the dopest emcees to ever do it. But let’s face it…. He’s a dummy with his business skills. I’m not saying that signing with a major is a good business move. Fuck that. Signing with a major is almost stupid nowadays. But this dude made some seriously dumb moves. Jumping from Universal to DuckDown???? Really???? That’s almost a lateral move. They both don’t know shit about marketing. The only person that is in a true position to benefit from this move is BuckShot & Company. Ask 9th wonder how that deal is going that he has with DuckDown for his label. DuckDown will receive a few papes from the loyal fans that fuck with Pharoahe. But he won’t grow his fan base any. Zero percent. I feel sorry for Pharoahe. If he were only 10 percent of what Jay-Z is he would have been in a position to put other cats into a position of prominence. But this is a seriously dumb move. Real talk.

    • http://xxlmag.xom J-J Coyle

      Pharoahe like Chappelle, got to a point where its not about the money and fame but their art… you cant expect to grow commercially when he steps on the british walkers worn by corporate america every 2nd track… Money will come and go as will life… but let me say all the work of Pharoahe Monch will be timeless for above anything else its honesty… Jay-Z can make his paper and be the Number 1, who’s stan smith’s is he stepping on? Pharoahe is an inspiration to anyone who gives him the time, jay-z just makes you wanna be rich so you can get with solange’s sister..

  • Frank Low

    And Sha, tell me who universal has? They are a joke. Duck Down is the last respected Independent music label that is still putting out REAL hip hop artists. You have no idea what you are talking about!!!

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  • Sha

    @Frank Low… Read what I wrote again. Obviously you read with your emotions and not with your eyes. I said the move was a lateral move. Meaning… It is like moving from one ghetto to another ghetto. Neither Universal nor DuckDown knows how to market. Numbers are numbers. If I didn’t know what I was talking about, why isn’t Pharoahe paid? Why hasn’t 9th wonder had success with Duck Down? Universal and DuckDown aren’t any different. Do the math… Real talk.

  • $yk


    He’s def in MY personal top MC’s.

    Black Thought
    Chuck D
    Big Daddy Kane
    Killa Priest
    Common (don’t 4get he went @ Cube)
    Immortal Technique
    RZA (Gravediggaz was my group)
    Kool G Rap
    Roc Marciano

  • illkid22

    First of all, Pharoahe is a ill emcee regardless where he is. Why is it that people say its a dumb move to move to Duck Down when in all actuality it was a good move due to reaching back to his fan base that he probably lost going to universal. Money is not the issue here. It’s to reach ur fans on a level that started back with the organized konfusion days. Back to the streets. thats what true hip hop fans wanna hear and true hip hop fans purchase duck down records. And anyways duck down gives the freedom of creativity. Ask B-real. Ask KRS. Ask 9th. Masta Ace. Ed OG. Smif N Wessun left and came back. Duck Down was a good move. A stupid move would have been something like G-Unit. Ask Mobb, M.O.P.,etc., etc.

  • Sha

    @illkid22…. I feel you on that comment. That’s a logical point of view. But there’s only one thing….. You don’t move backwards. You move forwards. Those are the laws of time. You can’t turn back the clock, so why try? There are too many factors you can’t control. Most intelligent emcees realize this. Everyone wants Jay-Z to make another Reasonable Doubt. Will it happen? Nope. And Nas? We want another Illmatic. Will it happen? Nope. And Dr. Dre? Everyone wants another N.W.A.. Will it happen? Nope. The smart ones realize that you don’t move back. You innovate and move on.

    And don’t get it twisted. Money is ABSOLUTELY the issue, or else all emcees would do free park shows and work at Mickey D’s. There’s a reason Pharoahe wants to be independent and self-owned. He’s not THAT blind. But it still is a dumb move. Just because a company is independently owned, doesn’t mean it’s being run correctly. 9th doesn’t have his label deal with a major label because they wouldn’t give it to him. Grammys and all.
    I’m a fan of Pharoahe. But it’s still a very dumb move.

    • $yk

      I totally see what you’re saying Sha.

      But Duck Down must have a good way to distribute product and give good percentages to these dudes or I would presume they wouldn’t sign with them in the first place, also taking into consideration that a lot of rappers have had major deals and know how the paperwork and marketing strategies go. And these dudes aren’t knocking down Koch/E1′s doors either.

      Universal would probably want Monch to get a Drake or Weezy collabo for him to release a project anytime soon, or they would shelf him. I’m pretty sure he has full creative control on DD.

      That’s just how I see it.

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  • know thattttt

    glad to see Pharoahe MOnch dropin music. 90′s hip hop has changed. That ill lyracism is still alive. Hope he does a track with Dj premier. Black Milk gave him some nice beats. Black milk was ill 2

  • pedro aka

    commercial hip hop is dead, u dont hav 2 b talented 2 get sign 2 a record label (wocka flocka, soulja boi etc) wocka admitted he’s not lyrical but he still good, it like u cant shoot da ball near a rim and say im not bad at basketball

  • tomtom360

    best labels and respectable indy labels are

    DuCK DoWN



    Stones Throw

    and then the best distributors for the no name indy labels are fatbeats, traffic ent.