War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely . . . new music from Pharoahe Monch. The complex rhyme spitter released his third solo album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), via Duck Down Records on March 22nd. With an endless ammunition of information, W.A.R. has Pharoahe lyrically exercising with the likes of Styles P, Immortal Technique, Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9.” Being that the Southside Jamaica, Queens-raised MC is easily one of the most socially conscious cats in the game, we asked for his take on an assortment of warfare – including raps biggest battles, the current situation in Libya and the classic Art of War book by Sun Tzu – in addition to breaking down the science behind his own W.A.R. title. — Mark Lelinwalla
XXLMag.com: Your album title is an acronym, but why did you choose to go with W.A.R. as the name?
Pharoahe Monch: The war speaks to what I had to go through to get off my label and what I’m going through with my asthma, trying to determine and finalize a front line like, ‘Yo, you’re going to eat what you need to eat, drink what you need to drink and do what you need to do to combat this issue that has hampered you, your life for years.’
XXL: Exactly how long have you battled it?
Pharoahe: Since I was 13 months old. There have been times, when I’ve gotten to a place when I feel like it’s defeated and using less medication to none at all, and then if there’s a brush with the environment, humidity or air quality or you’re traveling a lot overseas and taking five planes in three days, it will catch up to you. That’s a war for me – a psychological war. War is not black and white. I’m not unintelligent enough to not be sensitive to what it means in terms of armies invading countries and civilians dying. I’m not ignorant to the word choice. I think W.A.R. is a collective consciousness. It’s really not about me, what I have and what I attained through finances or tangible things like money, cars, what have you. The record speaks more to the collective consciousness of what I feel is going on right now, so people need to evolve. I feel people are feeling the same way. The ‘We’ encompasses all that – We Are Renegades.
XXL: You’re one of the most mindful MCs around, so we thought it would be fun to have you play off the word war. That being said, what was the most impactful rap war that the game has ever witnessed?
Pharoahe: There’s been a couple. You look at revolutionary war, civil war, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and the Iraqi War – they’ve all been monumental in the world’s history, so it’s hard for me to just jump to Nas and Jay-Z, without talking about Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee, without talking about Canibus and L [LL Cool J], Common and [Ice] Cube. I think they set the tone, as well as the crew battles set the tone, for what this is now and that’s what made the Jay-Z-Nas joint really epic. With two respected artists, it was just incredible.