Possessing a highly evolved flow, Pharoahe Monch has long been regarded as a lyrical juggernaut by his fans and peers alike. Monch’s deitylike status rose even higher when his 1999 solo debut, Internal Affairs, and its underground-traversing smash “Simon Says” ran amok on radio and in clubs. But rather than capitalize on his newfound fame, the Queens-bred rapper got entangled in industry politics and went AWOL. Now, over seven years later, he returns with his long-overdue follow-up, Desire.
Never one to rhyme just for the sake of rhyming, Monch keeps his playlist limited to a brief 12 tracks of adamantine lyricism tempered by imaginative concepts. On “When the Gun Draws,” he updates “Stray Bullet,” a classic from his Organized Konfusion days. Over creeping keys, he assumes a bullet’s-eye view and spits, “White man made me venom to eliminate/Especially when I’m in the hood, I never discriminate/Just get in ’em then I renovate/Flesh, bone, ain’t nothing for me to penetrate.” Even more meticulous is “The Trilogy,” a hip-hop opera about betrayal and marital infidelity. Split into three acts (“Cops Coming,” “Revenge” and “Evil Eyes”), the song is produced by Mr. Porter, who provides disparate beats for each chapter of Monch’s intricate tale.
Pharoahe’s dense lyricism could easily overwhelm the music, but part of Desire’s success is production as diverse as his wordplay. The Alchemist’s spastic guitars on the title track give the song a rugged rock swing, while “Push” is a horn-driven, bluesy number produced by Monch, who handles a handful of tracks himself. Keeping the list of beat contributors concise centers the album, but there are a couple musical misalignments—namely, the lackluster remake of PE’s “Welcome to the Terror Dome” and the folksy rhythm of “Body Baby.” Those slight blemishes aside, Monch delivers yet another reason for rap fans to get the fuck up. —ALVIN BLANCO