Insights from the recent Pharoahe Monch & KRS-One SOBs shows
(feat. Napoleon Da Legend)
No one needs the answer. You are better with a better question. The obsession with an answer develops the battles of explanation and the corrupt wars of its confirmation. Steeped in the next question, one’s fire for query can inspire the cauldron of the mind to bubble insight into the atmosphere in a fine and useful mist. And so what is the value of an Art that has no legends of expression? What is the culture of an Art that has no legends making and growing themselves from the beginning? A special legend is the Hip Hop MC. One who has upheld the integrity of Hip Hop principles of creativity and originality so dominantly they have become the standard of it all.
In this month when so many known and unknown legends, yet all impeccable, have returned to the essence. From my Tia Monin (Remembered In Perfection) to my loving elder Wise Jamel (Knowledge HERE) to our most magnificent novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Wisdom HERE) to the Sonero supreme Cheo Feliciano, de mi Ponce, Puerto Rico, (Understanding HERE) a small stage on NYC’s Varick Street offered a respite of true and living insight. First SOBs hosted Pharoahe Monch’s album release party, with Napoleon Da Legend opening, on the 15th, while the 20th saw the Blastmaster KRS-One complete the resurrection.
The resurrection is only for the mentally dead, not the physically dead, so our MCs speak to the masses. Some of those MCs are in the midst of long journeys we have no idea about. Napoleon Da Legend grinds as he creates scriptures daily that defy the blasphemy of his name. Hours of preparation to write the rhyme over the select track and capture the natural blend on wax. More moments alone and with his Dysfunkshunal Familee rehearsing the stage show. That same stage show that he has traveled months, days and hours to reach places all over the USA and the world. Napoleon builds with me and tells me that small show in Philly for a ten minute set led to SOBs tonight. While I respect the fruits of hard work I wonder about the too many in the vegetative state too slow to sweeten their palette to one of the purest lyricists today.
This grind is immediately irrelevant to us once we listen to his debut LP, Awakening. Napoleon Da Legend is a young master of ceremony with a talent that ought not conquer industry boardrooms; rather, his bars incarcerate ideas and continue to offer the freedom of many more commentaries. And in the middle of that Born hour, Napoleon, guided by the cuts of DJ Bazarro, dove into his short set. With respect the moderately gentrified crowd, listened for a lyrical primer and received it. Napoleon flowed with a consistent intensity through LP cuts and many exclusives. By the time he reached his newer works produced by the Beatminerz, the love of the crowd was with him. Napoleon’s punchlines were insights and his battle bars were critiques applicable to all things not merely the wack MC. All with a clarity that let new ears listen to new verses, the mentally dead were offered another virtuoso for salvation.
All leading to the official establishment of another legend, Pharoahe Monch. After Rakim and KRS-One there are no GOAT candidates with a catalog of classic LPs and massive pioneering of MCing itself. GOAT level MCs as GZA, Nas, Ghostface Killah are all elevating and extending their revolution. They may pioneer aspects but none as grand. With the release of PTSD, Pharoahe, we must proclaim, has the catalog of a GOAT MC. Of the most purest form of verbal and lyrical dexterity he is Hip Hop’s most athletic MC. Pitch changes, fluctuations, pauses, false starts, re-starts, speed and tempo changes, complex coupling, melodic phrasing have all been elevated to unheard heights. After three Organized Konfusion LP gems, his fourth solo album now has all the messed mash media, like host Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, the Rudyard Kipling of it all, acknowledges that Monch is one of the greatest of all time. I don’t believe small Peters with far reaching microphones so burdens they need not carry. I knew it would be since the grimy 90’s and through them dark 00’s–
–Pharoahe is an MC of brash humility and violent skill. The latter strikes first with the new “Time2” performed for the first time with a familiarity of ages. A song filled with all the skill sets mentioned displayed immediately, leaving us paralyzed viewers of aural athletic feats. His sincerity soon infects everyone as he guides us with commentary on each of the songs. His talents are not merely used for the battle track or the masturbation of verbosity that sounds so ill on vinyl when spit right. Pause. Pharoahe reminds us that the Art must have a social commentary and a spiritual direction. And as he mines the even more difficult and successful experimental solo LPs of Desire and WAR to today’s PTSD paintings, we all are inspired. Moved that “Fuck The Police!” is a spiritual release and “Clap” is the conduit. That “Assassins” is a banger statement on the ancestors in us and “Desire” is the yelling of it all. Pharoahe’s catalog is a study for listeners but Pharoahe splices and cuts through the show tunes. From “Bring It On” to bringing Lil’ Fame for “No Mercy” illness (with an “Ante Up” bonus) to the dynamic “Oh No” and ending with “Simon Says.” Pharoahe is pure Hip Hop abstraction, one that may always be underrated by the Black/Brown family that needs his works the most. In the gentrified universe of listenership, he is now a legend. For that night, I pumped my fist mightily, content that I was, for once, in a rare room full of friendly folk that knew it too.
My brother don’t make mistakes but the lessons he charted are always scheduled erratically. So I missed him in the beast’s belly for nearly three borndays. I first met KRS-One with my brother on May 16th, 2001 at the United Nations here in New York. Sitting at a table with the late Jazz great Weldon Irvine, we saw the establishment of the Hip Hop Declaration of Peace. Six years later I interviewed the Blastmaster extensively and seven years after it’s time to see him live. Finally. There to see one of my childhood heroes and I literally brought a literary/spoken word Rick James genius to witness inspiration from the MC James Brown. Let the Funk flow cuz Da Sun always gotta shine tho!
The pioneering is crucial. It means no one attacked with such complete thoughts of concepts, themes and formats in lyricism until Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. His first eight albums are crucial to a proper Hip Hop collection as the great foundation to song making through concept building and album construction through content formulating. Works as Criminal Minded is the rare classic LP with nearly complete quotables and the most powerful and important diss songs in history (“South Bronx,” “The Bridge Is Over”). His next LPs are some of the first to unite a persona (the Teacha) with a theme (revolutionary action through educational and philosophical insight) that has remained consistent and ever expanding. While his 14 LPs and 2 EPs since 2000 have diluted the concentration of his catalog’s strength, the content and insight have increased. Increased where his published books, particularly The Gospel of Hip Hop, are some of the most innovative and thought provoking philosophical works of these times. It is fair to think that if KRS didn’t exist, the music may not have reached the complete depth of lyricism and hold the expectation of infinite possibility it still has. As a reminder, his latest, very underground release, Never Forget EP, reminds us of the militant scholarship his bars still have. So now, a sage via the work of disciplined study and developed talent takes the stage…
Hakim and Arkitek led BDP on stage with a gradual warmup. After a short set, KRS-One was introduced and his energy was of a roaring Big Joe Krash destroying Babylon. His son DJ Predator Prime had the volume pitch at a peak that KRS only raised higher through the night. The deep Reggae bass grooves that influence all BDP production became only more apparent as the grumbling speakers on stage moved away from KRS steadily through the night. The clarity and natural power in KRS’ vocals were evident as we were actually able to hear him. With clear timing, live fluctuations, call and response add ons he drove through classics with urgency from “The Bridge Is Over,” “Sound of the Police,” “South Bronx,” “A Friend,” “Step into a World, “I’m Still #1,” “My Philosophy,” “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” and countless others. The first breaks were dispersed to feature Never Forget tracks from the clever “Nina” and the empowering “Invader” dropping jewels on my Mexican brothers and sisters true rights to these American lands. He also fulfilled the intentions of bringing us the feel of Hip Hop beyond his Hulkian energy. Whether the dynamic bars over a straight classical piece or immersing himself into the crowd performing“Higher Level” in a cipher while taking pics with fans, tagging up our fitteds, napkins, black books or anything we threw at him, or getting Lord Finesse, Steele of Smif N’ Wessun and Ed Lover on stage for a freestyle session, the Blastmaster displayed the elements.
Still number 1, the philosopher dropped jewels by the end of the show. He let us fellow artists of the word know that those unfinished albums ought to get done and that book on the last chapter must get written. That we have struggled in this Real Hip Hop by any means necessary, perfecting blueprints through many returns of Boom Baps and criminally minded sneak attacks to keep right in this life, we must be edutained on one point: For those 5, 10 and even 20 years, like this Writer etched here, of your struggle to make a career you have not realized that you have had a career. That you are having a career that has never wavered. That we must continue to use this Hip Hop to share our ideas to the world.
“Word is Bond!,” my reply in departure. This Hip Hop work is our ongoing creation as creators and me and my long lost brethren must keep knowing it. Da Sun still shine tho. Da Sun still shine!…Words from legends of all eras…