Pharoahe Monch

As a rap fan who purchases music and goes to concerts, Pharoahe Monch felt the current music he was listening to and experiencing in person was missing something. He wanted to hear a discussion of political and spiritual matters, so he decided to do something about it on his latest album "W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)".”

“One of the corny clichés is, ‘Be the change you want to see,’” Monch said at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles. “I just felt there’s a lot of people who think like we think intrinsically and were like feeling spiritually some of the issues that were going on in the world. Although it may be a smaller percentage, as I spoke to people, I started to feel like people were on the same wavelength that I was.”

Hard Hitting Music for the Fans

So Monch started making music for those fans – and himself. In addition to the police brutality meditation “Clap (One Day),” the hard-hitting title track features politically minded rapper Immortal Technique and guitar work from legendary axe man Vernon Reid.

Over Marco Polo’s drum and piano-driven beat, Monch blasts the war he sees taking place against people’s intellect and souls. Elsewhere, the more sonically somber “The Grand Illusion (circa 1973)” unmasks misleading things that pollute our minds, while the guitar-driven “The Hitman” details the nasty underbelly of the music industry.

In addition to these heavy topics, Pharoahe Monch injects “W.A.R.” with plenty of the Grade-A lyrical gymnastics that he craves as a rap fan. “Black Hand Side” with Styles P. and Phonte from Little Brother features lyrical haymakers as well as political commentary, while the funk-drenched “Halie Selassie Karate” features vivid astrological, religious and military imagery. Elsewhere, Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9” join Monch for the high-energy punchline exercise “Assassins.”

The most personal song on “W.A.R.,” though, is “Still Standing.” Featuring a passionate vocal performance from Jill Scott, this optimistic tune features Monch discussing his ability to triumph over personal battles with asthma. Monch also details his ability to survive and thrive in the music industry, and states that he has never dealt drugs or killed anyone -- two unfortunate badges of authenticity in certain circles of the rap community.

Although Monch may not hear as much as he would like about politics, spirituality and other topics in modern music, he says he feels as though there is a sizable portion of the population that feels the same way that he does.

“I think as people we’re evolving,” he says. “We’ve been stuck for so long. I think people want bigger freedom, more knowledge and it’s going that way. I can feel it personally and it’s showing up in places like Libya, Egypt. The economics and the struggle we’re going through, I think people want more. So I ask myself, ‘What more do you want from the songwriting or the music that you hear,’ and I try to implement that into the songs.”

For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker

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