by Paul Cantor
The title of Pharoahe Monch’s third LP, which hit stores, this past Tuesday, is W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). Last night (March 25th), as part of radio station HOT97’s "Who’s Next?" series at SOBs in New York City, the Queens-bred rapper celebrated the album’s release with a concert that truly embodied the spirit of that title.
After a brief opening set by upcoming MC Skyzoo and an impromptu performance by Left Coast legend E-40, the man of the night, Pharoahe Monch, took to the stage ready for war— literally— wearing a black gas mask with an olive green v-neck t-shirt topped and a green military jacket. He quickly removed the mask, and backed by his DJ, Boogie Blind, jumped into his set by performing a handful of cuts from his 2007 LP, Desire. He was flanked by singers Mela Machinko and ShowTyme, who provided backing vocals on songs like “Free” and “F--k You,” among others.
After a brief round-up asking where everyone on stage was from, Pharoahe questioned, “SOBs, do you know where the f--k I’m from?”
“Queens!” the crowd shot back enthusiastically. And on cue, he ripped through “Queens,” from his 1999 LP, Internal Affairs.
But as much as it was a night to celebrate Pharoahe’s past catalog, it was also about promoting his new LP. And so he performed the Diamond D-produced cut "Shine,” before engaging in a brief monologue about Sean Bell, an incident which inspired the song "Clap."
“One of the main topics on the album is my issue with the f--kin police and the excessive violence that’s happened over the past couple of years,” he said. “It’s why I can write a song like [“Clap”] and it can last. Because it feels like the sh-t is gonna continue to happen. After the Sean Bell incident, I was real angry with the situation. I’m right there in Queens, and I’m f--ked up over it. I don’t want to just pen a song, do some rap sh-t. I feel like I wanna do some more sh-t, but I’m helpless … then I channeled the anger to the record and I tried to come up with this revolutionary act.”
That particular act would be a simple hand clap, which the crowd partook in for the bulk of Pharoahe’s performance of the song. He then brought on stage underground stalwart Immortal Technique. Wearing a tan shirt with his name across the front and a backwards blue baseball cap, the pair performed “War.”
Next to come on stage was Styles P. In a blue hooded sweatshirt, a blue Yankees cap and a Northface backpack, Styles resuscitated “The Life,” from the 2002 Rawkus Records compilation Soundbombing III, before tearing through “Black Hand Side” from Pharoahe’s new album.
“I’m fucked up,” Styles said. “I can tell u one thing though, I f**ks with Pharoahe Monch. I'm on some MC shit, and this man put in work."
Sans Jill Scott, who’s featured on the album version of the song, Monch then performed "Still Standing,” before ripping through the title track from his last LP, “Desire.” Underground favorite Jean Grae then joined him for “Assassins” while playfully threatening to kick cameras out of the hands of photographers in the front of the crowd.
Perhaps fittingly, a Nate Dogg tribute preceded "Oh No,' Monch’s 2000 collaboration with the late crooner from the Lyricist Lounge 2 album.
"Nate dogg passed away last week," Pharoahe said, as "Xxplosive" played. “Let's celebrate his life. Make some noise for Nate Dogg."
Finally, Godzilla horn-stabs blared from the speakers, and the crowd raucously bounced and threw its hands to the sky as Pharoahe performed his most well known hit, "Simon Says."
"Support real hip-hop, ya’ll,” he said, as the show neared its close. "My name is Pharoahe Monch."