Pharoahe Monch knows that you don’t get his lyrics the first time around. While most listeners were introduced to the masterful Queens wordsmith as a member of Organized Konfusion, his solo career has provided hours of gravity defying couplets that float across time and space pollinating the ears of new listeners every decade or so. If you get a sense of de ja vu listening to him it’s by design. “Sadomasochist MC, I bite myself,” he confessed on 2011’s “Evolve.”
But it’s not as if Monch needs to recycle his rhymes. He’s as prolific as they come and has laid his harmonious homonyms across whole songs for other artist’s projects like “Fuck You” (Training Day Soundtrack) “Livin It Up” (Next Friday Soundtrack) “Love” (J Dilla’s The Shining) and “Rap Life” for Diamond D that these laudible loosies could make up their own list.
Not to mention the records where he only sings the hooks, like Styles P’s “Children” and Slaughterhouse’s “Salute.” Even his uncredited “Ghostweed” skit on De La Soul’s AOI: Mosaic Thump stands out for its comedic execution.
But when Monch gets on tracks with other MCs it’s consistently been a case of steel sharpening steel. Choosing his sparring partners wisely over the years Mr. Jamerson has managed to more than hold his own alongside hip-hop’s lyrical elite from Black Thought and Mos Def to Phonte, Talib Kweli and Ras Kass.
With today being his birthday and 13 being such a special number to him, we compiled a baker’s dozen of his best guest features in chronological order for our latest “Spot Rusherz.”
1. Jigmastas, “Lyrical Fluctuations” (1999)
“Spit miraculous shit, drink Dracula’s blood, exist for centuries
My DNA ‘ventually, mends wounds, heals injuries
The identity unknown for obvious extremities
Pharoahe the assassin who was hired to kill Kennedy...”
On this underground cut from The Jigmastas (DJ Spinna and MC Kriminul) Monch joins Talib Kweli and Shabaam Saadiq (who re-released it on his project Relentless) to give us one of the earliest looks at the vampiric persona that he’ll revisit in that same year on “Behind Closed Doors” and almost a decade later on 2011’s “Let My People Go.” While many MCs fancy themselves as being superhuman, Monch has always favored a mix of the supernatural with the futuristic.
2.”Oh No,” Lyricist Lounge Soundtrack (2000)
“I’m intellectual, pass more essays
Than motorcade police parades through East L.A”
Easily the second most popular song in Monch’s catalogue after “Simon Says” this cut was the highlight of Rawkus’s Lyricist Lounge 2 compilation. Mos and Monch demonstrated a chemistry that made us wish they did at least an EP together. The master class in pugilistic linguistics was saved from being another footnote of 90s lyricism by a Nate Dogg hook that excelled at being both sinister yet accessible at the same time.
3. Talib Kweli, “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” (2002)
“Spit it like white trash in seed-spittin contests
With a vendetta that sent a betta letter bomb to Congress…”
If a Monch and Mos EP was a missed opportunity, so was an extended Talib and Pharoahe collab. Kweli laced Monch’s “The Truth” from his debut and had the favor returned on this track from his. If Monch, Kweli and Black Thought over a Kanye West beat sounds like the stuff of legend now, it’s probably because it was.
4. Mr Complex, “Scream, Shout” (2004) from Twisted Mister
“Who’s devoted to being voted the most quotable artist,
That’s most noted for the composing of verses and slick choruses, (spirit of Bruce Lee’s)
Yours is Chuck Norris, body physically bangin’ a f*ckin human thesaurus.”
Chuck Norris may be the internet’s most unbeatable man but Monch knows who the true master is. And as mission statements go, it doesn’t get much clearer than the declaration that opens this verse.
5.Black Milk “The Matrix” (2008)
“Four finger ring rap, sling slang, Pharoahe the flow’s good
You couldn’t hang if you was Ving Rhames in Rosewood…”
The irony of this title is that it’s the closest thing to an analogue flow as we’ve ever gotten from Monch. He eschews his robotic, stuttering flourishes delivered at right angles and instead delivers his packets of data in strings of iconic bravado, with nods to The Fonz, Billy Joel and rare vinyl. He’s so not pressed about the immediate future that he toys with making a beat halfway through the verse.
6.Phonte “We Go Off” (2011)
“Fuck chivalry I will end a chick’s career
And return to forever, I am Chick Corea”
Knowing that both of these MC’s could sing your fav under the table I was pleasantly pleased that they chose to trade bars for this collab. While you can fill books with Monch’s words, the collar pop on this verse is one best enjoyed if you hear it. Cocky on the brink of being disrespectful, he sways into Fatin’s vocal chops like a disgruntled panhandler on a crowded subway.
7.”Black Out” The Man With The Iron Fists Soundtrack (2012)
“My Hammer Dance’ll make y’all n*ggas do The Running Man
’77 blackout, Berkowitz, Son of Sam”
When you’re batting in a line up with M.O.P. and Ghostface you have to approach things a little differently. Their respective criminology could overwhelm a lesser MC, but Monch served up a NY history lesson by digging into the dozier of David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer who terrorized the city during the blackout of ’77.
8. Torae “What’s Love” (2013) (Originally on on Admission Of Guilt, re-released on Entitled)
“When I hit rock bottom like Goliath after David
Literally when these lame labels medicated
I liberated my life with love and levitated
And left every lyric I laid completely obliterated”
Monch’s gift of introspection is fully realized on this dense confessional where he channel’s Whodini’s “One Love,” using each letter in the titular subject to flaunt his superior alliteration skills. Love of self, God and his art are plucked from the air and lined up in rhythm like the Soul Train scramble board. If we were ranking these in order of creativity this verse would definitely be near the top.
9. Robert Glasper “Calls” (Mr Porter Remix) (2014)
“In the center of Times Square I feel like I’m in isolation
Tune out a billion sounds and I can signal all your vibration.”
Pharoahe Monch and Jill Scottt proved to be a perfect pairing on his track “Still Standing” and when DeNaun Porter dared to chop up her song with Robert Glasper for a remix project, Monch couldn’t resist the..ahem…call. With Jill singing the praises of her Superman lover, Monch straps on Cerebro to demonstrate his untiring dedication to connecting with his fellow mutant.
10. Statik Selektah “Down Like This” (2014)
“Female dogs plus ignorant individuals
Equal bitch n*ggas, their existence is criminal
I divide fuckboys in half, then live
Multiplied by the fucks that I don’t give
You don’t possess the grammar to step to Pharoahe’s parameter
Trying to take a piece of the pie(pi), or a slice of the ratio
Of a circle circumference to its diameter…”
Again, Monch is paired with two lyrical brawlers and The Joker –Statik Selektah– tosses a broken pool stick into the pit and makes them fight their way into the organization. Monch literally calculates his attack with a sharpened T-Square and the sheer wrath of his math would be enough. But then he commandeer’s Smooth The Hustlers’ Sropsher Shlasher flow from “Broken Language” to set the whole pile of money on fire.
11. Apollo Brown and Ras kass “H20” (2014)
“Seized from my parents during a scene when I was seven
They experimented on my brain up until I was age eleven
And at age thirteen I learned to literally stream
Molecules and teleport molecular structures with the beam.”
Inspired by Apollo Brown’s repetitious loop of “in my mind” Monch further explores his mutant abilities and takes us back to the events of the Recollection Facility from his album P.T.S.D. On the brink of transcendence this human weapon laments the unholy deeds he’s performed for the government leaving us to wonder if he will emerge as assassin or savior.
12. DeNaun Porter, “Cookin” (2015)
“Would you find it easier to pass an exam, if you were created in a test tube?
Do Crips watch True Blood? Do Bloods fly jet blue?”
“If you say you gonna put two people like this on a song you gotta understand what you’re putting yourself into, which is a ring of fire,” dEnAunN Porter told us back in 2015 about making this track from Stuff In My Backpack. The man who has rapped alongside Eminem for much of his career had sweat tricklin’ down his cheek and for good reason. Both Royce and Monch cut loose in what can be best described as pedantic puppetry of the pen, toying with more amateur writers like Lee Quinones.
13. A-F-R-O- Polo “Swarm” (2016)
“A cannibal cyborg protesting, fighting for his mechanical rights, my publishing and my fucking mechanical rights…”
Cyrax Tryborg Monch has reached his final form as a citizen of Zero One from The Animatrix. His last fifteen years of training, manipulation and incarceration as a recovering industry assassin comes full circle in this verse. The machine is finally ready to take on the machine. It’s as if running into a kid like A-F-R-O, who was programmed with compatible lyrical code, gave him the freedom to break free.
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