When Pharoahe Monch’s sophomore album, “Desire,” was released with a picture of Pharoahe bandaged up like a mummy on the cover, it was hard to figure out if he was joking or not.
“OK, we get it. You’re a mummy, like a pharaoh. Hey, look at that – as the CD booklet progresses, you’re unraveling your bandages. Oh, how quaint, you’re not wearing any bandages on the back of the album cover. Hmmm . what could that mean? Oh, what? You’re free now. This is your release? The return of the Pharoahe, maybe?”
If anything, the album art means this is Pharoahe Monch’s first album since his 1999 debut album “Internal Affairs.” It isn’t clear where he’s been, but rumor has it that he was killed by Godzilla (can I say “GodzillaT” without a lawsuit? Is that OK?). Fans of that ever-so-difficult-to-find album have been waiting, like Christians, for the second coming of their savior. Unlike Christ, the Pharoahe who was once a lion has returned as a much more tame and jovial lamb.
The changes are apparent. Monch spends less time mashing out, and more time just having fun. On the political “Welcome to the Terrordome,” Public Enemy is channeled so much it’s quite possible that Pharoahe Monch was possessed by Chuck D when this song was recorded. For “Body Baby,” Pharoahe gives his best Elvis impression for a gospel choir good time. Who would have thought that a black artist would steal music from Elvis Presley? Even on the chilling track “What It Is,” Pharoahe Monch’s smile can almost be heard behind his voice.
Though Monch has fun, he has no problem taking a more serious tone on tracks like “When the Gun Draws” and “Hold On.” In the latter song, Monch collaborates with Erykah Badu to reassure young black girls of their beauty and worth. In the former, produced by D12’s Denaun Porter, Pharoahe Monch takes the role of a bullet to tell of his indiscriminating destruction. Pharoahe raps, “When I kill kids they say shame on me / who the f— told you to put their names on me?” Interestingly enough, it’s hardly stereotypical for a rapper to speak out against gun violence. Hmmm . wonder if we’ll ever hear this on the radio.
For those who are a bit unsure of how good Pharoahe Monch is, he’s the MC who was cited as every rapper’s favorite rapper a few years ago. As far as technical skill goes, Pharoahe Monch is top-notch, so much so that the album’s quality isn’t really up to him. Any weaknesses will ultimately fall on the production.
As for the production, there isn’t much to worry about. This is where Eminem and Lupe Fiasco need to take notes. The production is almost never as good as the verses, but from the pyramid-simple to the hieroglyphically complex, Pharoahe Monch blends with every beat to make for an interesting arrangement, instead of just riding the beats and only showcasing his own voice. This isn’t to say that Pharoahe Monch is picking great beats. Much like Lupe’s album, the production is sometimes prime, but not often much better than nice. Again, the difference is that it’s much harder to notice, due to Pharoahe working with the beats instead of just on top of them.
This is the album of an almost legendary MC. The only thing that keeps Pharoahe Monch out of some hallowed hip-hop hall of fame is a lack of solo LPs. “Desire” is a surprisingly good return for a rapper who hasn’t released an album in eight years. But then again, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Pharoahe Monch recorded an incredible LP. There are gems on the album not mentioned in this review, but then again, if every great moment on this album were mentioned here, it would be a track-by-track recap of the entire record.