Simon says W.A.R.
Pharoahe Monch himself has described W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) as “emancipation for your conscious (ness)” and W.A.R. truly registers along similar lines. It’s consistent with his social and political story telling – his waxes with a delicacy and yet, a heaviness that is not often see in modern day rap or hip-hop.
I once read an amusing story about him being dissed by a fellow rapper’s manager for been selfish and unkind to the fans for not sharing his bars. W.A.R was originally set to be released in 2010 and it has been a three years since the release of Desire. But delays have been in part due to label disputes, as he has yet to go platinum and previous sales have been only moderate. But that isn’t why we love and respect him. Since before the days of “Simon says” in the late nineties, Monch has been firmly on the page.
This album, like the first two, delivers that eloquent blend of fire-starting and contemplative tunes riding alongside some soulful vocals and some anthemic emceeing. W.A.R. opens with a topical monologue on the nature of war before flipping into his familiar mode of complex rap and meticulous flow. The tambourine beats of “Calculated Amalgamation” coupled with his steady thrash conjures up the image of people marching to war, ready to fight for their beliefs. The title track, featuring Immortal Technique and Vernon Reid, strikes a chord with the more commercial edges of rap and hip-hop through loopy synths and references to females and their role in the “psychological dictatorship” and their provision of frontline services.
Clips from radio and television have been interwoven to add texture to his rhymes. Key influences from Jazz and Blues are evident through the twinkles and notches from saxophones and drums adding depth and authenticity to his work. He cites John Coltrane as an influence and I suspect Duke Ellington. It is not hard to see why he received claps from Kool Moe Dee and was voted the 26th best emcee of all time in ‘There’s a God on the Mic’. The emphasis he places on his rhymes as a solo artist is slightly darker in meaning to his time in Organized Konfusion with Prince Poetry.
Despite a relatively small solo back catalogue with only three albums in ten years, he is rated as a soulful, intricate and intelligent musician. “Black Hand” is particularly touching with a slower pace and examines the experience of war for people of colour. It illuminates his ability to reflect on life in a multi-dimensional, multi-syllabic manner, which is arguably surprising for a man best known for the line “Simon says shut the f*ck up!”
The gospel singers on “Let my People Go” add to the female vocals of “Shine” and “Still Standing” with Mela Machinko and Jill Scott providing a gentle melody up against the gritty realism. The album is essentially a battle cry for the sorry state of the world today, his abstract rap is borderline poetry. If only they could read the news like this.