PHAROAHE MONCH LIVE AT GARAGE (8TH MARCH 2016) WITH EZRA COLLECTIVE & DJ BOOGIE BLIND
LIVE SHOW REVIEW BY WASIF SAYYED.
Top Trumps (No Donald)
If emcees were attributed scores based on distinct rhyming categories and sorted into top tumps cards, Pharoahe Monch would arguably be the most powerful card in the set.
During a career spanning four solo albums, three group albums and a library of guest collaborations, Pharoahe Monch has exhibited mastery via dextrous rhyme flows that few other emcees can replicate; vicious mic putdowns; introspective emotional conversations; sincere social commentary; killer chanted hooks and immaculately sung choruses over a wide range of beat styles. This show exhibited all these traits.
Entering the stage to the Ezra Collective band’s expertly corybantic stylings, Pharoahe Monch proclaimed that he is “a mixture of Marcus Garvey, Miles Davis, and Bob Marley” from the album WAR’s song “Assassins” to a rapturous audience. Hype momentum was carried by the expertly interpolated live version of “Agent Orange” and the defiant and happy “Fuck You” to the police from the Training Day soundtrack. The latter was just an early protest against police brutality, which received centre stage later in the set with a sequence featuring BDP’s “Sound of Da Police,” NWA’s “Fuck the Police” and J Dilla’s song of the same title. This segue, which was introduced poignantly by Monch highlighting the dispensability of Black lives at the hands of vacuous police brutality was closed out by a rendition of “Clap”, a dedication to the victims and their families, honoured by the audience via their commemorative synchronised hand clapping.
Generally the mood throughout the night was exciting and upbeat with Pharoahe looking like he hasn’t enjoyed rhyming this much in years. Ferocity was in high supply via the hypeness of songs amongst others such as “Right Here”, “Damage” (the third in the ‘song from the perspective of a bullet trilogy’), and of course the closer of the night “Simon Says” one of rap’s most lauded anthems, ubiquitous with any Hip-Hop show that needs an adrenalin shot and a symphony of voices hollering “bo bo bo bo bo!” and throwing their sets up. “Bad MF” was an overcompensating miss-step however with its power chords, and braggadocios and abrasive hook.
Live and Direct
Positively, Ezra Collective did an incredibly job of doing justice to Pharoahe Monch’s catalogue via phenomenal understanding of Hip-Hop grooves and swing , and the rest of the crew’s instrumental expertise adding a welcome dynamic that is often abused when Hip-Hop artists shoehorn a live set up into their performances. Their intermission featured version of Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta”, was a benchmark in performing covers where the original art is honoured but a new version is completely owned. Femi’s drumming on Grime interpolations was a sight to behold.
Pharoahe military jacket clad returned to the red lit stage, with just DJ Boogie Blind holding down the PA and no band introduced another emotionally charged section of the night. From the album “PTSD,” Pharoahe Monch’s theatrical but not melodramatic performance “Time2” saw him put a lazer toy gun (à la the album cover) to his head as he sparred with his inner demons on the mental health themed “Time2”.
“We fight demons from our past only to face new monsters
I ask, are we comatose or unconscious?
My top spin’s perpetual, make the connection
You sleep cause reality bites; inception” – Pharoahe Monch, “Time2.”
Now illuminated by gamma green lighting, Pharoahe Monch testified to the power of addiction (whether it be substance or the addiction to making bad decisions) with soulful singing and a conversational flow of “Broken Again.”
The DJ and the Culture
DJ Boogie Blind did a brilliant job of affirming the back-bone of the culture being rooted in the DJ with furious scratching and a seem-less mixing of the backdrops. Pharoahe Monch and Boogie Blind took time to appreciate the beautiful music that informs Hip-Hop’s sonic pallet by playing the Aretha Franklin songs sampled by Mos Def for Ms Phat Booty and Pharoahe’s own collaboration with Styles P “My Life” before moving into the song itself. A homage to Hip-Hop’s deceased Nate Dogg was the playing of “Next Episode,” which led into “Oh No.” One wonders whether Pharoahe realised at the time how what seem like quickly jotted rhymes on Da Rockwilder produced Rawkus Records era song would end up becoming so revered and timeless. Not a single person refused to dance for this hit!
Tropes for the Ladies
Desire’s ode to love and intimacy “So Good” was introduced by DJ Boogie Blind as a “let’s do something for the ladies,” which is an annoying trope too frequent at Hip-Hop shows. There were several ladies in attendance who were dancing, head-nodding and enjoying the set from the get-go so such patronising sentiments are perhaps a reason that more women don’t make up the numbers at gigs like this. In the words of a woman I was with: “I like rap-rap songs like “What it is” as much as songs like “So Good” so there’s need for that sort of introduction.” Pharoahe Monch is a reflective person who seems to exude genuine empathy so it’s something that could be addressed in the foreseeable future.
Following the closing “Simon Says”, Pharoahe returned to the stage to surprise pleasantly with a hark back to Organized Konfuzion days with the phenomenal flow showcasing of “Bring it On” and “Stress.” Pharoahe Monch has detailed about how his debilitating asthma was the reason he crafted intricate rhyme schemes and patterns, which stand the test of time by still being evidently ahead of the time and very few have caught up. The night’s ultimate closer was the lush “The Light.” This was a complete Hip-Hop showcase with an ill DJ, tight band and phenomenal emcee who laid out a platter of a vast discography to remain arguably the best live emcee in the world. He’s the sort of dude you would securely and happily have babysit your children one evening, and then ‘GET THE FUCK UP’ for the next to bring the noise.
By Wasif Sayyed [#WasifScion]
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