Pharoahe Monch

Desire (SRC/Universal Motown)

To get it out of the way — the comparison between Rawkus Records' erstwhile twin saviors, Pharoahe Monch and Mos Def, is unavoidable. Both leaders of the late-Nineties rap "underground" released amazing debut solo albums for that New York-based label, and then largely disappeared from the retail map as Rawkus self-destructed. At last check, Mos Def had scattered a couple of disappointing LPs, and he's currently living in Hollywood. Fortunately for us castaways from that once-so-hopeful era, Monch's absence was nothing more than label-bumbling. He never fell off, oh no.

When he's not constructing ill concept songs like "When the Gun Draws," or stand-up anthems like "Free," P.M. is focused on grown-man shit: love and sex, political and artistic responsibility, and cultural preservation. The gospel-tinged and juke-joint-soaked sonics will be hit-and-miss for most older fans, especially the grimy kids. But as it is, his vocals even now never fail to captivate, with references biting/clever/topical, and still "sick wit' it/with a ridiculous flow."

In the end, it's best to let the man who made "Stray Bullet" and "Simon Says" explain why he's still relevant: "I'm the principal rhyme kid/And any line of mine is Criminal Minded/I blind 'em with original rhyme shit/Fall in line with the sick cynical grime shit/Clinically approved for you to move your behind with/All-world, girls wiggle their spine with Pharoahe/Do you need to be reminded now?"

 
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