Review Summary: 'smoke kush, wake up, and eat breakfast'
The length of the typical rapper's career could easily be related to that of professional athlete. They probably have a span of four years where they seem relevant until eventually they are booted from the mainstream. Trends in a genre based around immediate hits change so rapidly that it is hard for rappers to constituently do something new. Artists who have done so in the past are critically rewarded, but many times not seen as doing what the listener wants to hear. Many rappers from the so-called golden age of rap release records that are intentional throw backs to their glory days. The beats have gotten slower and the rhymes have gotten less complex creating a version of hip-hop adult contemporary. Artists who once were seen as genre shaping have now become redundant slaves of auto tune attempting to. Pharoahe Monch over his long and storied career has never once seemed to make music for the sake of selling records. Organized Konfusion in retrospect was probably the most diverse duo of the '90s. They fit in with the Native Tongues crew, but were also able to create boom bap tracks like Stress's 'Bring it On'. After Monch left Organized Konfusion he released his debut record 'Internal Affairs'. 'Internal Affairs' was an attempt to stray from the backpack label he'd gotten at the beginning of his career. The lead single that propelled the record ironically established Monch's mainstream relevance behind a track that had the chorus 'get the *** up'. Massive label issues have stunted Monch's career, but after years of fighting 'Desire' was finally released in 2007. Relying on gospel choirs and beats from then newcomer Black Milk 'Desire' was yet another addition to Monch's diverse discography. 'W.A.R.' comes after what seems like a rather short break with another attempt to create a new sound for Monch.
Nearly every project Pharoahe has been involved in has been considered a classic. 'Desire' took awhile to warm up to, but eventually many realized the slower beats suited Monch's new style. It hard to say someone is taking it easy when an album has lyrical monuments like '?'. 'W.A.R.' seems like Pharoahe's first career misstep. The album isn't necessarily ba, rather it doesn't stand up to the lofty reputation Monch has created for himself over the past two decade. The big change on this record seems to come from Monch attempting to make his always clever wordplay actually say something relevant. His lyrics have always mirrored those of a battle rapper. On 'W.A.R.' they still do, but they also seem to reflect almost exclusively the paranoia that was voiced on his single 'Agent Orange'. Record executives and political figures are targets throughout the record and noted hip-hop conspirator Immortal Technique even makes an appearance. The issue is a lot of these tracks just don't represented the Pharoahe Monch most want to hear. The album just seems like it was too quickly pieced together around some concept Monch didn't fully flesh out.
'W.A.R.' is a solid hip-hop record. There are a number of great tracks which all seem to throw back to the sound established on 'Desire'. 'Black Hand Side' featuring Phonte and Styles P has a slow burning groove. Phonte as always impresses and Monch's wordplay off of both rappers works beautifully. Lead single 'Clap' is a great lyrical tour de force for Monch especially when it breaks down in the second half. 'Haile Salassie Karate' featuring Mr. Porter and LA based producer Samiyam has the best beat on the record.The choice of Samiyam shows once again Monch's constant knowledge of hip-hop even up to this day. Monch is still one of the best artists in hip-hop today. Inconsistency from an artist who has always been consistent just weighs the album downy. If any other rapper released 'W.A.R.' in 2011 it would probably be seen in a much more positive light. Hip-hop is notorious for stale tracks on albums and so boring filler like 'The Hitman' and the title track 'W.A.R.' would just seem typical. For Pharoahe though every word has always seemed so precise. Every guest spot Monch has ever done seems like yet another verse in his personal hall of fame. There are numerous moments where that occurs on 'W.A.R.', but something is still missing. The record isn't reaching the realms of adult contemporary though it feels predictable. For Pharoahe's fans nothing he has ever done was predictable. It is sad to finally see the unpredictable hero of lyricism finally write an album that is only good. I'll still be listening to this album for weeks, I just hope it stays as consistent as the man's other work has throughout my life.