Another new feature for our fearless readers. In collaboration with my people in the Columbia University Society of Hip-Hop, I’m going to be bringing you quick weekly reviews of notable, new releases. A few thoughts on the release and an easy ratings system: bump it or skip it. This week’s feature is Pharoahe Monch’s W.A.R. Enjoy.
Full disclosure as we dive into Monch’s latest release: I think Monch is one of the 5 best living emcees. I’m an unabashed fan and I own everything the man’s ever put out. I bought W.A.R. before I had heard any tracks. It’s not on the same level as Monch’s classic Internal Affairs, but W.A.R. is a more focused and well considered effort than 2007’s Desire and a sure reminder that Monch is still one of the great singular talents in Hip-Hop. “Evolve,” the album’s second track, puts Monch’s slippery, dense flow on display with lines like “Grade school mathematics examining thugs/ They discuss bloods, crips, techs, jammin’, and drugs/ I speak of world peace, war, famine, and flood/ Watchin’ Pan’s Labyrinth while I’m unraveling bud.” Monch’s command of odd images and poetic devices and his preacherly delivery make every song’s verses exciting and often unpredictable. The production doesn’t always hold up to the force of the rhymes–especially on tracks like single “Clap,” which feels like it’s lagging 20 years behind an emcee who’s always been about 5 years ahead of everyone else–but the beats are solid enough on the whole to make the album a satisfying listen for fans of East Coast Hip-Hop. When the production and rhymes reach the same level–on “Evolve,” “The Grand Illusion,” and “Haile Selassie Karate,” for example–W.A.R. is pretty spectacular. At this point in his career, it would be nice to hear Monch experiment a bit more with production choices, but it’s just nice to have some well crafted rap to dive into over the coming months.