"... If you’re influenced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, a great deal of your audience is not just going to be urban kids from the hood. ..."
By Ben Westhoff
Queens rap veteran Pharoahe Monch came of age in the ‘90s with duo Organized Konfusion. His 1999 solo debut, Internal Affairs spawned the hit “Simon Says,” and his long-awaited follow-up Desire was recently released to positive reviews but fairly weak sales. He performs at the highly anticipated rap/rock festivalRock the Bells in SF 8-18-07, headlined by Wu-Tang and Rage Against the Machine.
Where are you right now?
I’m in a car coming into Manhattan from Queens. I’m driving, actually. I love to drive. If I go twelve times platinum, I’ll still be driving. It’ll just be a Lamborghini.
Who are the main guys you’re buddies with on Rock The Bells?
Mos [Def] and [Talib] Kweli and some of the Wu-Tang guys.
Expecting any crazy shenanigans?
All of these artists are so busy. I don’t think there’s going to be like a ‘Rock The Bells’ after party tour with all the groups getting together and doing cocaine.
Why do you think critics gravitate towards you?
You kind of don’t know what you’re going to get. I’ve been doing these record signings at these in-stores, and the DJs will play some old, old Pharoahe stuff, and I’ll be like, “Wow, the intricacies of some of that stuff, technically, is just remarkable.” But I totally didn’t listen to [Internal Affairs] when I recorded my new one, and I totally didn’t listen to the trends that are going on currently in music.
How do you feel about Desire’s reception?
It has been overwhelming – overwhelmingly good. One thing people feel about it is the maturity and the growth. I took some chances on it, for example singing for my first verse on the “Push” record. I’ve done choruses before, but I’ve never tried to sing a verse. I just love recording. You never know what’s going to come out of the process.
That’s interesting, because a lot of rappers downplay their work in the studio.
I think I have a different mentality. A lot of rappers who say they prefer the stage over the studio, their shows still suck.
Why was the album twice delayed?
The first time I had a hand in pushing it back because I wanted to tweak some things and I wanted to shoot a video for “When The Gun Draws.” The second time we pushed it back again to create more marketing funds. The record was pre-released earlier in the UK, and the response over there was so overwhelming that [Universal’s UK division] actually funded the video.
Clipse became a critical darling -- even playing at the Pitchfork festival – and had a hard time selling records. Do you worry about connecting with the public?
If the public really likes what’s on the radio right now, then I don’t have a problem with not connecting with them. If the public were exposed to my record, many of them would probably like it. Clipse’s album was one of the best albums of last year, but their marketing wasn’t up to par. It did a very bad job of marketing why that group is unique. When they talk the drug talk, they do it in a very entertaining way, in a very good way, a vivid way. You can’t compare them to anybody else who does that, to Young Jeezy or Jay-Z.
How do you feel about playing shows in front of a bunch of white kids?
I mean, white kids have always supported hip-hop, since the beginning. To me, that’s like, a no-brainer. If you’re influenced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, a great deal of your audience is not just going to be urban kids from the hood.
Any chance of an Organized Konfusion reunion?
Who knows what the future holds?