Pharoahe Monch - The HipHopGods Interview

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    Pharoahe Monch - The HipHopGods Interview
    By Kyle Eustice

    Born Troy Donald Jamerson in the South Jamaica, Queens area of New York City in 1972, Pharoahe Monch witnessed hip-hop as it was just beginning to breathe new life in the '70s and '80s. It laid the foundation for what would eventually become his calling. In 1991, Monch joined forces with fellow emcee Prince Po and formed Organized Konfusion. They would go on to release three crtically acclaimed albums: 1991's self-titled debut, 1994's Stress: The Extinction Agenda and 1997's The Equinox. Now with solo careers of their own, Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch are still one of the most respected and acclaimed underground hip-hop duos of the '90s, largely due to their innovative and groundbreaking lyrics. Pharoahe Monch took some time to talk to Hip-Hop Gods about growing up in South Jamaica Queens, Russell Simmons's diss and his new album, P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

    You grew up in South Jamaica, Queens in the '70s and '80s. What was it like to witness the birth of hip-hop?

    For me, I saw the full spectrum of the culture. As I was hearing break beats, I was seeing people breakdancing and it was more like, 'What the hell are they doing on the floor, spinning? What dance is that?' I was little, as well, so I'm like, 'Ok, ok so this is the new summer dance [laughs].' Then later on life, like everything else, it grew and expanded and it became way bigger. I'm was in art school, there's graffiti and I'm an artist. It pulled me in like, 'How can I be a part of this culture?' I was drawn into it as a cultural aspect more so in the beginning more than, 'How can I get a deal? How can I make money rapping?' I wanted to elevate the craft or the art like a poet or a painter, spend time studying the craft so when I come out and present, people feel like, 'Ok, this guy is adding to the history of this thing rather than just taking a piece.'

    Russell Simmons didn't like your original name, Simply II MCs, and encouraged you to change it. You both seemed very receptive and open to change at a very young age. I think that's rare for young kids.

    I think that's one of the things about us that enabled us to critique ourselves very early on. We were able to say it's just not good enough so we'd do it again. We challenged ourselves in the studio. Our friends made it competitive. I think that came from going to art school and learning the process of having an idea of what something should be in you have in your head and when you put it on the paper, does it come to fruition like it was in your head? And if it doesn't, how do you get from A to B? Art school kind of teaches you those steps. It teaches you to respect the process.

    How did that translate to your hip-hop career?

    I think as emcees we were trying to be pretty visual and it enabled us to revise. I think we still had a lot of learning to do in other areas because we were kind of tossed into the mix due to circumstances. We were on a completely different path before our producer Paul C passed away. We were thrown into the mix of taking a lot of the bulk of the responsibilities on ourselves. I think that's what made Organized Konfusion the experimental group it turned out to be.

    Do you ever regret not signing with Def Jam?

    Hell fukking no. If we signed with Def Jam, people would be like, 'Remember that dude Fudge Pudge and the guy with the braids? They was kind of good. What happened to them [laughs]?' Perspective is everything.

    What made you decide to start your own imprint, W.A.R. Media?

    I wanted more creative control and to be at the helm. The label and the artist had started to move in the same direction. It's like Beyonce putting out her own project and not caring what her A&R says. It's just like, 'Ok, at this point, I'm Beyonce and me and my people have a relationship with MTV, we have a relationship with the world. Why do we need a label again [laughs]? No disrespect for people that do need record labels because it does work for certain artists. At the time when I was independent, the label was saying stuff like, 'We were thinking of calling this Alchemist guy' and I was like, 'I know Alchemist! I was just with him!' It became clear I didn't really need a label anymore.

    Many artists cite you as an influence. How does that make you feel?

    When I think about music and how I was introduced to rock or disco or hip-hop music, you remember what you were doing at the time, but when people tell you that you and these three other groups were my introduction or this song or this album inspired me to do this, that's a huge compliment for me.

    What's P.T.S.D about?

    The album is about struggle, health care, emotional and mental health, and financial health as an independent artist, happiness - just straight up, are you fukking happy? That's the end question of P.T.S.D. and I think one of the fly things about perspective is to at the end of the day, forget the placement of numbers, but to be in that conversation, in certain circles, even if you're talking basketball, people who are revered don't want to get left out or forgotten. To be brought up in that conversation, that's just a tremendous honor based on what hip-hop is about. We make the conversation. If I let you make the conversation and it's about record sales then we have to talk about, no disrespect, Vanilla Ice, Hammer, because that's what the conversation is. If I make the conversation about the amount of soul and spirit placed into the songs and honesty then I feel like I can be a part of the conversation. It's interesting. Both are relevant.

    P.T.S.D. is also a sequel to W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). What gave you that idea?

    It's continuing. I felt it only fitting that if you're going to call an album W.A.R. that means 'We Are Renegades,' that's radical. Government doesn't want healthy citizens. This is why there's an issue with health care because pharmaceutical companies are profiting and there's no huge push to teach the masses proper nutrition to all the things I was saying on the W.A.R. album; interior/exterior war within. I thought it was only fitting to be like, 'Ok, I said all of the things so where does that leave you?' Basically you went to war and now what?

    You're suffering the aftermath.

    Right, that's what P.T.S.D. is about.

    How do you decide on who to collaborate with on an album?

    I think I see my songs as small films and I'm directing and I'm casting, just like you heard a lot of other artists say you see the colors, the shots, the cuts and you start to get a feel for the overall project then you start to hear voices. Then you wonder who would be right for this song. These collaborations aren't just like, 'Dude, you down to do a 16 on my beat?' When you hear Black Thought, you think 'oh my god, who else could have done this?' That's how films should be. You shouldn't be able to see other actors in The Godfather other than Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. That's what I'm saying. Ok, everybody can act, but how do you differentiate who it should be? Usually on my albums, I'm trying to handpick the perfect person. You can even go as far to say that I will go beneath the star quality to get the perfect person.

    What have you been listening to lately?

    I'm a big fan of Detroit hip-hop in general. Black Milk to Royce to Slum Village to Eminem - it's like something's in the fukking water in Detroit, you know?

    Pharoahe Monch - The HipHopGods Interview -

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