May 11, 2009

Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs (October 19, 1999)


In 1999, independent label extraordinaire Rawkus Records decided to market their two biggest releases of the year by promoting both of them at the same time. It helps that they hit store shelves within weeks of each other: Mos Def's Black On Both Sides, which saw the Billboard charts first, went on to move over half a million units and make a solo star out of rapper-slash-actor Dante Smith. In contrast, Pharoahe Monch's solo debut, Internal Affairs, was deleted from production less than a year after its release due to the illegal use of a Godzilla sample, one which was apparently so egregious that, even though everybody and their mother knows what the damn song sounds like, it caused the label to wash its hands of the project entirely.

Kind of a sad trajectory, when you think about it.

Born Troy Jamerson, rapper Pharoahe Monch started off as one-half of critically acclaimed Organized Konfusion alongside Prince Po. After three albums that failed to move enough units to justify any major record label giving them the time of day, the duo broke up, and even though they did not rule out the possibility of working together again, the group name was effectively retired. Pharoahe Monch hustled a solo deal out of Rawkus Records, made a few appearances on the label compilation Soundbombing II, and eventually released his debut, Internal Affairs, off of the strength of "Simon Says", a catchy not-at-all-like-what-you-would-expect-from-Pharoahe Monch club-ready track that utilized the aforementioned Godzilla sample, one which nobody at the label (apparently) bothered to clear, so even though a single was released and the song itself appeared in numerous films and television projects, including the first Charlie's Angels movie (also known as "the good one"), once the song hit the Japanese market, Monch's debut was pulled from store shelves and fucking erased, thereby rendering the two hundred thousand copies sold as the only discs ever created, limiting Monch's sales considerably.

So, yeah, whoever still owns the single for "Simon Says" has a real collector's item on their hands. Which pisses me off, since that was one of the first CD singles I sold when I was struggling for a bit earlier in this decade. Groan...

1. INTRO
It's certainly titled like your average rap album intro, but since Pharoahe Monch actually rhymes on here, it gets a pass.

2. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Even though Monch's beat is alright, I never paid any attention to this track when it was featured as the b-side to “Simon Says”. Hearing it today, it seems that my initial impression was spot-on, as this song is simply boring.

3. QUEENS
I actually really liked this song. Depressing as hell, though.

4. RAPE
Very interesting, and incredibly blunt in the opinion as to how today's artists are fucking up our chosen genre. Even more pertinent today than it was back in 1999, even if Monch takes the metaphor a bit too far.

5. SIMON SAYS
This remains the only hit song that Pharoahe Monch will ever have in his solo career, and it still sounds good today, even if it's obvious that this track was recorded solely to attract attention to the project and not because this is the kind of song Monch likes to create. A lot of critics have decried Monch's flow on this track, and I have to agree: the rapper that appears on here is not the same guy who appears elsewhere on Internal Affairs. I always found it strange that Busta Rhymes directed the video, which, if I remember it correctly, sucked. Rawkus Records was sued for the Godzilla theme music sampled throughout “Simon Says” and, as a result, both the single and Internal Affairs were pulled from store shelves, but the song is easy enough to find.

6. OFFICIAL
Pharoahe gets his Gza/Genius on, utilizing the names of athletes, teams, and sporting good manufacturers into his verses, to fairly good effect, although his final verse ends abruptly, even as the music continues to play.

7. HELL (FEAT CANIBUS)
The contribution from Canibus notwithstanding, this song was literally hell to listen to. I think I now see demons from the corners of my eyes.

8. NO MERCY (FEAT M.O.P.)
After a pretty dope-sounding interlude, Pharoahe Monch and the Mash Out Posse share mic duties over an amped Alchemist Instrumental. The pairing of M.O.P. and one-half of Organized Konfusion isn't the most obvious, but aside from a bit of awkwardness from Monch, the collaboration rocks.

9. RIGHT HERE
I remember when I used to order vinyl and CDs from HipHopSite.com (before they became a digital download-only affair in order to cut costs), they would throw in promotional stickers from Rawkus Records (and others, naturally) advertising “Right Here” as the second single from Internal Affairs. It was a poor choice by the label: this song is annoying as shit. (To be fair, they were referring to the "Right Here" remix featuring Xzibit, but that doesn't make the song any less mundane.)

10. THE NEXT SHIT (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Now this is more like it. They actually played this on the radio around my way exactly one time. In regard to radio-friendliness, Busta and the Pharoahe's joint effort works just as well as “Simon Says”, but on a level that hip hop heads can still appreciate. I've always liked this track.

11. THE ASS (FEAT APANI B. FLY)
It's really bizarre to hear Pharoahe Monch and Apani pair up to rhyme, battle-of-the-sexes style, about, um, sex. The song itself isn't that good, but it has an energy that's lacking from some of the Internal Affairs tracklisting. My question is, what the fuck is Apani doing staring at the generation of little boys in Pre-K? That shit's more disturbing that any horrorcore LP.

12. THE LIGHT
I just didn't care for this song.

13. GOD SEND (ORGANIZED KONFUSION)
This track is labeled as an Organized Konfusion song and not simply as featuring Prince Po, which is interesting. The beat is effective, if not a little bit creepy, and the interaction between the two rappers is still comforting.

14. THE TRUTH (FEAT COMMON & TALIB KWELI)
The Pharoahe is outshined by both Common and (former) labelmate Kweli, but as a total package, this song is really good. This track is probably exactly what hip hop heads were expecting after hearing that these three would be appearing together, so I suppose the best compliment that I can give it is that it's exactly what you two wanted to hear.

15. SIMON SAYS (REMIX) (FEAT LADY LUCK, REDMAN, METHOD MAN, SHABAAM SAHDEEQ, & BUSTA RHYMES)
When I first heard of the existence of this song, I figured that it was a necessary evil, something commissioned by Rawkus to capitalize on the surprise success of the original “Simon Says” and sell more units of Internal Affairs. For the most part, it sounds exactly like that description, but Reggie Noble sounds like he's doing a lot more than simply cashing a check on here. Pharoahe Monch also submits a new verse. This is the only other song that I've ever heard Lady Luck appear on (the first was EPMD's “Symphony 2000”), and her verse pretty much explains why she was dropped from Def Jam with the quickness. Rawkus also managed to sneak their artist Shabaam Sahdeeq onto the track, for no reason other than getting free promotion. Overall, not the worst remix in the world, but nowhere near very good.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Internal Affairs falters in places, but it works more often than not. Pharoahe Monch was never anybody's obvious choice for solo stardom, but for the most part he proves that he can handle the spotlight well enough, over beats that are almost consistently entertaining. And “Simon Says” is still a guilty pleasure, although it's certainly not any dumber than the majority of club bangers today. All in all, a triumph, and a much better album than its promotional companion, Mos Def's Black On Both Sides.

BUY OR BURN? If you can find a copy of this disc, you should buy it. However, you probably won't find one anywhere anyway, unless you stumble across the coolest garage sale in the world, so burning it may be the next best thing. I included a link anyway, in case you want to buy it directly off of somebody at an exhorbant rate.

BEST TRACKS: “The Next Shit”; “The Truth”; “No Mercy”; “Rape”; “God Send”; “Simon Says”; “Queens”

-Max

20 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 11, 2009

    classic. Could've saved hip-hop right there.

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  2. This album is such a disappointment, especially compared to the first 2 Organized Konfusion albums. The beats are very average and even annoying at times. Pharaoh Monch went from being one of the best rappers ever to sounding very generic, and he also lost his awesome voice here.

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  3. AnonymousMay 11, 2009

    the light was a r4eally good track!!

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  4. Man, I was just listening to Stress: The Extinction Agenda, and I was thinking "hey, I wonder if Max has any Monch reviews?"

    Good luck I guess!

    Also, are the rest of the user reviews coming any time soon?

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  5. I plan on running them after the stunt blogging is over.

    Thanks for reading!

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  6. AnonymousMay 11, 2009

    Better than Black On Both Sides?! Not even close. you don't give Both Sides its due, but you know what they say about opinions. I do agree with you about Queens and The Truth, both are classic cuts but the rest of the album was pretty average. Black on both sides I could pretty much listen to from beginning to end.

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  7. Yes! As an avid and stubborn Monch fan, I have been awaiting the day that an album from his canon appeared on HHID. Although Internal Affairs is no Stress or Organized Konfusion, it is still a solid and important album.
    I have to agree with Max though: one of the album's greatest disappointments has got to be Monch's verse on the Truth. Monch is a better MC than Common, and at least as adequate as Kweli. His verse sounds worse than his appearance on J Dilla's Love Music.
    When Monch is at his best, though, there is no stopping him. I hope you dabble in an Organized Konfusion review soon Max...

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  8. AnonymousMay 13, 2009

    Lotos your a dumbass motherfucker, this is the best solo work that pharohe has done, he proved to fans that he was still good without po, this album is actually good, i agree it aint better than organized konfusion albums but this album here it aint a disapointment

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  9. This album would have been classic, but "The Next Shit" sucks so much ass I can't give it the classic nod...

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  10. AnonymousJune 27, 2009

    Your musical taste is pretty bad, you dig the most annoying track of the album and diss tunes with no explanation, wtf?

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  11. wtf??? you like The Next Shit over The Light????? man what is wrong with you???

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  12. the next shit one of the best tracks??? that track is more annoying than Right Here! and that song is one of the hardest!!! sometimes your an asshole when it comes to these reviews max

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  13. I found this album at a Half Price Books, of all places. Apparently its previous owner didn't realize how valuable it was.

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  14. Tile GroutAugust 26, 2011

    Wow, Aside from "Queens" I pretty much hated this album. What is up with Monch's voice? It sounded like he was on the cusp of succumbing to the flu or something throughout every track. Some of the production was okay but generally speaking, fuck this album.

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  15. they got this used at a specs by my house for $30. still contemplating on wether i should get it or not. good album though i love the sound of this shit.

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  16. I got this the other day for about $8 US :D bargain. The Light is a great song but I guess I'm biased as I've sung that song onstage with the Pharoahe himself :D

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  17. This album is great but the one thing that is mildly annoying is how busta rhymes uses his speedy flow on 'The next shit' but his dungeon dragon flow on 'Simon Says (Remix)', possibly indicating that the two songs weren't created around the same period of time.

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