W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) finds Pharoahe Monch taken aback by Hip-Hop’s willingness to sublimate art for expedience. The album’s intro frames a dystopic future, ravaged by the prostration of art to authority. The album serves as a warning from the future of what happens when creation is snuffed out by production. “Calculated Amalgamation” opens the album with Monch as living message; his delivery half spoken word, half timing pattern, questioning the rationale behind saying whether an MC is too smart for his own good.
“Evolve” is a lyrical tour de force that furthers Pharoahe’s “ghost weed” interlude from De La Soul’s AOI. Anchored by angelic chanting and sparse production, Monch weaves a dense tapestry of interlocking rhymes that draw his line in the sand, exhorting listeners to “get used to wisdom.” Think Bleek Gilliam’s last stand in Mo’ Betta Blues, playing the tune of his life like it’s his last hurrah.
The pace quickens on “W.A.R.” with Immortal Technique riding shotgun on the hook and the legendary Vernon Reid on guitar. Monch defines the War on Consciousness and places himself on the frontlines in opposition. Lead single “Clap” is suitable sliced to ribbons by DJ Boogie Blind and tackles police brutality in urban communities with refreshing intelligence and honesty.
Mood-setting strings and Phonte’s crooning smooth out “Black Hand Side,” which also features Style P rhyming on the plight of the hood. “Let My People Go,” with its rousing organ and driving rhythm features a hard-charging Pharoahe who “pushes the envelope like US mailmen,” switching rhyme schemes and flows, alternating between singing and rapping with ample dexterity, including a precision interpolation of Juvenile’s classic “Ha” flow.
Diamond D produces “Shine,” with its vibraphone-driven rhythm and Mela Machinko on the chorus. Monch bounces off the beat with alliterative device, chronicling death in the hood, juxtaposing the problems in the Black community with the rap community; framing record execs as the crooked cops that stifle the growth of the hood. Mr. Porter channels Curtis Mayfield on “Haile Selassie Karate.” Pharoahe tackles the Illuminati; sprinkling in references to boxer John Mugabe (“The Beast”) Horus, Islam and more in a quick delivery that works well with Porter’s slow simmering production.
“The Hitman” draws the oft-used allegory between the music industry and the drug game, albeit with far more points of connection and precision delivery. “Assassins” features Jean Grae once again terminating on sight and it’s all Monch or Royce Da 5’9’ can do not to get dragged off this track. The tri are the sole remaining assassins of a 100 member team from a failed mission to hack the powers that be. Eventually assassin #2 (Monch) succeeds, leading to “The Grand Illusion (Circa 1973). Monch attempts to pull the curtain and expose the reality of the world we live in. The journey ends with the towering “Still Standing.” Jill Scott sings amid strings, rolling cinematic drums and horn blasts as Pharoahe chronicles his life and the obstacles he’s faces in life and music and his triumphant survival.
W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) serves as Pharoahe Monch’s line in the sand and a coat of arms against the destruction of art by those who control its commerce. It is lyrically intricate and densely packed, overtly challenging its listeners to peel back layers and connect lines with scavenger hunt-like discovery. There is melody, there is resonance, but most of all there is defiance towards a system where convention would normally have him on the outside looking in. But that’s only if he obeyed convention. He’s a renegade. Ignore this album at your peril.
Out of 5
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