We Are At W.A.R. -- Pharoahe Monch Interview part 2

In the conclusion of TWV’s chat with Pharoahe Monch, the rapper talks working with Diddy, how Geffen/MCA almost killed his career and why he didn’t sign with Jay-Z.

The Well Versed: You mentioned the “Intro.” That was the only track you received production credits for on W.A.R. Throughout your career, you’ve been producing. What was the decision behind the producers you wanted to work with this time? Like for example, Fyre Department [produced “The Grand Allusion”]. I thought that was an awesome arrangement they came with and I know recently they added the live drums to the mix. But I don’t necessarily think of an album with that type of Fyre Department production on the same album as Marco Polo for example. It’s an eclectic range.

Pharoahe Monch: I just wanted to be free and I don’t care about that. I have beats now that are fucking remarkable that I just didn’t think fit and the first version of [“The Grand Allusion”] I just sampled King Crimson and the shit was hot. I rhymed on it and it was hot. I did it at Marco Polo’s house because he had some shit there. I was like, “Can I use this?” because I was doing vocals there and I was like, “Let’s scoop this and do it here.” And we just looped it and it was hot. And then I had somebody play it out on the keyboard and the shit came out dope and Marco was totally against replaying a lot of shit, but the shit sounds fucking crazy. And then I had the band actually play the shit over so there’s three versions of the song. When it got to the band interpretation I was like, whatever it’s my idea — they did the work — it’s not about that. I need the love. I need the love. I mean, this next record — my manager would chop me in the throat if he heard me say, “Next record.” On my next record, I’m going to be doing a lot more production on it.

TWV: Do you have a title?

PM: I’m not going to do that. [Laughs] W.A.R. is the title. [Laughs]

TWV: You know, I personally want to thank you. My first job covering anything was the 2009 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and you rocked there. You were the headliner and it was the biggest interview I ever had at that point. But you talked a lot about W.A.R. then. You were talking in anticipation of it. You were talking about how hard it was going to be in comparison to Desire. The interesting thing now after hearing [W.A.R.], it feels like Internal Affairs meets Desire. It’s real hard at moments. Then it’s real soulful, almost gospel in some moments. Then last week you confirmed that “Calculated Amalgamation” was the last song added. How many iterations have you gone through with W.A.R.? If some tracks were made during Desire, and up to a month ago you were still adding tracks…

PM: Not many. The truth is, I like working in studios. I got an MP 2000 XL and a couple pieces of production equipment but I don’t have a lot of recording equipment. I don’t have a lot of recording equipment so the truth is, going back and forth to the studio and getting the shit to sound right was just a real pain in the ass and a process that I would never want to go through again. But I love it. I don’t want to complain about the process. But you do a verse and a chorus and it’s like, “When can I get back into the studio again?” That’s part of the struggle that I feel is in the album, too. It wasn’t high end fruits, berries, zen-palate, Smart Water. It was like basement, Marco’s room, Exile’s fucking house with the fucking cat and whatever the fuck. It was real, “We got to get this shit done however we got to get it done.” [Laughs]

TWV: I’ve been listening to W.A.R. now for a month or so. I think it’s amazing. And especially because it embodies everything that you’re great at — your multi-syllabic rhyme schemes and all these lofty words journalists toss on as to describe your talent. I also feel like it’s very honest. It does embody some of the rage that’s happening in America right now in a lot of ways. And it does that without sounding bitter. Then I think about you as an artist and the way you can do a song with D’Angelo then turn around and do a song with Styles P. You can write tracks for Diddy and then you can drop a “Simon Says.” There’s a lot of range in what you’re able to do, the boxes you can step into. How do you foster that or cultivate that over the course of your career?

PM: I think I can attribute it to a couple of things which is trying to stay honest. As I’m at Rawkus and they’re merging into Geffen/MCA and they’re throwing these names at me about artists they want me to do songs with, I’m like, “I just can’t.” I can’t pull that off. I really think that one that’s true with Hip-Hop, whether it’s that, whether it’s this, I think the fan notices your honesty. Like my manager was saying, Will.I.Am is so honest in his pop-ness; in his willingness to make these songs that it’s all the way that. It’s Super Bowl that. It’s “I GOT A FEELING!” — so that. You got to make a decision where your line is and where you want to be. At that point, I was just like, “I can’t. The risk of this shit ruining my career, I can’t take that risk.”

TWV: Who did they want you to work with?

PM: Excuse me?

TWV: What artist did they suggest you work with?


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