I’ve analyzed a lot of rappers here at The Composer’s Corner over the past year and a half or so. I’ve done Jean Grae’s all-around game here, Mos Def ‘s rhyming ability here, Eminem’s repeated rhythms here, Nas’ command of flow here, Common’s storytelling ability here, and still more. So if you know your shit, we’re talking the best of the best, not the flavor of the week. (Let’s see if Macklemore sticks around, is all I’m saying.) But that means that from time to time, some rappers don’t get the look they should just because of the reality of things – I simply don’t have the time to analyze all the great rappers there are out there. We fixed that a few months back by giving Mos Def that look. Today, we fix another mistake on my part, only because I didn’t really find out about him until recently, when I came to know him through his associations with Jean and Mos. (P.S. – My exclusive 1.5 hour interview with Jean will come out soon. And hopefully if our rapper under the magnifying glass here likes this interview, I will interview him too! Goes for any of these dudes, in fact.)
That rapper is Pharoahe Monch. A monarch without the A&R. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to his puns/jokes eventually.)
The inverse relationship between Monch’s rapping abilities and the amount of radio play he gets is, unfortunately, a summary of the current situation the music industry finds itself in today. As I explain on my exclusive feature on RappingManual.com found at this link here, the only things that all pop rappers have in common is good delivery. It is pretty much a given for any rapper you’ve ever heard of that they have good delivery. Unfortunately, that might be ALL of the rapping ability a dude’s got. I mean, does 2 Chainz have anything BESIDES good delivery? Dude doesn’t even rhyme sometimes. From the inexplicable hit, “I’m Different”- “Hair long, money long / Me and broke niggas, we don’t get along”, and then has the audacity to repeat that line.
And that’s what we’ll be discussing today. We’re gonna talk about next level shit – what separates the good from the “ehhh, they alright”, and the great from the good. Because that’s the standard we hold ourselves to over here at the Composer’s Corner. Yeah, I get it, Drake gets the best hooks and beats and you’re just trying to go out and get drunk on a Friday night, but when you got options like Jean/Talib/Mos/Monch when you’re on your own, why would you settle for less?
So first thing that separates good from great: a rap that leads the listener tantalizingly on by making sense through a continuous narrative, whether musical or textual. That is, every rap idea has to lead from one to the next. Although he’s a great rapper, and I hate to mention him in a negative context, Busta sometimes fails this test. Observe the following rhyme, from “Get You Some” (my 4th greatest Dre beat of all time, found in the count-down under “Rap Analysis” and at this link here): “A lot of niggas shit sound dated/ I’m like Shaq, the franchise player just got traded.” Okay, we get it. You left your old record label for Aftermath (a union that was too short for my taste.) But what does that have to do with other rapper’s shit sounding dated? Nothing! You gotta keep talking about related things the whole way through.
And that’s what a rapper at Monch’s level does. In the song that will form the cornerstone of this analysis, Monch keeps talking about the same thing: the general topic of how amazing he is. He doesn’t swerve off into unrelated material, on “Oh No!” with Mos Def and Nate Dogg: “Very contagious raps, should be trapped in cages / through stages of wackiness, Pharoahe’s raps are blazing, and it amazes…” (Hear the song here.) And so on. He doesn’t quickly change subjects. You thus get the feeling that he wrote these rhymes all the way through in one sitting, rather than just picking and choosing his best one-liners and hashtag jokes, adding them together until they made 16 bars (…lil wayne, post-Carter II…lil wayne…lil wayne.) But that’s not all there is to it.
In rap, there are 2 major song sections: the verse and chorus. The chorus, also called the hook, is the part that’s repeated, and the verses are all different. And the order usually goes verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and continues to alternate. So…wouldn’t it be a REALLY good idea to musically lead from one to the other? And we’re not just talking throwing in a one-syllable, “yeah” or “because!”, at the end of a verse to kinda, sorta make that connection. I’m looking at you, Eminem, 2nd verse, on 50’s “Don’t Push Me”: “You know you not dealing with some fucking / marshmellow, little, soft yellow punk pussy whose heart’s jell-O…CAUSE” [chorus now] ”Right now I’m on the edge, so don’t push me”, etc., etc. [Disclaimer: I still think Eminem is one of the greatest MCs of all time. Same for Busta]. But how could you better lead into a chorus?
In one of the major ways to create continuity in flow (which will get its own much more in-depth article later), why don’t you end the verse rhyming on the same vowel sound that the chorus rhymes on?
Monch ends his verse on “Oh No” by reeling off 11 rhymes in 2 bars, a rate of 5.5 rhymes per bar (which compares well, if not better than, the rates we saw with Eminem, Nas, and Jean.) It is: “PhaROAHE’s FLOWS BLOW SHOWS like aFRO’s / we HATE Y’ALL THOUGH, that’s when NATE DOGG GO,” where all the capitalized syllables rhyme. It’s…amazing. And that’s just looking at the rhyme by itself, without what comes next. Because when you consider that Nate Dogg immediately comes in during the same beat, starting his chorus with the words, “OH NO!”, and continuing to rhyme on that sound through the rest of the chorus- “Niggas ain’t scared to hustle…” (Nate says it so that it rhymes) – it just flows like butter. That’s the kind of shit that separates great from good.
And this isn’t even considering the structure of the rhymes themselves, which are internal multisyllabic rhymes that occur in different places inside the bar and against the beat!
And it wouldn’t be Monch if we didn’t give him credit for the crazy vocab he’s got. Vocab, although it doesn’t get the respect it should in popular rap and rap in general nowadays, has always been an important part of the rapper’s tool box. As the Fugees asked back in ’94, “Who Got The Vocab?” Or as Busta says, “Vo – cab u – lary’s necessary / when digging in to my library” (shouldn’t have to quote what song). Just off the top of my head though, in various Monch songs he uses, correctly mind you, the words “epiphany,” “rigorous”, “epitome”, “audacity”, “tenacity”, “magnanimous”, “ignoramus”, “banish”, and even more $20 SAT words. Fine, maybe the college graduates among you are unimpressed (to be fair, I had to look up “magnanimous.”) But the fact isn’t that he just strews them willy-nilly among his rap; he features them prominently and rhymes them all. On “No Mercy”, with M.O.P., he raps, “This rhyme…will remain in the minds of my foes forever in INFAMY / the EPITOME of lyrical ePIPHANIES / skillfully placed home, we carefully plan SYMPHONIES.” (You can hear the song at this link here.) Once again, there’s good…then there’s great.
And all of this doesn’t even mention that all those capitalized words there are 3 syllable rhymes that occur in different places inside the bar and relative to the beat. So at this point, we are pretty much taking for granted and assuming that Monch is a master rhymer, on the level of someone like Eminem. Em can drop, “I’m zoning off of ONE JOINT / STOPPING A LIMO / HOPPED IN THE WINDOW / SHOPPING A DEMO at GUNPOINT” on “Still Don’t Give A Fuck”, where 15 out of 16 straight syllables are rhymed with 3 and 2-syllable long rhymes. But Monch has got, on “Behind Closed Doors” from the album of the same name, “Ex-MaRINE you DRAG QUEEN, WE TAG TEAM / QUEENS FINEST, the ALLIANCE DEFIANT WE BAG FIENDS”, where 17 out of 21 syllables rhyme. You can hear that song here.
Finally, his jokes. These are way beyond what I like to call the Childish Gambino variety of metaphors, (seriously, how many different puns are there to make on, “I’m fly”?) You can find a nice summary of them on reddit at this link here. These are always plays on run-of-the-mill slang words, like “hot”, “fly”, “the shit”, and so on. Just miles, miles away from, “Serial numbers is Braille / so when you rub against, it feel all twos” (Raekwon, “About Me”, my 2nd greatest Dre beat of all time.) I don’t talk about puns on here too much, but when they’re as good as Monch’s, you gotta pay attention. So simply to pique your appetite, I will explain one that I think not a whole lot of people get on first, second, third, or fiftieth hearing. It took me a while. The line is this: “Fill ‘em with so much lead they call / Berger and Associates!” You might think, “Okay, pretty straightforward: Monch is gonna shoot them until they call lawyers to throw him in jail.”
Not so fast.
The Berger Attorney Firm, formerly known as “Berger & Associates”, is a New York law firm located at 321 Broadway in New York City, where Monch (and M.O.P.) are from. Their website:
says that the Berger Attorney firm takes up cases dealing with worker’s compensation, sexual harassment, birth injuries, and injuries to children. Some real shady shit, as far as lawyering goes. In particular (now quoting their website), “The law firm Berger Attorney helps children with lead poisoning. Children with lead poisoning from lead paint or dust can have very serious problems including brain damage, learning disabilities, and behavior problems.”
So, Monch will fill ‘em with so much lead that they call some shyster lawyers to sue him for lead poisoning!
If you’re dying for more puns like I think you are, you can thank me later for telling you about his song from his “Internal Affairs” album, called, “Official,” found here.
As usual, support the artists! Even youtube vid views are good. Of course all these songs are on itunes and the internet elsewhere.
If you liked this, check out the link analysis, and please tell your friends! Or follow me @composerscorner or email me at [email protected]
As a hip hop parishioner and listener and advocate of the dialect, real lyricists get the shits least attention by radio standards and article mentions. Pharoahe's hot is one of them thats got what alot of pop shot hip hop that have deals have not. flow. meticulous and poignant and a great deal annointed. And if it rhymes overtimes off the band line its fine. that YOU as a writer should expound on his skills as a artist speaks volumes and attests, the TRUE MC's (include Monch among these) are poets, not PROFIT's, hood gossips, and technically speaking, thier pockets and fan base dont show them enough Respeckt.
I been a fan since Organized Konfusion family. Dig deep into any Pharoahe verse folks..ther is way more there than just rhyme and lyrical tenacity..dude talkin real deal~ Yahcob
Holy shit did you just rap a comment?
Thanks for the love! And i feel the mission too
As a longtime Pharoahe fan, I loved this article. If you like Monch's flow, two more rappers you NEED to look into are: Invincible, a phenomenal rapper out of Detroit, and Shad K.
I will for sure, always checking new music. thanks for the love.
Love Pharoahe Monch! Discovered him by listening to the Hip-Hop Docktrine: The Official Boondocks Mixtape (would recommend checking out every rapper from that entire CD). Also, I would recommend getting Pharoahe Monch's Desire and W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). Great analysis.
Also, can you do an analysis of Rakim?
Hey, thanks! Yes, I got those 2 other albums, and like them a lot, but I know the other album and "oh no" better so I stuck with those. I just got an interview done, I'll put it up online soon, so come back for that. He gets real philosophical, all about the nature of music and even life (to an extent), so you'd probably really enjoy it.
As for Rakim, I should definitely do one in the future, but I've gotten a lot of requests recently and am kinda backed up with other requests for articles too. Come check back in a little while for it!
Am I the only person who loves Jean/Mos/Em/Nas/Com/Pharoahe and also likes Macklemore? Not sure if you ever gave it a listen, but that was a good album! Obviously can't compare on a technical level to the types of powerhouses you mentioned, but still…
*Awesome* analyses, by the way. I know you have a backlog of requests, but if you could ever get around to Apathy, he's one of my favorites when it comes to technical skill.
Thanks! I do have a big backlog of requests, but I'll take a look eventually. Thanks for the compliments!
Dope analysis. Pharoahe is one of the greatest emcees to bless the mic. Found this looking for one of his rhymes to quote. Love the analysis, I will be checking for more YO.