For a guy named after an ancient royalty and a bad haircut, Pharoahe Monch is doing awesomely well. After all, how many rappers can boast of a major record deal despite not having a wall full of platinum plaques? But things haven't always been smooth and dandy for this Organized Konfusion co-founder. Monch spent the last seven years being shuttled from one label to another, before finally landing his current home at Steve Rifkind's SRC Records. On the heels of his second outing, Desire, we caught up with the New York MC to pick his brain on music, politics, and hip-hop cereal.
It's been over seven years since we last heard from you. What took you so long?I think the bulk of the layoff was really label politics. You know the last record was released in August '99. Rawkus then made the transfer to their distribution company MCA. That lasted about a year. And under the MCA regime I recorded different things. Different politics happened with the people that were heading that regime. And then, that situation got swallowed by Geffen. Geffen took me in as an artist under their company. A couple of records were recorded under that, and that in itself lasted about 2 1/2 years. I fought legally to get off the label--off that situation. A transfer to Shady [Records] went sour because the two previous labels...the percentages and points for back-end money that they wanted was too high. So, that didn't go through. Then, you know, I fought to get off the label, which legally took some time. You know, paperwork and all that. That was about another nine months.
After all that, I was exhausted.
So when I became a free agent, I just, eh, relaxed and started working on the album. I had producers like Alchemist and Mr. Porter and Black Milk at my disposal. I was blessed to work with that level of producers. I went on tour--a couple of tours, just blessed to try out the music in front of people. That was crazy, because I was on stage for 45 minutes doing 85% new music, and it was just...very well received. I felt good about what I was gon' put out.
Right.I felt blessed to be able to go on tour and try it out in an arena. You know, I took some time to write two songs with Puff, which really wasn't two, because you're really working on like 4 or 5 different forms. And, um, I had an interesting conversation with Talib Kweli's manager on tour. He was just talking about how the game has changed and how I hadn't put anything out and it's real selfish of me--even though it's been label issues--not to put anything out on the Internet. You know, the music is not to be selfish with it. In fact, he was like, "It's not even yours; it comes from a higher source. Give it away if necessary." You know, he was talking from a fan perspective. People he had been in contact with were like, "Yo, what is he doing?" You know it's not about the waiting game; it's about putting music out. They touched me with that. When I got back from tour, I was jamming one of the songs I had on the album that I felt were important. One of those songs is called "Hold On"--a record I did with Erykah Badu. I didn't wanna put this record out on an independent level. So, when I got back, I had offers from SONY and just different majors that I had to sift through to decide how to put this record out. I'm just fortunate to still be in the game without a platinum or gold plaque and to still have projects on board like that.
What was different about your recording approach this time, compared to when you made Internal Affairs?Oh, very different. I think Internal Affairs is a great record, because, um, I took it back to the basement. I took it back to the Rocky Balboa feel. I was doing vocals in the closet with no air conditioning. So, we recorded like that on purpose. We recorded with quickness. We recorded with SP-12s. You know, we had AKAIs 2000. We purposely wanted a sound and a feel, and I wanted to vomit out what I needed to express and not overthink it. So, I love that album for that. This album, the trials and tribulation. I had to push. I had perseverance to move through time. It's a very social, political, and spiritual record.
Is there any truth to the reports that Lauryn Hill is featured on the album?I recorded with her awhile ago, you know, but we didn't do nothing with her on this project. But we still might do something in the future.
Who else did you work with?Dwele played trumpets and recorded the "Trilogy" track...it's like the highlight of the album, and Erykah Badu is on a song called "Hold On". The bulk of it is just production from Mr. porter to Black Milk and myself. This album is really good.
What's your favorite song on DesireRight now it's "Welcome to the Terror Dome (Remix)." I think the album is crazy.
Compare hip-hop between now and back when you first came into the game. Generally, was hip-hop better back in the day or is it better now?Um, overall, it was better then because I think artists were pushing each other a little more. The competition was a little higher previously. Now it's easier to get money from all these different sources. I don't think the creative level is at the forefront anymore. It was definitely at a point where it was like, "The torch will be passed to the person who's the most creative, who has the better sound, the better songs, and better stage show." Now, it has nothing to do with that.