Big props go out to one of my intellectual and music-writer heroes, Mark Anthony Neal, for tweeting a link to this great Q&A in Believer featuring Pharoahe Monch. Adam Mansbach, who is also a pretty fantastic writer and thinker (and Stress magazine alum), conducts the interview. (I haven’t read his acclaimed The End of the Jews yet but I can confidently recommend his 2005 novel Angry Black White Boy, a sharp-witted story that is in the simplest terms about a white kid obsessed with hip-hop culture and enraged with white America. Go cop that right away.)
Well, Mansbach chopped it up with Monch whose new album W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) is set to drop in February. I still bump “Shine,” that Diamond D-produced single featuring Mela Manchiko on the hook that was leaked last summer. Listen:
In the article, Monch expounds on hip-hop’s generational divide, his creative process, YouTube battle rapping, and some of his own influences on the mike. He cites the expected: Kool G Rap, De La Soul, Chuck D. And the not so expected: John Coltrane and Eugene McDaniels whose 1971 album, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, is probably the soundtrack to every beat-diggers’ wet dream.
Read an excerpt of the Q&A:
BLVR: Do you see a generation gap within hip-hop? Between the veteran artists and fans who connect hip-hop to social protest, and younger ones who just see hip-hop as a facet of pop culture? I’m thinking of the cover version of Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome” on Desire, which is a brilliant way of knitting two generations together: commenting on the continuing relevance of that song, but also reinventing it.
PM: That’s exactly why I did it. I’m a big PE fan, very inspired by Chuck and the group. I laid the first verse, and I was playing it for people younger than me and they were like, “This shit is incredible. This is dope, this is relevant.” And I was like, “If you think this is crazy, you need to hear the original version,” and they were like, “What… original…?” And I was like, “Oh my god, that’s even more reason for me to do it.”
BLVR: They’re certainly never going to hear PE on the radio.
PM: Radio goes after this demographic of eight-to-eighteen-year-olds, and plays music they think facilitates that demographic, and really dumbs it down. But at the same time, my manager has a nephew in high school, and he’s telling me about the resurgence of golden-era shit in his high school. The same monster that they invented—the Internet, which is a gift and a curse, because it gives you all this access—allows kids to find Public Enemy and breeze through the shit, if they’re willing to become privy to it, and listen to “They Reminisce Over You” and fucking Large Professor and Illmatic.
When you find that music, you really feel in your soul what’s on the level with what. A producer friend of mine went to a conference in Phoenix, and all the bigwigs is on the panel, and the audience is fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-old up-and-coming producers, and a guy raises his hand and is like, “What’s going on with the music? I’m not really feeling what’s going on.” And a guy on the panel is like, “Well, you know, the Pro Tools and the Reason and the digital transfer…” and the kid is like, “Yo, forget all of that! I’m saying that I’m not feeling what cats are doing right now, what’s being served to us!” And people started clapping. You can’t fool all the people all the time.
BLVR: It’s great that that happened at a producers’ conference, in a room full of people who aspire to shape what’s going to be on the radio next year.
PM: Even at my old-ass age, I think back to my father and my older brother telling me, “This is not good.” I remember one time I bought Kool & The Gang’s Ladies Night and my brother broke the record and was like, “This is bullshit Kool & The Gang! This is not real Kool & The Gang!” And I was like, “What the fuck, man? This is Ladies Night!” It’s the same thing. There needs to be someone who can lead you in the right direction. There’s a need for pop. There’s a need for radio. There’s also a need to understand the brilliance and the depth of jazz and soul—and what hip-hop can be at its most brilliant and what hip-hop can be at its most simplistic.
Kids don’t even realize what they’re up against. If you idolize Kanye, know who Kanye’s influences are, and study that stuff. You’ll never match Kanye by starting off with his last record. You gotta go back and see that he was a great student of Jay-Z and a great student of Mos and a great student of Common and a great student of [Talib] Kweli. You just can’t jump in it and expect to be at that level.
Even the guys who I like who are coming up now, like this kid Blu from L.A., you talk to these dudes and they’re like, “My father was this,” “I listened to that,” “I was in the basement with this.” Radio makes it appear like you can get some sounds in a laptop and be the next dude. Those careers don’t really last, that’s the sad thing about it.”
Check out the rest (and peep Monch’s reference to McDaniels) here.
Then come back and listen to McDaniels’ “Jagger the Dagger” below too. See if you can spot the samples.
(Monch image via)