Pharoahe Monch is a word surgeon. In the early ’90s, as a member of Organized Konfusion, he and counterpart Prince Po released three tragically slept-on albums before it was cool to be slept on. With Desire, the Queens MC’s first project in damn near a decade, Monch slices seemingly superfluous syllables and conjoins divergent concepts, displaying an insatiable appetite for wordplay: “Came out of the fallopian blasting/Pharoahe hungrier than Ethiopians fasting.”
Meanwhile, “Free” affords Monch the opportunity to vent his pent-up frustrations with record-label red tape by likening the music industry to an antebellum cotton field: “Your A&R’s a house nigga/The label’s the plantation/Now switch that advance for your emancipation.” (His eight-year stint on the dreaded delayed-release-date shelf no doubt fueled this fire.) On “When the Gun Draws,” he tells an all-too-common story of murder and mayhem, but from the pistol’s point of view; the influence of producer Denaun Porter (of D12 fame) is conspicuously evident here, the forebodingly sparse piano and harp chords lending a distinctly Eminem quality to the track. (The self-directed video, featuring Monch as a uniformed police officer who narrates as a curly-haired, prepubescent boy uses a .45 to settle his parents’ domestic dispute, is even creepier.)
It’s clear from Monch’s pervasive debasement of the music industry (payback, no doubt, for the industry’s debasement of him) that Desire is not meant to sell a million ringtones. No track delivers the brute force of 1999’s “Simon Says,” the romp that catapulted Monch’s career as a solo act but triggered the untimely demise of his debut album, Internal Affairs, due to its unauthorized sample of soundtrack music from Godzilla. What Desire offers instead is at times cerebral and at times depraved, but invariably provocative.