[#7] PHAROAHE MONCH - "W.A.R."
Queens legend Pharoahe Monch rarely disappoints; from his Organized Konfusion days to his two previous solo albums and countless guest spots, there is no question that Monch is one of the most technically gifted emcees out there. No matter how complex his rhyme scemes are and how many hidden messages, metaphors and punchlines he packs within his verses, he always makes it sound so goddamn effortless. And that’s exactly how his outstanding performance can be described on “W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)” – an album that from a strictly technical standpoint is very likely the most lyrical record of the year.
But great lyrics will only get you half the way to the top, or in an emcee of Pharoahe’s caliber maybe a little more even, but still – you will need phat beats to really make a worthwhile record since, after all, it is music we’re dealing with here. While much of his earlier material has been self-produced, on “W.A.R.”, Monch enlists a great mixture of veteran’s and up-and-coming underground beatmakers who provides serious heat that really help get the rapper’s messages across to the listener. Diamond D does a great job with the vibraphone heavy laid back “Shine”; on “W.A.R.”, Marco Polo creates one of the hardest joints of the entire LP. Using distorted guitars, electric pianos and marching rhythm it’s the perfect backdrop for Monch’s attack on the government and the physocological warfare that they use to control the %99 precent of the human population through fear. Immortal Technique’s heavy hook and Vernon Reid’s brilliant guitar solo at the end makes the song the #1 anthem of the year, and that’s not a small statement.
Despite having all the rights in the world, Pharoahe doesn’t waste his talents on braggadocio rhymes but rather uses it to get across important messages in an attempt to wake up the part of the population that's still mentally dead. Besides personal reflective joints like the closing “Still Standing”, topics include the government's control of the people, racism, reflections on how we can evolve, future apocalyptic storytelling (check the amazing posse cut with Jean Grae and Royce on “Assassins”) and more. It's definitely a smart record full of well executed concepts, defined by great production work.
Pharoahe Monch signing to Duck Down Records was a wise move and if “W.A.R.” are an indication of what’s to come, the future are looking very bright. With superior cuts like the ones mentioned above and equally heavy joints including “Let My People Go”, “Clap” and “Black Hand Side”, there’s no question that the man who's already spent 20 years in the music business ain't going nowhere anytime soon.
[#8] ROC MARCIANO + GANGRENE - "GRENEBERG"
New York’s two cameo kings of this year have without a question been Roc Marciano and Raekwon. Besides Madlib, I would say that the hardest working producer of 2011 might very well have been The Alchemist as he’s been popping up just about everywhere, dropping loose tracks and even entire projects for newcomers and established veterans alike. Of course, Oh No ain’t no slouch when it comes to creative beatmaking either and had a fairly active year.
Put together the twisted minds of these three rap OG’s and you get Greneberg – Alc & Oh No had an album out last year as Gangrene and at the same time Marciano of course solo debuted with the critically acclaimed “Marcberg”. Joining forces for a beautiful picture disc EP (and a digital version) that was an instant addition to my collection, “Greneberg” is one of the most played records of the year for me. Consisting of just six or seven songs, depending on which format you favor, the production and rhymes was far superior to what we’re used to these days all the way through. In fact the five Roc Marcy joints was just as hot as anything on “Marcberg” and the same can be said for the four songs from the artists behind 2010’s “Gutter Water”. In Alchemist and Oh No’s case, the reason is that they have had time to fully perfect their formula, getting more used to the duo format and just creating some absolute killer beats that sounds as fresh now as they did when I first dropped the needle on the record.GRENEBERG - "Sewer Gravy"
Marciano is always incredible; I still have yet to hear a weak verse from this monstrous Long Island emcee, and to hear his laidback but hardcore flow effortlessly molest some of Alchemist and Oh No’s weirdest and dirtiest beats ever can create a moment of ecstasy. Check out the darkness of “Hoard 90” with its boom bap rhythm and wild synthesizer loop or the Oh No produced bonus track “Jaws” where Marciano attack sucker MC’s and wannabee G’s over a repetitive but never boring, grimy as hell chop. Just to prove a point, one of Marcy’s hottest tracks of the record is the super funky opener “Momma Told Me”, which he happened to produce himself. Both sides has one song that feature all three rappers attacking the microphone and the chemistry displayed on these two bangers (“Jet Luggage”, “Sewer Gravy”) are something out of the ordinary.GRENEBERG - "Jaws"
Although just an EP clocking in at less than 25 minutes (bonus track included), “Greneberg” is simply too mindblowingly good not to be included as one of the greatest releases of the year. Crazy quotables on every Roc Marcy verse; fantastic beats all the way through; chemistry between both producers and rappers that’s not often matched; mad replay value… Yeah, I say this extended play is more than earned its place on this countdown. Had they made it a full album while managing to keep up the quality this would without a doubt been in the top three. Well, maybe next year!