Tour Life with Pharoahe Monch
If you’re going to talk to Pharoahe Monch, you better be ready to just slow down, take a breath and listen. Anything but your typical hot shot, fast talkin’ New York rapper, Pharoahe speaks on his own time. If you jump in, he doesn’t talk over you. When he tells stories, he does it in slow, thought out phrases reflecting intense focus. Yet answering a question provokes an almost distracted look as he sifts through the ideas in his head before deciding what to say next. It’s an interesting demeanor for a man legendary for brash, in your face songs like “Simon Says” and “Fuck You.”
“He always got jewels though,” explains Joell Ortiz. “If you sit down and kick it with Pharoahe, he always got something to tell us. He always got a little insight. He’s very unselfish with that too. He’s always willing to give himself and his words of wisdom to a younger class of MCs in his eyes. You know sometimes we’ll be sitting there cracking jokes and Pharoahe will say something and everybody will turn and listen because he usually got some good shit to say.”
So I asked Pharoahe if he’d ever dissed another rapper and not released the song. After nearly a five second pause, he told me he was never into dissing people for the entertainment and “so if I dissed someone I would have to really have hate for them. And (pausing again and putting his forehead in his palm) I try not to let myself go there, because I have a dark side.” He delivers it with authentic uncertainty, as if he’s fully aware of the conflicting parts of his personality.
“That’s the type of dude he is,” explains DJ Dames Nellas. “You can tell he’s on a next level of thinking. He doesn’t see shit the way you and I would see shit. He’s on some next spiritual involvement where it’ll take him away.”
Yet even as his words are spoken softly, Pharoahe’s stage show is explosive and passionate. You can count on “Simon Says” every night to blow the top off the party. With his left t-shirt sleeve rolled up, he anchors the center of the stage as his hype man and singer Showtime dances around, behind and beside him. He claims the stage like a true veteran and by the middle of his set has total control over every crowd. It’s evident; he’s transformed by his element.
On tour, he’s quiet, but you always know he’s there.
“P was cool though,” explains DJ Dames Nellas. “He was more or less just there the entire time. P reminds me of that dude that rolls in your click that’s just always there. Always down for anything. Anything going down, P going to be there. You might not necessarily know he’s there but he’s there.”
I witnessed that first hand in Whistler when Pharoahe suddenly appeared next to me outside the 7/11. No security, no entourage, just a humble man looking for breakfast.
“We call him the wizard,” says Royce Da 5’9. “He’s like a wizard, man. He knows everything!”
“He always speaks like it’s his last breath (imitates Godfather croaking voice) ‘One time….in Aspen,’” jokes Joell Ortiz. “And he always gotta make you do something, ‘Yo reach over there and pass me that (imitating Pharoahe).’”
It seemed the more I heard about Pharoahe, the more I realized the pieces we get through his music are really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s an entirely different beast below the surface.
That’s Tour Life with Pharoahe Monch.
“Tour Life” will be posted every Tuesday till the end of the series.
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