Live Review: Pharoahe Monch @ The Kazimier, Liverpool
His work as half of Organized Konfuzion in the nineties alongside Prince Po made him one of the underground’s most revered artists, blessed with a delivery that could change tempos, styles and sound with effortless ease.
Combining the lyrical prowess of a GZA with the foot stomping aggression of MOP, his octave shifting ability has been attributed to close studying of jazz, where the instrumentation is used as a conversational technique to relay tone and meaning.
He’s also adept at making the shift between political polemics and dumbed down club bangers; for all his lyrical prowess he’ll always be best known for the Godzilla aping ‘Simon Says’. All enough to whet our anticipation to catch him live at the Kazimier4 in Liverpool on the 19th February 2014.
When we arrive the venue is only half full, with DJ 2Kind delivering a textbook set of nineties boom bap classics to get everyone in the mood. It’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last time a set at a hip hop show will be soundtracked by Pharcyde’s ‘Drop’, Main Source’s ‘Live at the BBQ’ and Mobb Deep’s ‘Shook One’s (Pt II)’, but that doesn’t make their familiarity any less appreciated, evidenced in particular by the crowd reaction when the immortal ‘TROY’ from Pete Rock and CL Smooth filters through the speakers (above).
It sets the tone nicely, and when the switch over comes for Pharoahe’s DJ the anticipation is tangible, permeating through the crowd.
There’s a few technical glitches during that which misguidedly throws the feeling the DJ might be slightly amateur.
That conception is blown out of the window when he introduces himself as Boogie Blind of the X-Ecutioners, one of the most revered turntablist cliques on the planet. He starts demonstrating a quick facet of that skill before introducing Monch, who explodes from the off.
That juxtaposition between thoughtfulness and energy is encapsulated perfectly by his stage presence, and he veers between blistering diatribes and more languid moments, which are lapped up well by a crowd which has swollen to the perfect size.
The early highlights include the brilliant ‘Fuck You’ from the Training Day soundtrack (watch below), the character analysis of Denzel Washington’s lead from the film translated with deft ease.
Organized Konfusion material is represented well too, with the dome scratching classic ‘Stress’ still sounding fresh with Pharoahe’s acerbic analysis of the state of hip hop’s commercilisation an evergreen concept.
Delving further into outspoken territory, a brilliantly stitched together ensemble of hip-hop’s less than complimentary takes on the police from NWA and KRS-One underpins Pharoahe’s urge for police brutality, predictably lapped up by the audience.
That’s just one example of the chemistry between Boogie Blind and Monch, with his role as DJ also doubling up as hype man with the constant backing of the music and occasional shouting of lyrics delivering a classic one rapper one DJ ethos brilliantly.
In fact Blind is maybe even the star of the show, his almost lazy attitude (we’re sure we spot him on a phone once or twice) brilliantly combined with undeniable charisma (a group of acolytes to the left of the stage are playfully mocked about smelling of weed) and brilliant ability on the ones and twos.
Monch throws the spotlight on him to deliver midway through the performance and his light fingered scratches and beat juggling routine creates a stunning centre piece for the show. It’s only matched in grabbing the limelight as show stopper when ‘Simon Says’ eventually rumbles out of the speakers, sending the crowd wild.
There’s also a fitting tribute to Nate Dogg (a personal favourite of this writer5) via their collaboration ‘Oh No’, the Jill Scott backed ‘Still Standing’ (which also brings a eulogy from Monch for the R&B singer), and the tub thumping homage to his hometown Queensbridge ‘Right Here’, which each time increases the crowd love.
By the time he closes off with an encore of ‘The Light’, 1999 album Internal Affairs’ other single alongside ‘Simon Says’, it’s the end of a thoroughly enjoyable evening of hip hop, Monch still being able to captivate an audience despite being in his forties.
His firebrand nature may have lessened ever so slightly since those glory days in the nineties, but catching hip hop impresarios in such an intimate confine remains a thrillingly enjoyable experience.
Tickets are no longer available for this event
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Originally published: 18th Feb 2014