Pharoahe Monch

Internal Affairs

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After three cultishly revered albums with Organized Konfusion, underground legend Pharoahe Monch cut a solo deal with Rawkus and delivered his debut, Internal Affairs, in late 1999. Both Monch and Rawkus seemed to want to push their music farther above ground, and some longtime followers were shocked to hear a harder, angrier, more profane Monch, who seemed to be courting a more thugged-out audience. But it's a reinvention that doesn't compromise his high lyrical standards, making Internal Affairs a success on its own terms. Sounding like it was sampled from a monster-movie soundtrack, the club smash "Simon Says" sets the tone for the album; Monch delivers rapid-fire, intricately rhymed lines in between shouts of "get the f*ck up!" and "girls, rub on your titties!" It proved to be the most successful crossover bid of Monch's career, and much of the rest of Internal Affairs manages to straddle the underground/mainstream divide surprisingly well. Even when he's just giving shout-outs to Queens, or enlisting guests like Canibus and M.O.P. to help pummel a track into submission, Monch lives up to his reputation as one of hip-hop's most technically skilled MCs. Nowhere is this balancing act more evident than on "Rape," a rather disquieting extended metaphor for his mastery of hip-hop (other MCs just "ain't f*ckin' it right"). A more benign theme track is "Official," whose carefully constructed barrage of sports references demonstrates the cleverness that made Monch a cult legend. Not everything sits well together -- the sophomoric "The Ass" is an odd way to lead into the love song "The Light," the Organized Konfusion reunion "God Send," and the reflective "The Truth," which features guest appearances by Common and Talib Kweli. But in terms of bringing an underappreciated hip-hop great to a (somewhat) wider audience, Internal Affairs generally gets it right.

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