I almost cried earlier this week when Showtyme passionately and continuously belted his pleas for us to persevere.
Pharoahe Monch touched down in San Diego at the UCSD campus on Tuesday night. Pharoahe Monch is a highly regarded Queens-bred lyricist renowned for his sophisticated patterns and rhyme schemes, and for his stark imagery. He first made his stamp as one-half of the experimental early '90s duo Organized Konfusion, then gained further acclaim as a solo artist in the mid- to late '90s indie-rap boom, along with such peers as Mos Def, Talib Kweli and the Roots. Pharoahe Monch even scored an inexplicable club hit with "Simon Says," a basement banger sampling the theme from Godzilla.
Pharoahe's stop at UCSD was the first leg of the tour to promote his third solo album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), which dropped earlier this year. After a good but out of place performance by the bluesy Little Hurricane and an eclectic DJ set from Mike Gao, Pharoahe Monch's DJ, Boogie Blind, came onstage. With a gas mask. He was followed shortly afterward by singers Mela Machinko and Showtyme, who stood off to the side in a strong, proud stance. Then, Pharoahe entered, wearing his own gas mask.
Although W.A.R. is Pharoahe's most boldly militant album to date, his live performance still wears the gospel-influenced colors of Desire, his most boldly spiritual album to date. This is in large thanks to the powerful, soulful vocals of Mela and Showtyme. Running through a healthy mix of material from his solo albums and various singles (unfortunately, nothing from his Organized Konfusion days), Pharoahe bounced back and forth with the energy of the two singers. His paranoia on songs like "Free" and anger on others like "Clap" are humanized by the soul-stirring cries of Mela and Showtyme. Though Pharoahe, of course, ended his set with his biggest hit, "Simon Says," he could have just as easily went out on the emotionally devastating, inspirational mini-suite of "Push," "My Life," and "Still Standing." The latter was especially forceful, as Showtyme drove and drove the message further and further with each wail, unti the end. Ultimately, the performance reminded us that their music is less about blind paranoia and anger, and more about empathy, humanity and hope.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog SD Raps.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by following him on Twitter or e-mailing him directly.