How are you?
Good, man. I can’t complain. You can, but you know.
You’ve been quiet for a long time. What have you been up to?
I’ve been doing a lot of things. In terms of legalities and the troubled part of the hiatus, it’s the same old label story as far as labels not seeing eye-to-eye or going in a different direction. In the case of my situation, my company was swallowed by another company and directions changed and then that company was swallowed by another company.
The current vibe of Desire (Pharoahe Monch’s new album) is perseverance, the push and just personally, it’s real inspirational music about what people have to go through. I don’t think it’s just an industry thing. People deal more with that in regular life situations. It’s a blessing that the one thing I’ve learned in terms of integrity and having the integrity to put out music you want is that sometimes you have to be patient. With integrity comes patience. If I had put this album out a year or two earlier, it may not have had the same integrity I was looking for in terms of me waiting for a guest appearance, certain producer or waiting for a certain climate. I’m lucky I was able to build a fan-base and go on the road and go overseas and do dates. I’ve been writing and I had a publishing deal. That’s what the hiatus has been like.
When an artist doesn’t drop albums on a regular basis, it seems like either they really get everything together and come strong, but sometimes a long break can make an artist rusty. Has this break been a good thing for you?
I think, for me, it’s such an art thing. I’m such an artist-based artist that rust is a foreign word. The whole purpose of putting this album out is to compete against the last piece you did. I think that’s the mentality of a true artist. If you’re satisfied with your work and you achieve perfection, there is nothing to strive for. I say that to say this whole project is about getting better. It’s not about relaxing. Someone might listen to it and compare the styling, but the production is on par or better than the last one. The arrangement is on par or better than the last. The integrity is the same way. That’s the challenge, especially in the climate of today’s hip-hop. I feel like I have to strive against the last thing I put out. My last record didn’t brick. It was more a matter of, Where the hell is he?
How would you describe your new album Desire?
Desire is an amalgamation of soul, spirit and provocative political-based hip-hop with a hint of lyricism. I think a lot of attention is paid to where the rhyme falls instead of the aggressiveness of, per se, the flow this time. Some songs I go in really deep and I think people are going to be saying, “Oh my God! This is classic Organized Konfusion or classic Pharoahe on certain songs like ‘What It Is’ and ‘Hold On’.” And then at times you can tell more attention is paid to the thump and the soul of the flow in terms of its marriage to the beat. I just think that it’s a joint you can put in, press play, and leave it in. With Internal Affairs, it was definitely flow and lyrics heavy. You could listen to the whole album, but I think after awhile people were like, Let me go to my song. This album, I think, is an album that you’re going to want to start over each time from the beginning and listen through.
Did Mr. Porter handle the majority of production on Desire?
He didn’t handle the majority of production. He oversaw the production. It’s a big co-executive credit.
What did Mr. Porter add to the project?
Integrity. Forget about it, he is a producer who produces to the end. He’s not a producer who’s going to give you a beat and you take the beat and walk with it and you put some rhymes to it and that’s it. He’s a producer that’s going to see it through to the end. On that note, it’s really funky and soulful music that he gave me, which I felt fit in line with the development of the project.
Do you have another “Simon Says” in you?
Possibly. I don’t know if it’s in the same vein as that. It might even be better at the end of the day. Definitely the goal is not to duplicate. The goal of the artist is not to duplicate a piece of work. It wouldn’t be classic anymore. I think that’s the problem with today’s music. It’s redundant. You move on, you try and do better than in a different genre and a different field. That’s what keeps it exciting to me.
When I interviewed AG, he said that somebody rapping is better than somebody picking up a gun even though their musical ability may be limited. How much of the art is compromised when there are so many rappers out there?
It’s obvious. It’s obvious what artists have what type of integrity going into the song-making, regardless of what type of music they make. Whether it’s gangster, thug, rims, bitches, whores, inspirational or conscious, you can just tell what type of integrity people take into the studio and put onto the wax. It’s just obvious to me that it’s important to have hit music and candy music, but it has a short shelf-life and it hurts the artform at the end of the day. I realize that a lot of the songs I might even like might only be here for a month and will never be played again and that even if they play it again five years later, it’s not going to feel like “Jazz (We’ve Got)” or “Check the Rhime” or “Scenario.” It’s not going to sound like songs like that because they don’t have the wherewithal to make songs like that.
Are you happy with the response to your single “Push”?
I didn’t really pay any attention to how DJ’s responded. I pretty much saw how people reacted in the street and at my shows to it, as well as my MySpace.
How much of Desire is for yourself and how much is for the fans?
I think that when you challenge yourself and you push the envelope and you sell yourself on a record, it’s like an actor taking you on a ride when he transcends himself and you hate him or love him in the role. I think that translates to the fans at the end of the day. I think that comes from trying to be honest in what you portray in your art and if you’re good at it. It can come from so many different facets. It could come from the flow being so excellent. It could come from the truthfulness or the realness of what you’re saying. It could come from so many different areas when it comes to hip-hop. It could come from having beats from Jay Dee evoking those emotions. Sometimes the song doesn’t even need an MC on it because it’s so good. That’s just my thing, to stay being honest with that and I think it shines through.
Are you targeting your fans who have followed you throughout your whole career or are you looking to get the new generation of hip-hop fans?
I think by virtue of who I am, this record is about going after the people who supported that stuff and the 300,000 and change who supported Internal Affairs. By virtue of growth and me being on SRC, I think this album has the potential to move way beyond that.
What are your personal goals for Desire?
It’s all a stepping stone to the next project. We’re shooting a short film for a record called “When the Gun Draws” where I’m rhyming from the perspective of a bullet. It’s dealing with the hood and it’s dealing with the non-apologetic evils of the bullet on a hood level and on a global level. It even deals with the Kennedy assassination. We’re shooting a short film for that and it’s going to be internet-only. We’re taking it back old school and we’re doing some singles. We’re going to show people that this is an album and not just a single on the radio like “Wiggle It” and people are buying my album because they heard my single. This is an album.
Why didn’t you ever sign to Shady?
I had an offer, but due to me being signed to Rawkus and Geffen, it kind of clouded the situation so it wasn’t able to go smoothly.
Looking back, do you feel like Shady would have been a good look?
You can never say. It’s a cliché saying, but who knows what the future held at that time? For me, at the time, it was the perfect situation. They got the music I was doing and I don’t think I can compare that to what anyone else over there has done. Who can say?
How was it writing for Diddy?
It was dope because I played him some music and he was loving the records. I was like, Wow. He was like, Yo, I want to obtain some of that. I took the job out of a lot of different reasons. One that I always comment about is, Let’s see what drives a person to where he is. What I learned from the whole experience besides the whole record-making process that he has is that the dude doesn’t sleep. He really doesn’t sleep. I probably sleep a little too much. He is where he is because he’s one of the hardest-working people. It taught me that. Look at Damon Dash too. You often hear people saying, “They’re ok. I don’t see why they’re in that position. They’re not better than such-and-such.” I think one of the things that separate a lot of artists is that some are up 24 hours begging, scratching and clawing where the talented people are a little more lacks. That’s not to say that Diddy or anyone else isn’t talented. What I am saying is that he is a hard-ass worker. I got to see that and apply it to my project. I’m not going to bust my ass over there and then not bust my ass when I got home. Now I tell myself, You can work a little bit harder.
Has your work ethic changed significantly since leaving Diddy?
It definitely has. Not in terms of my writing scheme. They loved my integrity in terms of that. That’s why they asked me to do it. Now it’s not, “This is good enough. These four bars fit good enough and they’re not going to complain about it because the first fourteen are incredible.” No. How about you stay four hours longer until you get the shit completely incredible?
When you were writing for Diddy, did you ever write anything that you wouldn’t spit yourself?
Actually, the funny thing about it is that he had me writing over Havoc, Kanye, Alchemist and Denaun Porter beats that he wound up using on the album. Some of them I was like, Shit, some I needed myself because I didn’t have anything that had that type of edge to it. Obviously me actually doing it is different from what you might hear. We’re two different artists.
Overall, would you say experiencing the whole process was beneficial?
Jay-Z said it best. He said you have to take risks. From my perspective, there wasn’t a safe thing to do. This wasn’t a safe thing to do. People were upset. I got hit up on my MySpace like, Why are you helping the enemy? None of these singles are safe singles either. A safe single would be me working with Timbaland and getting the hottest vocalist on the chorus and calling the song “Wiggle It Down.” “Push” is not a safe single to me. It’s a very risky single. It’s ‘70’s sounding. It doesn’t sound like anything that’s out now. I’m singing the first verse. The arrangement is weird. But all those things help your fans to say, “This is what he does. You can’t find this anywhere else and this is why we fuck with him.”
It’s like a double-edged sword. On one hand you want to give fans Pharoahe Monch but on the other you want them to listen.
Exactly. It was a challenge more for me, I think, to push myself and to be challenging to me. I never did it before and I’m a good guy. I’m not like, Hell no, I would never do that. I was like, Let me try. It wasn’t etched in stone.
Will “When the Gun Draws” be another risk?
This whole project is not traditional. The video for it is so provocative that we know they’re not going to play it in TV. It’s for the internet only. It contains the Kennedy assassination footage. We’re not thinking it’s going to get 40 spins a day because it’s not the type of record you can play right after “Shoulder Lean.”
There must be a lot of imagery in “When the Gun Draws.”
It does have a lot of imagery to it and it’s still impactful to me. When I hear it and I see it, it still makes me quiver so I can’t imagine what it’s going to do to people who haven’t heard it or are seeing the footage for the first time.
How do you feel hearing your old Organized Konfusion music today?
It feels good. You know what place it came from and what the integrity was behind that and how that all became a stepping stone to where we’re at today. That’s what it symbolizes.
Would you say Organized Konfusion was ahead of its time in terms of the patterns, lyrics and beats you guys used?
Definitely. I don’t think we knew that at the time we were doing it, but the thing that we strived for was just to be different and to push the envelope. When you do that, I think people hear that as being ahead of its time.
How is your relationship with Prince Po today?
It’s cool. I just spoke to him a couple of weeks ago. We don’t have cookouts and fish fries. He’s on the West Coast. We haven’t been playing spades but it’s a big brother thing.
Do you think you’ll work on more music with Prince Poetry?
The answer to that question is who knows what the future holds.
Will you be dropping albums on a more consistent basis from now on?
I was just talking about that today. I’m really concentrating on what’s the next move and what’s the next project. I’m definitely looking forward to trying to get it out much sooner.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming hip-hop artists?
Just pay attention to what’s going on and try to think about yourself in terms of a brand and what do you lend to this as you look at my era and Wu-Tang and Tribe and Brand Nubian and Leaders of the New School and EPMD. Everybody had their own distinguished sound and could possibly all be on the same record label. Now it’s all really similar. Stay different from that and what you discuss topic-wise and how you go about making it, and I think it will be really easy for people to be like, Hey, look at that, they rhyme backwards and you have to play the records backwards…Whatever it is.
What do you want to say to everybody?
It took a lot of struggle and perseverance to have this type of integrity, but I think it was worth it to wait and I’m just bigging up everybody for being patient. I know they’re pissed they had to wait so long, but I just wanted to say thank you for being patient. It’s coming and it’s good.