Exclusive – There’s a common misconception among Hip Hop fans Pharoahe Monch has been laying low, letting his 1999 Billboard Hot 100 single “Simon Says” float his legacy — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Organized Konfusion legend has been buried in creative endeavors, most recently with his project featuring Jack White’s drummer Daru Jones and renowned guitarist Marcus Machado.
Collectively known as Th1rt3en, the rock-infused Hip Hop trio just unleashed their official debut album, A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism, on Friday (January 22). The rollout included a pair of dramatic and thought provoking visuals for “Fight” with Cypress Hill and “Cult 45” that preceded the release, giving fans a healthy dose of what to expect from the project.
Like Pharoahe has done countless times before, he uses the music as a vehicle to purge his thoughts on socio-political issues while effortlessly spotlighting the supreme lyricism that initially placed him among some of the most respected MCs in the culture.
Pharoahe’s career stretches back to the 1990s when he and Prince Po were rapping circles around the competition as Organized Konfusion. The South Jamaica, Queens native often found himself in the same room as other Hip Hop greats such as Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) Nas and A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, who appeared on the duo’s second album Stress: The Extinction Agenda.
During a recent interview with HipHopDX, Pharoahe recalled nearly being shot at Nas’ video shoot for “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” from his iconic debut studio album Illmatic.
“Ralph McDaniels [of Video Music Box] was shooting it at some club and I was off to right side of the stage in the corner,” Pharoahe tells DX. It was a live performance, so they were doing the live performance so they could get some footage for the video type of thing.
“And there was a shoot-out. It was the second time I had seen a shoot-out inside. I was watching the whole thing and just from being from the hood, one of the things I’ve learned is to keep your eyes on the shooter. Don’t turn your back and get down. I was like, ‘Take cover but watch what’s going on. Be aware of everything that’s happening.’”
As Pharoahe is watching the gunfire erupt from the weapon, he can see a little bit of flame shooting out and all he could think was, “God, that’s amazing.”
“I’m not shook at all,” he continues. “But then what proceeds to happen after that is everybody starts scrambling and the guy with the gun is like, ‘Where’d he go? Where’d he go?’ The fuck!? So he starts walking towards me and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m good because I’m not the guy they’re looking for. I’m way over here. And clearly, they know who they’re looking for. They’re looking for someone.’ It was another reason I didn’t turn my back. He literally walked up to me and had the gun in my face. In my head, I was literally like, ‘I need you to see my face.’ They were like, ‘That isn’t him.’”
But Pharoahe admits having the gun in his face was terrifying and then having to deal with the police following the incident was like a slap in his face.
“I was scared then, but I was like, ‘This is the proper thing to do,’” he says. “The worst you could do is turn your back and try get on the floor. That is him. I put my hands up like, ‘Yeah, no. It’s not me.’ They was like, ‘That’s not him’ and then they ran. Obviously it’s a shoot-out, so we got to get out of here. So I’m with O.C. and his girlfriend — now wife — and we leave the club.
“When we leave the club, the cops pull up and they make the three of us get on the floor face down on the cement. And they search us, which was just like, ‘Jesus Christ.’ First, I almost get fucking shot and now, I’m getting searched.’”
McDaniels, who stood there fuming, remembers the “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” video shoot like it was yesterday.
“I was pissed that night,” he tells DX with a laugh. “I was directing scenes for ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ and his E.P.K. [Electronic Press Kit] at a club in Manhattan. The promoter was nervous about me shooting the video. I said everything will be cool. In the middle of the shoot, somebody from Nas’ crew pulls out a gun at shoots it in the air. In the words of Nas, ‘They shooting!’ The club, of course, cleared out and I stood there. Everybody hit the ground fast. I was tight, because it had to be someone who knew what we were doing.”
While Pharoahe was speaking to Nas about the nefarious incident years later, they both agreed that’s when Hip Hop was at its grittiest and most raw.
“Me and Nas were talking about Hip Hop and ironically, we both were like, ‘Yeah, that’s when Hip Hop was Hip Hop when you used to almost get shot. People would play a certain song and it had that air to it where shit could just pop off when you’re dropping a certain record. It’s ultimate Hip Hop.”
But that’s not to suggest the recent string of gun violence in the rap community is anything to glorify. Chicago rapper King Von, Dallas native Mo3 and burgeoning rapper Baby CEO are just a handful of murders that have occurred over the last two-and-a-half months.
“That’s disheartening,” he notes. “You would think that some of the history would seep down into the younger generations and they could learn from the likes of what’s been happening and just pivot. But no.”
In terms of Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe says they have a “dope surprise” coming up this year in terms of previously unreleased material, but fans shouldn’t hold their breath for an official reunion.
“That shit should be amazing,” he says. “But just in terms of taking it back, we just take the art of the shit so seriously, we wouldn’t even cheat ourselves by doing something together. So that’s the answer. We’re going to do something maybe for the re-release. But yeah, that’s just cool in itself because those offerings will be available for the first time digitally.”
Until then, check out A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism below.