Pharoahe Monch, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)
Politically aware without pandering or taking itself too seriously
More than Mos Def, Talib Kweli or Sadat X, Pharoahe Monch remains the most relevant of the Rawkus-era New York City rappers, the one who has best updated his sound while maintaining his lyrical sting. The Organized Konfusion veteran already has a pair of solo classics under his belt — his 1999 debut Internal Affairs and its underrated 2007 follow-up Desire — and his latest W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) is just as strong — politically aware without pandering or taking itself too seriously.
Its concept is roughly Orwell meets movie sci-fi, with a soldier from the future dispatching messages through time and space, a government suppressing free thought, and a super-elite underground force staging an uprising. It doesn't make much sense, but serves as an effective platform to give Monch and an indie A-list cast including Jean Grae, Royce Da 5'9" and Immortal Technique an opportunity to rap their asses off. "This is a war against consciousness/ Controlling your soul, sort of a psychological dictatorship/ And we are on the front lines/ Guilty as charged if intellect is a crime," Monch spits on the title track, one of a half-dozen or so on the work that are booming and fast-paced. Other standout songs like "Clap (One Day)," "Let My People Go," and "Assassins" are also imbued with energy, good humor, and real passion, making W.A.R. exactly the kind of album that true-school hip hop fans complain don't get made anymore.