So you get flown to Hong Kong, you have a few drinks — whisky, Chivas to be precise – and you’re hanging with Pharaohe Monch. Yes, the Pharaohe Monch. Aka Troy Donald Jamerson. Queens New York backpacker rapper and one half of alternative hip hop duo Organized Konfusion. It all starts well enough, you’re talking about Diddy and Kanye and then suddenly you find yourself in a debate about Bert and Ernie, Barney The Dinosaur’s name comes up…. JUICE writer Kevin Yeoh meets a hero and gets shown the way to Sesame Street.
Text Kevin Yeoh
Image Chivas Studio
So how’s life man?
Life is good, man. I’m excited. This is my first time in Hong Kong. We have been constantly touring. Just got back from Europe. We did Bulgaria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Czech Republic. This is real grueling, but now that I’m an independent artist, I sort of welcome the hard work and the grind. The thought of making connections with other people in other brands, further markets you as an artist.
You’re doing the soundtrack thing. How did you land those gigs? (Single ‘Simon Says’ featured in Charlie’s Angels, ‘F**k You’ featured on Training Day and ‘Right Here’ featured in Boiler Room.)
That’s just straight business. I wrote ‘Body Baby’ (featured on Entourage) as a broad and fun record. People take me very seriously as an artist, so I wanted to lighten it up a little bit, make people laugh and I think it came across that way. The video clip is really funny. I was excited to know they picked one of my songs. It’s a great show.
Cool. You also ghost wrote ‘Hold Up’ with Mobb Deep’s ‘Havoc’ on P Diddy’s album Press Play; Why?
Same deal. I had just finished the publishing deal with EMI and I was in between record labels; I was a free agent. Puffy was working on his new album, so we sat down and I played him some of my music and he played me some of the recordings that he had been working with. He asked me to write for his records and I thought it would be challenging as an artist. I think all artists are never satisfied with their last piece of work and wanna push themselves to do things that are more challenging, go forward in writing poetry, sculpture or your painting. Whatever your art form is, if you master something completely, then it becomes boring. So I saw this as a real challenge. I had never written for anybody before and I know that people perceive Puff’s world and my world as two totally different things, so y’know, let me see if I can pull this off….
So Puffy is your first?
The first and the last. (smiles)
You must have got paid.
People say that and I see it on the Internet. It wasn’t like oodles of money. It was for me and meeting the challenge to meet the commitment as a writer with my publishing company. I knew I would learn some things as well. I hadn’t been in a situation where you’re talking about a multi-millions dollar record. Being in a studio with Will.I.Am and Kanye (West), and hearing music of that caliber constantly for a month…. My process is different. I have a high work ethic, so it was all business for me. No playing around, no late night hangout, no girls, no drinking, no drugs – I’m there to do a job. We wrote most of the project in Miami, so I got to watch and study him (P Diddy), which is a large reason why I took the project. I wanted to see what makes a music mogul. I was taken aback ’cause he’s a hardworker who doesn’t sleep.
So do you consider what you do as a job or an art form?
It’s beautiful because I’m an artist. There’s nothing I can do to change that, y’know. I went to art school and art runs through my veins. I approach each song and lyric as an art form. Hip hop is a culture to me; that’s how I grew up. The struggle has been separating the two and mastering the business side as well, which is becoming more prominent for me now ’cause I’m independent and it’s up to me and it ain’t in nobody else’s hands anymore. So this trip to China and doing something with Chivas Regal is a blessing because while it is still on a business side, I still get to present my art form. I’m blessed. I’m happy.
Well said. Now is there gonna be a next Organized Konfusion album?
We actually erm. (Pauses) I don’t know! I’m not at liberty to say.
I mean, I don’t know about an album. I don’t know how traditionally, an album, whether that makes sense anymore. I’m trying to discover and move forward with finding new ways to present music to people. That was what Organized Konfusion was about anyway. I think the idea of us going back and doing a traditional record is sort of old school. We actually worked on a song that I heard of his (Prince Poetic) on the internet. I heard it and I was like, “Wow! That song is incredible!”. I called him and I was like “You mind if I put a verse on the song?” and it came out really, really good. We’re thinking about doing a mixtape, launching this song on a site that deals with the topic of the song, which I can’t reveal.
Nice. Looking forward to that. You’ve worked with so many people; who’s your favourite?
Erm… I don’t have a favourite. I learn from everybody I’m around in the studio. Just being around Mos Def and Talib Kwali, and watching different people’s process of work and their work ethic, you absorb so much. I think that’s what makes Kanye such a superstar. For a long period of time, he was able to work alongside Kwali, Jay-Z and all these great artists he was producing for. If you’re an artist, truly you’re a sponge.
Yeah, definitely. Okay, change of subject, any embarrassing moments on stage?
I have thousands! (Laughs) Anything that is embarrassing is always funny to me ’cause I’m a clown and a jokester. The funniest one was when I was doing a show with Organized Konfusion and Prince was doing his solo part of the show. I had gone off stage to get some water and take a break. I forgot I had a part on the song, so everyone was like “Your part’s coming up!” I ran back to the stage and I tripped on the stairs, fell in front of the crowd, lay down there and did my part of the rhyme. That was the most hilarious!
It took you 8 years to release your 2nd album Desire, how long are you going to make us wait this time?
We’re ready for the next one before the end of this year. That’s another thing. Independently, your process has to be faster. I’m in a groove right now. I’ve never been in such a creative period in my career, I can’t remember working on so many thing at the same time of such quality and being happy at the same time.
If your music were a colour, what would it be?
My music is purple ’cause I’m a Scorpio, and that’s my birth stone. Purple is psychedelic, it’s Jimi Hendrix. Purple is Prince. Purple is the sh*t!
Purple could be Barney!
(Laughs) … could be Ernie!
Ernie?! Ernie is not purple…
Oh. What colour is Ernie?
Ernie’s orange or yellow…
Oh yeah. Ernie was orange, that’s right.
I don’t know which Sesame Street you were watching…
I was just watching the clip on YouTube. They have these Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie puppets with ‘Ante Up’ by MOP. One of the funniest things on YouTube.
You can watch that vid at www.youtube.com/watch?v=21OH0wlkfbc.
Pharoahe Monch was in Hong Kong for the Chivas Studio Launch on September 4. Simon Says check his swag out at www.myspace.com/pharoahemonch.