By Daniel Paiz
It’s tough to say if this is a spinoff series of the “A Week’s Worth” reviews, or not. Regardless, this is the initial A Month’s Work Album Review article. In this series anything that has been out for some time (say at least a month or more) and it somehow has slipped through the cracks on our end will be reviewed. A bit of research will be done to see what Hip Hop media thought about this piece, and then our own take will be scattered throughout. The format can always change too; but, for now that’s the goal.
If you’re an underground Hip-Hop fan you’ve likely listened to Pharoahe Monch at some point in your life. You’ve hurt your neck listening to Simon Says. You’ve heard this guy collaborate with some of Hip-Hop’s top rhymers. For this album it’s a collaboration with th1rt3en, an artist whose name I’ve seen in passing but know nothing about. That might have to change after listening to this.
How “A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism” fared upon release
I’m always curious how an established rapper is received when they team up with someone new and create a bit outside of their expected musical realm. Pharoahe Monch isn’t exactly someone who needs to worry about receiving negative reviews because his fanbase is pretty consistent. The same might not be so true for the other members of th1rt3en. The other members consist of guitarist Marcus Machado and award winning-drummer Daru Jones; to be fair though, both are well established.
So it isn’t surprising when sites like Ambrosia for Heads and Underground Hip Hop Blog appreciate the project. It’s almost more surprising that Pitchfork didn’t pan the project more than they did, as frankly the unimpressed with most albums motif is their schtick. These initial reactions lead me to believe that it’s what you might hope for when reading about the project: an experimental journey that has some decent rhymes and something that sonically hooks me as a listener.
That’s not to say that my expectations aren’t a bit higher due to the rhyming ability Monch has; rather, it’s coming into listening to this thing as open to what I’m presented with as I can be. No expectations is often a solid direction to take when encountering something new or unexpected. Plus, Monch deserves all the rap flowers he receives even though I have plenty of other rappers I listen to prior to him.
Diving into the Music
As the first few tracks come and go, there’s a hint of what I always hope for on an experimental project: imperfection. I find that when gripes are aired about something experimental it’s due to the sounds heard not being as complete or “polished” as those griping might like. Imperfect, raw sounds and emotion score higher than a polished/finished sound for me every time. Plus, it’s not like this is some lo-fi work we’re listening to either. These are seasoned musicians honing their crafts together. It’s a balancing act of Rock and Hip-Hop.
Fight is the track that sticks out above the rest, partially because of the Cypress Hill feature but also because of the lines. The rhymes on here are packed in a way that feels both mashed together and meticulously selected. This part on the song here grabs my attention every rotation of the song I hear it:
You heard of the murderers in Ferguson? The nerve of them
Never protected and servin’ ’em, it’s worse than the Tuskegee experiments
Desertin’ ’em, inserting ’em with syphilis
Close the curtain on ’em, inconspicuous, admit it it’s a
Undeserved and ridiculous resurgence of wickedness
That occurs when the witnesses insist it was viciousness
The trick is the picketers get depicted when picketing
And pick-pocketers, cops, are lickin’ they chops when they ticketing-Pharoahe Monch, verse 2 on Fight ft. Cypress Hill
The way Monch ends a line by pulling you into the next one is a veteran rhymer’s move. Only experience can teach that kind of writing skill right there. Another marker of experience is the emcee’s tempo. There’s so much said in just the lines above and yet it feels effortless when you’re hearing this second verse on the song. It’s natural, a fluidity that’s leading this listener to keep hitting repeat. Hitting repeat lately has been inconsistent, so at least for me this one really resonates.
This track is also a turning point in the album. For some reason it feels like the tracks become more self-contained episodes of sorts that reflect the grander concept. Tracks prior to this one feel more reflective of the overall theme, and not as self-contained (although 666 (Three Six Word Stories) bucks that a bit).
A Turning Point that leads to a Final Verdict
The second half of the album features tracks that are more self contained. For example on The Exorcist the hard guitar and drum riffing closing out the track feels more conclusive than the entirety of Triskaidekaphobia or Goats Head. I get why that is, as the latter tracks are still establishing the sound and concept of the project, while the former is adding layers and depth.
This is more of the imperfection that I’m appreciating. If the album was all self-contained episodic songs that reflected the overall concept, it might feel too arthouse. If it was open-ended with lyrical gesturing to the concept throughout, it might get old and disengage the listener. The Magician embodies both well. What others might consider lacking or whatever, I hear a fully realized track that isn’t pretending to emulate another artist. Perhaps it’s that old adage for some listeners: comparison is the thief of joy.
The only joy that’s taken away from me is that I didn’t find it sooner. Finding a project that gives you something new to think about each listen is kind of uncommon, and I applaud Phaorahe Monch and his bandmates for that.