The true irony of life is that sometimes the most significant and valuable of decisions is made for the most trivial of reasons. Take the 1991 release of Organized Konfusion's self-titled debut album. At the time, I was still a snot-nosed high school punk, but just as much of a hip-hop afficianado as I am today. Nearly every dollar I earned or received found it's way into the hands of a series of different record stores not far from where I lived, but at times I only had enough dough for one release every two weeks or more. One would think with such limited funds I would make careful and conscientious decisions about what to purchase, but The Source was the only guide I had (no cable TV, and no urban radio stations) and often that wasn't enough. So when faced with an advertisement extolling the virtues of Hollywood BASIC's two newest rap albums, I had little choice but to flip a coin and choose to purchase either Raw Fusion's "Live From the Styleetron" or Organized Konfusion's self-titled debut. Eventually I ended up getting both, but in those influential years of limited funds the coin toss winner ended up being the funky self-produced duo of Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monch.
People at times talk about songs or albums that changed their lives forever. Out of the scores of hip-hop records, CD's and tapes that I own, this ONE album comes as close as ANY to being personally life-changing for me. Public Enemy, Digital Underground, Run-D.M.C., Ice-T, LL Cool J, yes they all had roles to play, but what Organized Konfusion offered was something none of them had. In fact compared to what was on the market in 1991, Organized Konfusion offered something NOBODY else had, and this remained just as true for many years to come. If ever an album grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go on the first listen, this was the one. It was a constant fixture of my aural surroundings anywhere I went: in the car, walking with my Walkman on, at home on my box, it didn't matter the time or the place - this was THE SHIT.
If you're wondering what would inspire such fervent devotion, you're probably not at all familiar with either member of the group. Since their amicable parting some years ago, each has gone on to display their talents in solo careers that still have a loyal following in underground rap. Pharoahe Monch in particular has even scored some crossover success as a soloist with his "Internal Affairs" album and it's smash hit "Simon Says (Get the F*ck Up)," but truthfully, neither of them sound as good alone as they did together. I'm sure you know the comparisons I'm about to give you: like Erick and Parrish, like Run and D. It's hackneyed and cliched to say that rap duos sound better together than they do apart, but never has it been so true as it was here. While each man is obviously intelligent and talented enough that sheer ego could have driven them apart, their mutual love of hip-hop that was better than the status quo was the glue that cemented them together. For the listeners, the ecstasy of this union is swiftly revealed when a short intro gives way to "Fudge Pudge." Poetry is the first out of the gate here, and he even makes fun of it:
"Here we go again with the funky intro
People approach me knowin I'm the Prince Po-
-E-T-R, Y, YES and I'm the first batter
The Pharoahe usually go first, but it don't matter
(Nah it don't matter) Funky slices of beats like this
comes once in a blue, but it's not hard for me to chew
So kick off your shoes and don't forget your socks
I wash and wash them emcees like Clorox!"
Poetry's silky smooth mid-range vocals and breezy (sounding almost effortless) delivery are put on full display in this witty verse, but they're only the opening round. In round two, Pharoahe Monch establishes his solid credentials as "the RAPPER'S rapper" with a display of skills that hasn't been diminished at all by age:
"Ready no chitter-chatter I figure since I'm bigger why pitter-patter
Prouncin on particular poets who persist to portray professional punks
You're just a pussy [MEOW] cat when I'm deckin you
Disrespectin you, clever whenever I select a new dialogue
One plus one get it together
Girls don't despair cause I'll be your "Fair Weather Friend," friend
No I don't have a Benz and no I don't have an Infiniti
I figure the eight inches of MEAT, will be the remedy
when I pull up to the bumper
Cause I'll be down to thump a girl like Heather Hunter"
Whew! Two rounds of this would be enough for even the most l33t of lyrical pugilists, but for the final blow Organized Konfusion up the ante by bringing in their comrade O.C. to deliver the knockout in verse three. By the end of this verse, the only thing you regret is that this is O.C.'s ONLY contribution to the whole album:
"Hand on the stick, foot on the clutch
Flowin over eighty miles per hour, I'll pull it on outta
Skid marks left on the ground like tattoos
The rubber smells badder than the doodoo on your shoes
You stink! Better think wise is what I advise
Cause O.C. has skills to kill a whole tribe
Off, awkward, spaghetti I'll sauce it
Lyrics flow like fluid out of a faucet!"
Admittedly this review has relied more heavily on quotes than most 'Back to the Lab' reviews I write, but perhaps that should serve to show the profound depths to which I appreciate this album. Out of the eleven full songs on this debut, not a ONE doesn't sound like a "Hip-Hop Quotable" from beginning to end. With such depth, it can be hard to pick out and highlight phrases that truly capture their limitless talent, but the song "Releasing Hypnotical Gases" might come close. The setup itself is truly magnificent as the song starts out with the sounds of beakers bubbling and fluids spilling like a mad scientist's laboratory; only the science being dropped here is pure rhymes as evidenced by Monch's opening verse:
"As you look from whenceforth I come; riding the wind
thus eliminating competition from bird's-eye view, I'm
descending in helicopters -- in a village raid
Flesh will burn when exposed to the poetical germ grenade
I'm highly intoxicating your mind -- when I'm operating
on cell walls to membranes, cytoplasms to protoplasms
Disintegrate em eliminate em now no one has em in battle
I display a nuclear ray that'll, destroy bone marrow in cattle
Thereby destroying the entire food supply
that's crawling with AIDS, maggots, flies
It's ironic, when a demonic, government
utilizes bionics and a six million dollar man to capture me
Clever, however; you could never ever begin to apprehend a hologram
Who's determined to fight solely
to defend in wars a land of the holy"
Lest you get the wrong impression, it's not that Pharoahe Monch spits big words or talks about science-fiction that's so profound here. Any half-assed rapper with a pile of Rad Bradbury novels and Steven Spielberg movies could do that. What Monch demonstrates is not so much the depth of his vocabulary but the power of his ability to assemble words into visual concepts. Hearing his rhymes over these eerie beats transports you right to the heart of his battle: a lone warrior on the final battle of existance whose sole goal is to survive at all costs and evade destruction; because after all the soul is eternal and you could never ever begin to apprehend a hologram. It's his willingness to break with traditional structure that makes his narrative work; as beat line rhyme, beat line break, beat line rhyme traditions would inhibit the very syllables that give breadth and depth to the construct he's created. Those of you who haven't heard Pharoahe rap though are probably saying, "A-ha! But then he's not flowing, because nobody could stay on beat and/or rhyme that many words simultaneously." Silly rabbit, tricks are for mortals; treats are for the listener. Pharoahe flows like the Nile, and so does his partner in rhyme Poetry:
"Subjected to death
Their bodies don't agree with the hypnotical intellect
Poetical acid is burning up flesh
At the end of corridor do you see me sitting there
Johnny More Grotesque
Literature somewhat equivalent to concentrated sodium hyperchloride
Insight, foresight, more sight
The clock on the wall reads a quarter past midnight
You feel nauseous
Forever you will avoid my royal presence as I step into darkness"
You'll have to forgive me though, because there's one more quote from this song that I have to make. The above portion runs to the end of Poetry's verse; which a few seconds later is followed by an abrupt change in musical style within the song - no longer mysterious, it now becomes a syncopated attack of samples which fire like a machine gun and bring Pharoahe and Poetry back for another assault. While both of their closing verses shine, it's Monch's memorable lines after the beat switches that still haunt me to this very day:
"I am one who is one with all things, thus the unorthodox I am
The paradox I am, the equinox extending my hand
into dimensions to unlock new doorways
And so the light has revealed to me that there must be more ways
And so I play with rhythms, for something more than a mere game
The triggering mechanism from which I strike
sight beyond sight, sound beyond sound
which comes from below the magma, the granite, the ground
The surface will seperate, dispersing harmful ashes
Your optics will not be able to detect
the deadly hypnotical gases
Damn it's hard to breathe!!! But if I got one breath left;
I'll suck wind from the valley of death, here I come
from the slums of earth to center
I reveal myself as a beast within a, unbreakable shell
Walkin through the doorways of Heaven -- or is this Hell?"
Sadly as great as these lyrics are, even reading it simply doesn't do justice to the power of Pharoahe's deep and resonant voice which is as commanding as a biblical orator at the pulpit. Suffice it to say that throughout the rest of this album, you're in for more of the same from Poetry and Monch, only in even greater diversity and variety. Avoiding the trap to be stuck in sheer displays of their incredible rhyme writing and rap talent, they constantly change up the topic matter to keep the album interesting and the listener interested. In fact, the name of the song that immediately follows the one I just quoted is "Audience Pleasers" - just how ill is that?
And yes, they do please. From the dark mental tortures of "Prisoners of War", to the autobiographical tale "Roosevelt Franklin", to the comedic Sunday dinner tale "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken" there is no moment on this album even the harshest critic could conceive of as boring or uninspired. If it were only the rhymes alone this album wouldn't receive such high praise, but the inspired music of beautiful songs like "Walk Into the Sun" and "Open Your Eyes" is so good it leaves you sputtering shit like, "God damn; they rap like this AND they produced their own album too? What the fuck, they're INHUMAN! Nobody could be that fucking talented!" Believe son. In closing, I'd like to offer you some inspirational words from Pharoahe Monch on "Open Your Eyes" to give you ONE more reason you MUST own this album:
"There's just too many rages
Too many infinite screams at night, we're living in concrete cages
Another child is doomed, to be torn in his mother's womb
by the spark of the twelve gauges
Sometimes it seems like I can't go on, I can't go on
But when I envision a black man with thorns in his hands
on a crucifix I get strong
Never will I ever let a devil deceive me again (HA!) mislead me
Cause what I'ma hit you with's gonna hurt (yeah)
Because the flesh is meaningless it remains amongst the dirt
But the soul is uplifted"
By listening to this album, your soul will be uplifted too. Ten out of ten really doesn't do this album justice at all. It's BETTER than that. This album should have transcended all genres and been recognized as one of the 100 best albums ever made in the history of music; but even as a hip-hop classic it's still the QUINTESSENTIAL answer to the ignorant ones who say, "Rap is easy; anybody can do that." Really - can you do THIS? No you can't. Nobody can do this again. Not even Organized themselves; although on their follow-up album they came PRETTY DAMN CLOSE. That's for another day though, and another review. One last thing, and I'm making this a personal request since I made this a personal review -- DON'T DOWNLOAD THIS SHIT, GO BUY IT; even if you buy it used. You won't regret it.
Music Vibes: 10 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10
Originally posted: April 16, 2002