Internal Affairs is a hip-hop album from Queensbridge MC Pharoahe Monch, released in February 2000. If it was ever released on CD, it has since been deleted - it is now only available as a vinyl double album. The album is fifteen tracks long, with one skit - the intro. Since he signed to Rawkus Records, Pharoahe has gradually been earning himself an underground reputation. This album is his first release on Rawkus.
The album has some fabulous cover art, which is even more impressive for being a foot square in size. "Pharoahe Monch" is printed across the top, in a sharp Runic font and on fire. Underneath, Pharoahe himself is semi-submerged, with only his face and hands, clutching burning lava, visible above the water. The harsh red lighting gives the whole scene a brilliantly sinister feel. It sets up the album well.
- Intro: "You might never return to the shit you hear on the radio," suggests Pharoahe optimistically. Set over a rather strange (almost cartoony) beat, this intro simply sets the seen for the album and features Pharoahe showing off his high-pace lyrical skills. Listening to this with no knowledge of his other work might give the impression that he is a light-hearted rapper, in a Ludacris mould, when quite the opposite is true. It's a neat juxtaposition - Robert Frost would be proud.
- Behind Closed Doors: Pharoahe immediately lays any question of his lyrical ability to rest. His style is complex; at times, a few rapidly delivered lines are followed by a pause, reminiscint of Busta Rhymes. Other times, the lyrical onslaught is constant - Pharoahe surpasses Nas in this respect. Pharoahe also demonstrates his skill for multi-syllable rhymes, for example "I made it, you salivated over my calibrated rap shit - validated my ghetto credibility." A strong first track.
- Queens: A more relaxed beat, as Pharoahe gets a little sentimental about his birthplace. His attitude to the Christian religion he was raised in - questioning but ultimately submissive - reminds me of Roots Manuva. Pharoahe produces many of his own tracks on this album, and does a slick job indeed, including a sample of Maxwell's "...Til The Cops Come Knockin".
- Rape: Evidently keen to demonstrate his hard-core style on the first side, Pharoahe includes this harsh track indeed. Anyone who's heard Simon Says (which is pretty much everyone) will have heard this side of his character. "Consider this: loops is similar to clitorises exposed" he raps. The rape is a metaphor for his contempt for many of his contemparies, as he explains "It doesn't end still I start fucking, a million MCs and they ain't saying nothing. They ain't fucking it right, they ain't fucking it like... me."
- Simon Says: The most famous Pharoahe Monch release yet. The deep, imposing beat provides the perfect backdrop for Pharoahe's 'no holds barred' style. This track is full of fantastically quotable lines, such as "some might even say this song is sexist, cos I asked the girls to rub on their breasteseses." A good leader track for the album, for it is typical and vintage Pharoahe Monch.
- Official: This track is slightly uninspiring, unfortunately. Pharoahe name-drops so many football players, it's almost product placement. The energetic beat is briefly entertaining, but the track is ultimately a disappointing inclusion.
- Hell: Pharoahe Monch rapping alongside Canibus was always going to be a lyrical masterclass, and neither of them disappoint here. A curious modem dial-up intro gives way into a fairly simplistic beat, which I suspect is a deliberate effort not to detract from the lyrics. "A hundred CCs of the uncut cleanest, in the vein, 24 hours of intravenous" is one of my favourite lines on the album. Canibus has some stunning lines of his own, including "You pray to Jésus, but he don't wanna save you 'cos you unfaithful. You're paralysed on the operating table, praying for Canibus to slice you from head to navel." The slightly unimaginative chorus, of "This is... Hell!" eight times is the Achilles' heel of this brilliant track.
- No Mercy: Surely the most predictable collaboration on this album, M.O.P. and Pharoahe get together over another beautifully tense beat. M.O.P. can't approach Pharoahe lyrically but their aggressive style mixes perfectly with his and the whole track is electric. "They never give me any credit - so I developed a homicide fetish," they rap. The long instrumental outro is actually welcome in the light of such a powerful beat.
- Right Here: An upbeat track to start the second vinyl, and a mildly entertaining one. "In extremity, you get infinity vertical" is another brilliant line, and the song as a whole provides a solid base for the rest of the album.
- The Next Shit: I've already compared Pharoahe to Busta Rhymes, so it's interesting to hear them together on a track. Pharoahe's flow is untouchable on this track, often delivering his lines so fast that they are unintelligle - evidently playing up the Busta element of his style for this collab. I won't even attempt to transcribe his finest moments, because I couldn't do justice to his delivery. Busta holds his own at least, with smooth flow and imaginative rhymes. This song is a little short on content, but when was Busta ever about that? It's pleasing to listen to and that was clearly the intention.
- The Ass: Another slightly tiresome chorus, as Pharoahe shouts "The Ass" again and again, but this song is otherwise lyrically strong. Some of the production here is slightly suspect, as lines clearly intended to lead into the chorus don't quite meet it. This is also a debut track for female rapper Apani, who manages to lift just about ever element of her style from Eve - which may or may not appeal. "Fuck it, I shagged her, without the use of Viagra, had her coming like Niagara Falls when I bagged her" is a typical line from this amusing but crude track. Pharoahe is rarely squeamish about getting carnal and Apani seems to support him in that sense. If you find some of Eminem's more gruesome moments amusing (and I do), then you'll probably enjoy this.
- The Light: This is the much-lauded philosophical side of Pharoahe at work. A delicate strings intro and a relaxed drum beat suits his more contemplative mood. He talks about his attempted seduction of a girl in a bar, and manages to be affectionate without being corny - perhaps a lesson for other rappers. Pharoahe is unafraid to show that he has many facets to his character, rapping "Some say I'm a little bit of a thug slash b-boy gentleman". This is a well-chosen track to end Side C, since the next side is in much the same vein.
- God Send: A subdued Pharoahe raps alongside his Organized Konfusion crew, who do bring something to the track even if they can't quite match his skill. The lyrics, about the social problems in Queens, are layed over a haunting beat, and they evidently deal with a delicate subject matter with genuine passion. "My sister's on the corner, lying again - just heard about another one of my niggah's dying again", Pharoahe raps with strain in his voice. It's refreshing to hear some social commentary in rap that doesn't encourage the 'gangsta' ideal. A good track indeed.
- The Truth: Pharoahe hooks up with the ever-impressive Common and label-mate Talib Kweli of Black Star. Another philosophical track, as Common asks "The truth, I always seek it. Why do I have to drink a six pack to speak it?" The female vocal on the chorus is an unusual device for a Pharoahe Monch track, but it works well with the carefully-crafted beat. Diamond, who also produced The Ass and The Light, is probably at his best here, as the beats, lyrics and chorus all flow together smoothly.
- Simon Says Remix: This all-star track inevitably feels a little "tagged on". Redman, Method Man, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Busta Rhymes and Lady Luck all appear, adding new lyrics but little in terms of content. Method Man does have the classic line "Opinions are like assholes - everyone's gotta have one", but otherwise they are all a little disappointing. Clearly there was considerable pressure to do something with the original track after its success, but some things are best left alone.
All in all, this is an excellent collection of tracks, with only a few suspect inclusions over the fifteen. The gradual mood shift, from the aggressive opening to the contemplative conclusion is very subtly done, but is unfortunately broken by the addition of the Simon Says remix at the end of Side D.
E2 is not a review service but Pharoahe Monch encompasses so many styles, any hip-hop fan should enjoy him.