Concorde 2 is worlds away from Pharoahe Monch’s hometown district, Queens, New York. Walking through Brighton’s answer to a Queens hip-hop scene, the audience was predominantly largely middle class, white and male. But as Pharoahe Monche said later on in the gig ‘It’s not where you came from – it’s where you at ’ which seemed an appropriate comment in light of the different worlds colliding across the evening.
Rag ‘n Bone Man was the second support act to kick things off – and kick things off he certainly did. Dressed in baggy clothes, this bearded, ginger bloke did not match up with the voice that poured forth; that of a black, soul singer from Georgia that made the hair on your arms stand on end and sent shivers down your spine. It amazed everybody and members of the audience rushed in from the bar to see what the fuss was about. His rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ was accompanied – and made original – by fellow (aggressive) rapper ‘Stig of the Dump – who looked exactly the same except not ginger. Stig of the Dump’s shouty, angry lyrics alongside Rag ‘n Bone Man’s soulful bursts shouldn’t have worked but did.
When Pharoahe Monche came on he seemed genuinely happy to be playing C2 and to be back in Brighton. This artist is well known for his eloquence, his intelligent lyrics and his ability to go against the grain. He stormed some new material – as well as the classics including ‘Oh No’ and ‘Push’ though he’s hailed being more PC than his contemporaries, it’s not always true – especially in ‘Simon Says’. He finished up with the new track ‘Bad Motherfucker’ which is definitely a grower and features the lyrics: ’Who put these pussies on top. Putting out that pussy music, call it pussy pop‘. What became clear was the amount of major hits he’s had – and it must feel a strange position for him to be in now, in that he’s partly in the wilderness as an independent artist after breaking with his record later ‘who fucked him over good.’ The struggle he often sings and raps about is just not just about racial or political engagement but about his work as an artist. You get the impression it’s not always been a smooth ride, professionally or otherwise.
‘Brighton – this is the best gig I have ever played.’ Nobody believed him but it was still nice to hear.
He’s not an imitator; unlike some hip hop stars / r and b acts who can sound like they’re disingenuous, these man’s lyrics come from the heart.
Pharoahe uses hip-hop for the means of political engagement – he doesn’t waste time rapping about fast cars or women but changing the system. His ability to stand up and make you listen is what he does best and he’s inclusive – he brings different walks of life together but unites them in his lyrics that move you and make you feel like you’ve witnessed something important.