It was May 1, 2003 when President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the USS Lincoln and delivered his “Mission Accomplished” speech, proclaiming the war in Iraq a success. But it’s almost eight years after that historic speech and U.S. soldiers are still occupying the Middle East. United States citizens continue to grow anxious about the country’s involvement, but it’s sometimes hard to hear real rage and protest amongst the sea of politically correct news casts and reporters. On his newest album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), Pharoahe Monch crafts an LP that not only serves as a protest to the United States’ handling of the conflicts in the Middle East, but stands alone as a more than competent hip-hop record.
Thankfully W.A.R. doesn’t completely drown itself in military and political commentary, alienating listeners and fans who might share a different perspective than Monch, because it is a neatly produced and finely tuned album. And although we all might have all fallen in love with Monch through his party jam “Simon Says” years ago, the harsh-natured W.A.R. is his most resilient work to date. The album’s title track, produced by Marco Polo and featuring free rights advocate Immortal Technique, storms out of the gate and into a chorus of highly fueled lyrics: “Overthrow regimes in the name of the cause / Renegades, never slaves / This means war.” Just this cross-section of the chorus on “W.A.R.” encapsulates every message Monch is pleading his listeners to hear on the album.
The production and beats on W.A.R. are just as bombastic. The opening track, “The Warning,” has a U.S. soldier in the year 2023 sending information back in time to the present day. Explaining his account, the soldier claims he found classified information that “changes everything [he] believes about this war,” while leaving one last notion before Monch fades into the second track: “What you are hearing, is a warning.” Cue the orchestra, choir, and the smash of a drum kit which few hip-hop tracks have ever known. “Calculated Amalgamation” is Monch’s rallying cry to the masses, “You see to mistreat us / so this is calculated amalgamation” spits Monch during the interlude. Between the pathos of “The Warning” and the ethos of “Calculated Amalgamation,” W.A.R. gathers its troops through the notion of mistrust and deceit, carrying that torch through the album as Monch’s campaign gains support.
The album’s highlight, “Clap (One Day),” which Monch has since turned into an eleven minute short film, tells the tale of inner-city backstabbing and betrayal. With his sincerity and anger still reeling, Monch takes on gang violence and loyalty on here, preaching of a day when we don’t have to turn a gun on each other to try and get ahead. “When we gonna get it together? / One day, one day, one day…” raps featuring artist Showtyme over top of a screeching guitar riff during the chorus. The song ends with people clapping in rhythm while Monch delivers the vivid story of a gun fight gone too far. It’s the simple coordination and collaboration of the people clapping that shows Monch has successfully taken people who were once pitted against each other and rallied them together.
More than anything on W.A.R., Monch stands to make his point loud and clear. We can no longer trust our government, and the only way to survive these blatant human rights violations is to become a cohesive minority. Monch wants us to be the renegades, because as he announces, “this is an American post mortem.”