Finding The GOAT: Mos Def vs. Pharoahe Monch…Who You Got?

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As we continue the ultimate battle for the title of the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time), we are asking you to help us rank who is the greatest MC to pick up a mic. We will take over 35 years of Hip-Hop into consideration, pairing special match-ups in a sequence not unlike March Madness. For the next several months, we will roll out battles, starting with artists from similar eras paired against one another, until one undisputed King or Queen of the microphone reigns supreme.

The next two MCs to square-off are two of the most versatile in Hip-Hop history, in terms of vocals, genre, and presentation. Label-mates and collaborators, Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch have had very parallel careers in terms of choosing principle over Pop—yet each has enjoyed mainstream success, sometimes seemingly by accident. Both MCs are skilled singers, who frequently tap into Soul, R&B, and Rock & Roll to make their albums and shows all the more dynamic. These MCs have evolved through trends and eras of Hip-Hop, still producing cohesive discographies, respectively. Knighted by legends, working in all corners of the culture, listen to these artists’ music, message and read up on their impact before casting your vote.

Mos Def

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Mos Def, now preferring to be known as Yasiin Bey, has carried much of Hip-Hop’s ruling tenants since the 1970s into the new millennium. A devoted artist with two revered classic albums under his belt (1998’s Black Star collaboration with Talib Kweli, and 1999’s Black On Both Sides solo debut), the mighty Mos has made hits seemingly by accident, with a vocal style that commands audiences in verse, melody, free-form poetry, and everything in between. One of Hip-Hop’s most versatile voices, Dante Smith has built a career making exactly the music he’s wanted to make, on his terms, buyer-be-warned, and Heads adore him all the more because of it.

From the gate, Mos Def was asked to hang alongside the greats. With trial by fire, the Brooklyn, New Yorker made early appearances alongside legendary outfits like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Common. At a time when the Native Tongues were transitioning into the 2000s, Mos Def unofficially carried the torch for years before his own albums. Using 12″ singles as a vehicle, guest work, and compilation appearances, Mos emerged as one of Hip-Hop’s saving graces at a troubled time of lazy rhymes, big beats, and fashion over focus. By 2000, with a wide array of styles circulating as hits, Mos was competing with superstars, and led the charge to restore Hip-Hop’s emphasis of lyricism, activism, and unpredictability. His rhymes and ideas have been controversial, from calling out cultural re-appropriation and carpet-bagging record executives to standing up for social martyrs like Amadou Diallo and Assata Shakur. This former bookstore-owner has been a beacon of principles, living his life like his music.

In the last 10 years, the MC/actor has largely shunned the spotlight. In addition to the name-change, Mos released 2006’s Tru3 Magic deliberately without promotion, artwork, or corresponding tours. He followed three years later with The Ecstatic, an acclaimed album that lost many of the fans who attached themselves to an artist who was bringing independent Hip-Hop to radio and television (including the “Rap City” theme) a decade prior. On stage, Mos’ defiance also keeps things exciting. From set to set, the Rawkus Records alum veers into Dancehall, Soul, and Hip-Hop, depending on the crowd and his mood, never married to playing the hits. Few artists have taken ownership of their presentation as boldly as Mos.

Other Notable Tracks:

“Respiration” (with Black Star & Common) (1998)
“Mathematics” (1999)
“Casa Bey” (2009)

Pharoahe Monch

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Few artists in all of music have had the vocal range and versatility as Queens’ Pharoahe Monch. A product of the late ’80s Hip-Hop movement, Monch (who was briefly mentored by the iconic late Paul C.) spent his first decade with Prince Poetry in the sharp lyrical duo, Organized Konfusion. Together, the Queens kids played with intricate rhyme routines and conceptual/metaphoric tracks. Along the way, Pharoahe, an asthmatic, could shift his speeds and deliver rhymes with the fine mechanics of a 12-cylinder engine.

A decade later, Monch reinvented himself as a soloist amidst the underground Hip-Hop movement. Through the vehicle of “Simon Says,” Monch tailored his style (with Rawkus) to attack the mainstream with an instructional, catchy presentation, stuffed with sharp rhyming. In the years that followed, Pharoahe’s versatility, and his melodic voice allowed him to bend genre, veering into Soul, Rock & Roll, and Funk. The message never faltered, nor did Monch’s penchant for concepts or ability to precisely transmit his thoughts into the microphone.

When he’s singing, Pharoahe Monch conjures up memories of the ’60s greats. When he’s rapping, typically, the Duck Down affiliate (now with his own W.A.R imprint) is a deliberately dense listen. In recent years, the veteran who has been courted by the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent with major label/high-profile offers has gotten as personal as ever. Chronicling depression, his unusual career, and his dedication to the craft, Troy Jamerson is the total package, and at 41 years-old, one of the most consistent voices, and sources of great music in (and out of) the genre.

Other Notable Tracks:

“Stray Bullet” (with Organized Konfusion) (1994)
“Hate” (with Organized Konfusion) (1997)
“Evolve” (2011)

So…who you got?

Voting For Round 1 is now closed. Stay up to date with the latest Finding The GOAT brackets

Mos Def

or

Pharoahe Monch

Related: Check Out The Other Ambrosia For Heads “Finding The Goat” Ballots