25 Years Ago, Organized Konfusion Opened Our Eyes To What’s Really Going On (Audio)

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During the final week of October in 1991, two MCs and producers bubbling with analytical perspectives and bursting with Hip-Hop creativity emerged as Organized Konfusion on their eponymous debut LP. Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po delivered one of the most distinctive debuts in Rap history, proving that lyrical dexterity and high-concept content weren’t reserved for the veterans. At only 18 and 22, respectively, the two rapped about the cerebral, warning Heads about the systemically racist puppeteers behind chemical warfare, mass incarceration, and gun violence. Songs like “Releasing Hypnotical Gases” and “Prisoners of War” served up the kind of history not taught in schools, while snapshots from the ‘hood were taken courtesy of “The Rough Side of Town” and single “Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?” What Monch and Po delivered was always inventive, and in the quarter century since Organized Konfusion‘s release, it remains a resounding example of a cult classic.

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On “Open Your Eyes,” Organized Konfusion created a record that, despite being cloaked in religious metaphors, was no less pragmatic in its underlying lessons. Po takes on the “Whitewashing” of Jesus with “when I envision a Black man with thorns in his hand on a crucifix I get strong/Never will I ever let a devil ever deceive me again,” suggesting that listeners educate themselves about the true history of Jesus, who was really a man of color. The deceptive and oppressive power structure is once again taken to task for its role in the drug epidemics which plagued the poorest pockets of American cities, with Po rhyming that the devil’s M.O. is ” a sneak attack, Black, he’s gonna smack you/In the form of a rock that’s inside of a capsule.”

Pharoahe Monch’s verse is, to borrow a phrase that has become extremely popular in the social-media age, woke. Certainly not an outlier in that regard, its content brings to light issues of gun violence (“Got guns going BUCK BUCK BUCK BUCK and when you look up you see a kid got struck”), homelessness (“there are about 450,000 homeless without housing”), and prisons overrun with inmates caught up in an endless cycle of injustice (“brothers sharing cells and sharing beds/They can’t seek a job with this hair that’s dread”).

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Beyond literal meaning, the allusions to the deceptive practices of the powers that be work well atop the sampling of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” named after a creature whose survival relies on blending in so well, you can’t see it coming (in fact, the song’s closing bar is “you better get up and wipe to clear your eyes and get right with the master of disguise”). 25 years before Chance the Rapper created an entire mixtape inspired by church music, Organized Konfusion used it as a backdrop for a song urging listeners to open their eyes to what’s really going on. In his own annotation of the song’s genesis, Monch tells Genius that he and Po “thought it would be an interesting play with that Herbie Hancock loop to play that chorus in a gospel way and have a gospel feel,” adding that they knew while writing the song that it would “go against the grain.”

In speaking with Ambrosia for Heads earlier this year, Monch said of recording Organized Konfusion “At the time, Hip-Hop was more of an in-the-moment thing that people were denying as lasting as a culture or music form. Back then, you know, it was called a passing fad. But the first album, I just saw it as something I wanted to have a long shelf life and even be timeless.” Here’s to another 25 years of timeless Hip-Hop.

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