A Magnificent Day for an Exorcism
Th1rt3en is a collaboration, a meeting of the minds, between living legend Pharoahe Monch, drummer Daru Jones (Jack White’s band) and guitar virtuoso Marcus Machado. And right there, you’re thinking, ‘Oh hell, no. Not another rapper goes metal.’ This isn’t Ice-T with Body Count. It’s not PE with Anthrax. It’s not Cypress Hill’s ill-fated attempt to meld hip hop with metal in the 90s. This is actually good shit.
The United States is, of course, ready for an exorcism after the past four years of MAGAism, and all that entailed, the endless assault on American laws, customs, and the dignity of not just the nation as a whole, but so many of us individually. Indeed, Pharoahe Monche’s last public appearance was on ‘Remove 45,’ calling on the Orange Man’s removal from office. It was produced by Supa Dave West, and brought everyone from De La Soul to Chuck D into the studio. Th1rt3en pick up from that point, unleashing a vicious assault on all the bullshit of our times: consumerism, rampant capitalism, political corruption, lying politicians, police brutality, and more.
The album begins with ‘Cult 45,’ which begins with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and the recitations of Christianity, before the beat hits, all creepy, paranoiac, the bass and drums, close to us, and Pharoahe’s unmistakable voice and a rhyme that needs exploration, as it is a call to arms, a manifesto of what’s coming:
Chop the head off of false idols, topple the statues, set them ablaze
T. Donald make Ronald Reagan turn in his grave
Season discrimination, sprinkle a little sage
Add a dash of hatred, eat it and get on stage
Chase it down with some poverty, add a splash of the murder rate
Regurgitate it and spit out rage
Sit in a circle of thirteen candles and smoke haze
Thinking we should miss Christ, Christmas’ll make you a slave
Lactose intolerant at birth, never fazed
By the race for chasing American cheese in a maze
In fourth grade, I played scrabble
Scrambled the letters in the name Santa
Magnified and deciphered the Clauses in the game
Nauseating, I’m angry, Bill Bixby
Exorcist, make the president’s head three sixty
Emergency, you should monitor the mercury in your thermometer
Witchcraft immortal, paranormal phenomena
The dark side of the truth, no apology
Carbon monoxide in the booth, do not follow me
Please do not breathe
You are now listening to killer bees in my lungs when I wheeze
Hex for the Klux Klan, clues for the alt-right
Enchanting incantations for their adult life
Flows overthrow Pharaohs and kill Caesars
Iris inside of an isosceles pilot that Nebuchadnezzar heaven
Seven orifices over crossed fibulas
Spit a poison dart through the heart of Caligula.
As Pharoahe drops the rhyme, the bass and drums continue their creepy lurking progression, a clarinet riff floating over the beat. Eventually the track develops into a nu-jazz fusion with some guitar pyrotechnics, and yet, Th1rt3en remain fresh-sounding.
‘Triskaiekaphobia,’ which is the fear of the number 13, begins with another stumbling beat, the creeping paranoia of the closeness of the bass, and guitar feedback buried into the mix, before Monche steps up to the mic, here sounding a bit like Dave of De La Soul, we creep into germophobia, the Rona, and familiar hip hop tropes of lyrical assassins. Whatevs, this is a killer track.
‘666 (Three Six Word Stories)’ is the current single, propulsed by a funky bass line and easy drums, as Monche spits his rhymes, checking in on BLM, police brutality and murder, the crack pandemic, and everything else, name-checking everything from Run DMC to Trump to Mookie Betts, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Ferguson, MO, and so on. The chorus explodes into a restrained fury as Machado turns the volume up on his amp, but this doesn’t explode into nu-metal, nah. Our boys are far too experienced, far too skilled, far too intelligent to fall into stereotypes.
Says Monch about this track:
‘666 (Three Six Word Stories)’ was not written for the sake of simply being provocative, but to be able to spaz out over a dark groove, losing all control, allow Marcus, Daru and myself to clear a path through this heavy darkness and forge through towards the light at the end of the archaic tunnel we’re all collectively experiencing. I also wanted to embellish on the legend of Ernest Hemmingway’s six word story, so I wrote three six word stories at the end of the song, hence the title ‘666.’
At this point, it is worth noting the power of Jones’ drums all across the album, as his beats are tend to drive the music, his rolls give shape and form to the music. He plays off the bass, which then gives both Monch and Mochado the space to show off their skills. Without Jones, this album simply would not exist, he is the glue that holds it together, his drums are the most essential part of the album, even more so than Monch’s verses.
‘Scarecrow’ sees Monch visit the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City, and I don’t mean Seattle. This might be the track where Monch lets go in the most classic sense, all his alliteration, word play, his lyrical dexterity are on display here, perhaps best illustrated by the second verse, where he moves from Spanish to English:
No familia and no padre
And la casa mi madre
Trabajo, trabajo, my people be slammin’ them Dominoes
They be baking them pies, comprendes? Dominos
Lunes a sábado, la policía come and it’s vámonos
And my sentiment is cynical
The benefit of status is really knowing what’s identical
I put it in the pot and mix it with the chemicals
Infected in the [den?] and I show you what the pen’ll do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do
Movimiento, get out the way
Put the best product on the block all day
That cook and the hook is crack cocaine.
‘Fight’ sees Th1rt3en joined by the afore-mentioned Cypress Hill, as Jones and Mochado lay down a 60s acid rock soundtrack, Monch, B-Real and Senn Dog lay down the truths of police brutality, the constant struggle of African Americans to escape the endless scrutiny of the cops, whatever it is they’re doing. The track is unambiguous, as B-Real lays it down:
This little piggy killed a minor
Same piggy got paid to stay home
This next pork chop removed his body cam
And he aimed his Glock at my dome
This flatfoot prefers chokeholds
Steroids changes his mode (Oh, no)
He shoots his blood with testosterone
Just to follow that American code (Damn).
Interestingly, this is the only track on the album that sees a guest collabo, and Monch has been clear that this was a song that only The Hill could feature on, it was a track that required B-Real’s voice.
The rest of the album continues down this vein, toggling between straight-ahead hip hop and it’s rocked out cousin, but Th1rt3en do not fall into the nu-metal trap. I’ve read some reviews of this album that dismiss it for this, for re-hashing nu-metal stereotypes, but I find myself wondering what the hell those reviewers were listening to. A Magnificent Day for an Exorcism may not be everyone’s cuppa cuppa. But it is the sound of a hip hop legend who doesn’t have to please anyone anymore, it is the sound of three musicians having a blast in the studio. It’s the sound, really, of freedom.