Happy 25th Anniversary to Organized Konfusion’s eponymous debut album, originally released October 29, 1991.
True hip-hop heads know. Oh, they know. Though overshadowed by their more commercially fortunate peers, Organized Konfusion were one of the most gifted groups to emerge during the halcyon days of hip-hop’s glorified golden age.
Regrettably, their time together proved ephemeral and they produced only three studio albums in the span of six years. But even during this abbreviated period of time, the Queens, New York bred duo of Lawrence Baskerville a.k.a. Prince Poetry and Troy Jamerson a.k.a. Pharoahe Monch cultivated a well-deserved reputation as one of the most lyrically adept pairs of lyricists to ever command the microphone. Top five emcee duos of all time? Well, that’s easy. EPMD, Mobb Deep, OutKast, Black Star, and yes indeed, Organized Konfusion.
Soon after forming in 1987 and releasing early singles “Memories of Love” and “South Side in Effect” under the name Simply II Positive MCs, Po and Monch wisely adopted a new, considerably less campy moniker inspired by Con Funk Shun’s 1973 debut album Organized Con Funk Shun. In 1989, the group produced their first official demo tape with the guidance of Large Professor’s original production mentor Paul C, who was tragically murdered in 1989. The duo persevered in the wake of their producer’s untimely death and shopped the demo to various labels, ultimately landing at Hollywood BASIC, the short-lived hip-hop subsidiary of the Disney-owned Hollywood Records.
Critics initially and rather lazily classified Organized Konfusion as “alternative rap,” a relatively arbitrary categorization that obscured the most salient fact that their eponymous, largely self-produced 1991 debut LP was simply one of the greatest hip-hop albums to surface in the early ‘90s. With an abundance of sampladelic soundscapes as the musical backdrop, Organized Konfusion showcases the sharp-tongued twosome’s unique combination of intricate narrative, evocative imagery, expansive vocabulary, and rapid-fire rhyme cadence. An endlessly enthralling head trip of an album, it’s one of the finest specimens of pure, unfettered hip-hop you’ll ever hear.
While standout songs abound across the album, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive back-to-back-to-back sequence than the first three full-length tracks following the brief instrumental intro. First up is the headnod-inducing “Fudge Pudge,” the album’s second single propelled by the powerful trifecta of Po, Monche, and then-newcomer O.C., who made his recording debut on the track, three years before he dropped his impressive 1994 debut album Word…Life. Featuring battle rhymes like Monch’s “Emcees wanna battle but they can't get with the / Capital M-O-N-C-H on the mic I get swifter / Than the rest of them maybe even the best / Scoring 101 in a poetical test,” the song augurs the braggadocious riffing that resurfaces on tracks like “Audience Pleasers,” “Prisoners of War,” and the title track.
Following “Fudge Pudge,” the contemplative and uplifting “Walk Into the Sun” finds the pair ruminating on the joys of life in general and the redemptive power of music, with Monch declaring, “In this particular era of darkness / Bust a rhyme that might enlighten the mind and spark this / Trail to follow the light that's guiding you from / The evil that you walk into the sun.” The duo warrants additional praise for sampling Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Runnin’” and Steely Dan’s “Green Earrings” to gloriously melodic effect.
Rounding out the terrific three at the top of the album is “Releasing Hypnotical Gases,” a voracious verbal assault that perfectly captures the imaginative way that the duo constructs their rhymes, replete with chemical-themed metaphors and allusions to “poetical acid” that’s “burning up flesh.” The track is also notable for Prince Po’s line “Insight, foresight, more sight / The clock on the wall reads a quarter past midnight,” which was famously sampled by DJ Shadow on the atmospheric “Midnight in a Perfect World” from his classic 1996 debut long player Endtroducing..….
The feel-good, nostalgia-filled lead single “Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?” is a bona fide gem as well, as Po and Monch wistfully reminisce about their youthful days back in the ‘70s, with Richard Pryor soundbites interspersed throughout. A more buoyant remixed version with modified lyrics also appears here, and both cuts are gratifying listens indeed.
On a handful of tracks, Po and Monch demonstrate their proficiency with tackling more substantive subject matter. “The Rough Side of Town (South Side)” is a descriptive and raw account of the violent “hustle and bustle” that characterizes life in South Side Queens. Boasting a gospel-imbued chorus and organ flourishes coupled with an expertly incorporated sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” “Open Your Eyes” is the album’s most spiritual composition. Here, the two emcees wax profound on the inextricable connections between the plagues of poverty, crime, and institutionalized racism afflicting the Black community, while suggesting redemption and solace can be found by calling upon a higher power.
Over familiar Brand New Heavies and Weather Report samples, Po and Monch extol the virtues of mental acuity, whether in the street or in the classroom, on “Roosevelt Franklin,” an affectionate nod to the Muppets character of the same name. The song also explores the dichotomy of perception vs. reality, as best evidenced by Prince Po’s opening verse, in which he describes the song’s protagonist as “Givin’ off the impression of a clever nerd / Never was a suspect when a homicide occurred, in the suburbs / He was referred, to as a respectable intellectual / Highly acceptable rebel from the ghetto on the level / Of an intelligent rapper, create him just like Giupetto / The aggressive type, and he's not your puppet.”
Po and Monch followed up their debut LP in grand fashion three years later with the innovative Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994), which I, and I suspect most of their fans, consider their finest moment on wax. The duo would go on to record one more album (1997’s The Equinox) and their formal musical partnership as Organized Konfusion concluded shortly thereafter, largely due to mutual ambitions to reinvent and evolve their careers beyond the group.
Pharoahe Monch, who Eminem once described as “ahead of his time,” has cultivated a critically acclaimed career, releasing four excellent solo joints over the past seventeen years, including his most recent album PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2014. And though Prince Po hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention as his former partner-in-rhyme, the criminally underappreciated wordsmith has remained productive, releasing a handful of solo albums, EPs, and singles in addition to a number of collaborations with other artists.
Indeed, as first manifested on the brilliant Organized Konfusion, the emcees’ careers represent that all-too-rare example of artists who have preserved their creative integrity and remained true to the original spirit of their art form, while avoiding the temptations and traps of more commercially motivated endeavors. For this, and of course for the songs, we unquestionably owe a huge debt of gratitude to the dynamic duo of Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po.