We first heard from the two man crew of Pharoahe Monch and Prince Poe, collectively known as Organized Konfusion, in 1991 when they dropped their self-titled debut album. Staying true to their Queens roots, the duo mixed boom-bap and jazzy loops with their abstract rhyming style, and even if they didn’t win commercially, the critics and fans loved them alike. My opinion of their debut album was different from the status quo, but whatever (if you are interested in my opinion on the album, click here). Organized Konfusion would return in 1994 with their sophomore effort STRESS: The Extinction Agenda.
Like their debut, OK would handle the bulk of the production duties on STRESS. They would also give an up and coming producer named Buckwild a shot (and I believe it was his first “professional” work) to produce three joints on the album. Like its predecessor, STRESS didn’t move a ton of units, but it did earn the twosome tons of critical acclaim (including an impressive 4.5 mics from The Source), and many deemed it a classic.
Let’s stroll down memory lane and see if STRESS is worthy of the “classic” title.
Intro – STRESS begins with a clunky instrumental that Pharoahe and Prince Poe use to spit the most abstract random shit that I’ve heard on an album Intro in a long time. It goes from Pharoahe talking about living with the “homeless and outcasts” to Poe giving the middle finger to “racist cabbies, waitresses, construction workers, bus drivers” etc. etc. The first minute of this 2 minute Intro is Pharoahe repeating “I’m so confused”. My sentiments exactly.
Stress – This was the album’s lead single. Buckwild’s instrumental uses an epic horn loop that makes the whole thing sound colossal. Pharoahe and Poe bring it out even more with their preacher-like deliveries and confidence. This still sounds amazing.
The Extinction Agenda – I’m not crazy about OK’s instrumental, but it grows on you the more you listen to it. Pharoahe and Poe rap their abstract asses off on it, though.
Thirteen – Over a stripped down jazzy Buckwild produced instrumental (suitable for midnight marauding), Pharoahe goes dolo and rips the shit out of this track. He elegantly spits: “I’m no slave to a rhythm, I grip it, then I take its name and change its religion, then I chop the foot off the fuckin’ beat, for trying to escape the track now it’s obsolete”. Even though it gets kind of weird on the final verse when he invites his foes to suck his “dick from the back with a crazy straw”, this song was phenomenal.
Black Sunday – Organized uses the same Eugene McDaniels loop that the Gravediggaz used for “Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide”, and that ATCQ used first on Peoples Instinctive (Tribe Degrees of Separation: check). Poe and Pharoahe use the dark and drab backdrop to talk about their humble beginnings and their struggle to get in the rap game. Lyrically, the fellas came with it, but the instrumental is boring as shit. It’s amazing how two different producers can flip the same loop and get completely different results.
Drop Bombs – Short interlude with a passable instrumental that the fellas use to yell their chant on for about a minute and half.
Bring It On – Pharoahe and Poe are in battle mode as they boast about their mic abilities and invite any would be competitors to step up and bring it. Again, these dudes can rap their asses off, but their instrumental just sounds like noise to me.
Why – Buckwild gets his third and final production credit of the evening, bringing the energy down a bit with this jazzy mid-tempo groove. Pharoahe and Poe use it to pour out their hearts, sharing how the ladies in their lives tried to play them, as they rhetorically ask why on the hook. Heavy on the soul, light on the cheese: this is how a hip-hop love song should be done.
Let’s Organize – Q-Tip (Tribe Degrees Of Separation: check again) stops by to add some adlibs and takes care of the hook, while Prince Poe, Pharoahe Monch and O.C. take care of the bars. The three emcees fair well on the mic, but it’s OK’s bouncy backdrop dripping with good vibes and Q-Tip’s contributions that make this record great. No matter when or how many times I listen to this song it always feels good.
3-2-1 – Organized Konfusion keeps the good times rolling, as they loop up the same Blue Mitchell sample that Jazzy Jeff hooked up for FP on “Ain’t No Place Like Home” from the Home Base album, but was first used on MC Trouble’s (rip) “Big Ol’ Jazz” from the House Party 2 Soundtrack. Anyways, I love the instrumental and Pharoahe and Poe sound cool spittin’ on it. This is another one that I can put on repeat and never get tired of the soulful good vibes it emanates.
Keep It Koming – Organized puts toothpicks in their mouths and pimp strut all over this smooth groove. This is some cool hip shit. Can you dig it?
Stray Bullet – Before Nas made “I Gave You Power” and 2pac made “Me and My Girlfriend”, Organized Konfusion had “Stray Bullet”. In fine detail, Pharoahe and Poe each spit a verse coming from the perspective of a stray bullet and chronicle it’s journey into its victim. OK’s gloomy instrumental makes you feel a bit uneasy and impatiently await the lurking doom. This was dope.
Maintain – The final song of the evening finds the duo discussing the struggle of just trying to keep their heads above water in this life: “Poppa always told meeee, be all you can beeeeee…and maintain”. Rockwilder’s credited with the somber backdrop built around an ill piano loop that serves as the perfect canvas for P&P’s vulnerable rhymes. I distinctly remember shoveling the snow at my parent’s house while listening to this song in my Walkman in the winter of ’95. Time is illmatic, and this was the perfect way to end STRESS.
STRESS starts off sluggish, but heats up by the midway point and ends on fire. The sluggish start has nothing to do with Pharoahe and Poe’s rhymes, but more so their mediocre production work (the two Buckwild produced tracks are the only thing that keep the first half of STRESS from being a production snorefest). By halftime, OK finds their production footing and (along with 1 more Buckwild produced track) turns the rest of STRESS into musical bliss. I wouldn’t call STRESS a classic, but the second half is good enough to make it a solid album. Feel free to kill me in the comments, but I’m sticking to my story.
You must be smoking crack D cuz this album still stands tall after 20 years. The Production is way ahead of its time and reminds me of EL-Ps early work with Company Flow. The Intro alone is supposed to make you feel disoriented and dare I say confused. Each beat is a different level of insanity in the first half especially Black Sunday with the slow tempo and distant singing in the background make you feel uneasy and highlights the lyrics more and puts you into this mind state of striving to make it in this crazy world. I could go on and on but this album is wayyyyy underrated and deserves the same praise Illmatic gets
Hmmm…interesting perspective, and I appreciate your passion, Donald. You really think it could match up pound for pound with Illmatic, though?
Hell Yeah!! Lol who else you know was rhyming like this in 94 and they started the original wave of “perspective as a gun” track. I believe lyrically they match the same level of rhyming that Nas does on Illmatic the production is a little much of stretch cuz they weren’t Preemo, Q-Tip or Pete Rock but it still stands apart from everything made in that time and today. This is actually one of my favorite albums of all time, so yeah this is coming from the heart
I’m with Wesley. I think the depth of lyrics, the variety of perspectives and the creative approach to the subject matter is really fantastic and special, amongst even the best hip-hop albums. I would say that if you want to compare to Nas it is really like apples and oranges. However, Pharoahe Monch could easily go toe to toe, just listen to his versatility on Bring it On. That is a truly special show of ability that I would say Nas could not match in creativity. Nas sounds like a calculator in comparison, regardless of how excellent he is as an MC. The production is often minimal in a way that I think deserves more listens for appreciation, especially in the Jeep. The bass is incredible on some tracks, and it is a great demonstration of true crate-digging.