Pharoahe Monch @ Berns Salonger (Stockholm, November 3 2007) - Review

I live in Stockholm, which by all accounts, is not a hotbed for Hip Hop even by European standards.  So when I heard Pharoahe Monch’s whirlwind tour of Europe (ten concerts in 15 days) would stop by in my new hometown, I was a bit nervous to be honest.  In 2003, I had the good fortune of seeing him in New York City just as Agent Orange was released, but that was in the midst of a Talib Kweli billed concert that quickly turned into a Talib/Mos Def/Common/De La Soul/Pharoahe concert.  How would Pharoahe fare as a solo act this time?  How would the notoriously reserved Stockholmers react?

Inside the beautiful and decadent Berns Salonger, a place normally populated by well-heeled, suit-wearing types, the mostly Swedish audience shuffled about tentatively as the warm-up DJ played some tunes.  Enter Boogie Blind, Mela Machinko, and Showtyme.  They beckoned Pharoahe onto the stage, and I braced myself for the lyrical ride.  A tour de force of energy, conviction, and music, Pharoahe et al. did not disappoint, and Stockholm proved to be a willing participant in the rapture.

Tearing through Let’s Go and Free, Pharoahe whipped the crowd into a frenzy with Fuck You, and proclaimed that Hip Hop was not dead, but it was right here, in Stockholm.  What?  I was stunned.  It was a neat segueway into Right Here, but it struck a chord with me, and clearly with the audience.  Pharoahe was right.  Hip Hop was alive and well, and living in every one of us.  From that point on, we were at Pharoahe’s command, singing along, jumping up and down, waving our fists, and feeling empowered.  We believed.  The change was palpable, the performers on stage feeding off this newfound force and vice versa.  It grew exponentially and soon both audience and performers were running around, laughing, jumping up and down even more, shouting appreciation, and clearly having a lot of fun.  At one point, impromptu pictures were even taken by a crew member of the performers on stage with their adoring audience, thus preserving the moment we shared.

Agent Orange, When the Gun Draws, Body Baby, Desire, and Push drew us in—Pharoahe is truly a magnificent lyricist, and with the support of Mela Machinko and Showtyme (who appear on the studio album), the vocals made the songs come even more alive.  Everyone had the opportunity to showcase their talent, vocal and turntable-wise, and the audience lapped it up.  I was particularly enamoured with Showtyme’s voice and hope to hear more of him.  But Pharoahe Monch was still the star, and while he is certainly a gifted rapper, his messages never cease to be intelligent, thought-provoking, and perhaps most importantly, dangerously political in a time where questions need to be constantly asked.

Pharoahe ended the concert with Simon Says, arguably the club anthem of 1999, but it was the songs from his 2007 LP Desire that really shone through.  And as if to remind us there would always be more to come from this immense talent, Pharoahe came back with an encore, an a cappella freestyle and then his cover of Public Enemy’s Welcome to the Terrordome.  As Pharoahe finally left the stage, we were still chanting his name, and I genuinely felt that hip-hop was indeed right here in Stockholm and anywhere else it wanted to be.  All thanks to Pharoahe Monch.


Written by: Sabrina Shim
Sabrina is a Torontonian currently living in Stockholm