What’s the best rap album you’ve never heard? Every serious hip-hop head has an answer to this question, and mine would have to be Organized Konfusion’s 1991 self-titled LP. Frankly, it’s an album that I feel is criminally under-listened to in this day-and-age, and it’s unfathomable to me as to why it never expanded beyond just having a cult following. Sure, the rhyming and subject matter of the duo was advanced, and it didn’t necessarily sport any club hits, but it was still accessible. Seeing that other non-gangsta hip-hop groups were able to make it at the time (such as Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, even The Pharcyde) it remains a question mark as to why Organized Konfusion still isn’t as referenced nearly as much as their alt-rap contemporaries.
Well, I guess the simplest answer to this quandary is that Organized Konfusion was just too weird for their time. Sure, they touched on typical hip-hop topics such as grim urban realities (“The Rough Side of Town”), lyrical mastery (“Audience Pleasers”), and humorous asides (“Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken”), but they did it in a much different way, with complex rhyme pattering, and concepts that hadn’t been explored in rap before. The song “Hypnotical Gases” may be the first rap song to incorporate sci-fi imagery into the lyrics. “From concentration camps I escape with my sanity/In 2010 every man will be subject to global warming/ Formless oval, millions of locusts swarming.”
It was this differential nature that made Organized Konfusion the only hip-hop group of their breed throughout most of the 90s, and it’s a minor miracle that these two Queens-based emcees were so alike in thought and delivery. Rappers Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch proved to be incredibly gifted and synchronous with each other, even if there was clearly a stand-out member. While Prince Po was a better rapper than a good 95% of his peers, Monch outdid the other 5% by a mile. The vibrant emcee (who was only 19 during the album’s recording) was fluid, verbose, and multi-sylabic in a way that remains indescribable, and his future recordings never quite matched the finesse of this one. Po even seemed to be aware that he was the group’s second-best, as he rapped on the track “Fudge Pudge”’s intro verse “Here we go again with the funky intro/People approach me knowing I’m the Prince Po/ E.T.R.Y, yes and I’m the first batter/ The Pharoahe usually go first, but it don’t matter.”
That said, the two certainly had a brotherhood, and their partnership enhanced the record. On the metaphorical track “Roosevelt Franklin”, the two expressed their disdain over the violence in South Side Jamaica, Queens by referring to it streets as reckless thugs. “Roosevelt felt staticky, he knew things were shady/Grady had Bradley’s uzi, but he always packed a clip or two belonging to a nickel plated .380.” The group refrained from being overtly preachy though, perhaps realizing that social commentary was best left to the likes of Public Enemy and BDP Productions. The group actually was quite playful when it came to their metaphors, with tracks like “Casualties of War” and the title-track playing close to their young age. While other great east coast albums of the early 90s were prominent as they got better with repeated listens, Organized Konfusion’s self-titled had all it’s strengths visible right from the very first-listen, for better-or-worse.
The album is almost just as impressive production-wise as it is with the rapping. Coming at a time before DJ Premiere’s jazz-influenced beats reinvented the New York City sound, Organized Konfusion stuck mainly with funk samples., yet with also a few novel additions. “Hypnotical Gases” featured gurgle-sounding beats to enhance the sci-fi theme, and “Fudge Pudge” carried a whimsical piano beat that sounded years ahead of its time. Considering that many classic hip-hop albums have production that some critics now consider skeletal (such as “Criminal Minded” and “Paid in Full”), to think that a group debut album came out just a few years later with a much richer sound is almost unbelievable. Just why the hell was no one listening to it!
Last month, I wrote an article about Pharoahe Monch’s debut solo LP, Internal Affair, feeling that it was an under-appreciated gem, but even that album pails in comparison to the Organized Konfusion debut. Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch made a perfect album here, that was vibrant, fun, highly intelligent, and breath-takingly original. Whatever you favorite underground rap record may be (i.e. Main Source’s Breaking Atoms, Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Breakdown, Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus, etc..), there’s still a good chance that Organized Konfusion’s self-titled will push it down to number two after just one listen.