Music

Army of the Pharaohs: Ritual of Battle

The vast collective Army of the Pharaohs may lack the mainstream recognition of Wu-Tang, yet prove to be a force to be reckoned with on their second album.


Army of the Pharaohs

Ritual of Battle

Label: Babygrande
US Release Date: 2007-09-25
UK Release Date: 2007-11-19
Amazon
iTunes

"Some say I'm gansta rap / Others say I'm horror core / I say I'm Suge Knight at the the '95 Source Awards". Celph Titled's distinctive voice rings out on the Ritual of Battle track "Time to Rock", likening his own style and the unified attitude of Army of the Pharoahs to that of the infamous Death Row label head -- fearless, ruthless, and taking absolutely no prisoners.

On the surface, it's an accurate comparison for the Philadelphia-based supergroup of East coast hip-hoppers. However, Army of the Pharaohs is a bit more complex than Celph's statement. With no less than 13 emcees given a crack at the mike on the collective's second album, Ritual of Battle, multiply Suge's "Did he just say that!?" factor by a baker's dozen. Throw in the heavy, rock/metal backdrops and a drop of the occasional horrorcore flavoring of Insane Clown Posse, the upscale gangsta rap of Jay-Z, and the rapid-fire, collective think-tank stylings of Wu Tang Clan, with its myriad of members seamlessly slinging verses and blending them into masterfully cohesive tracks, and you begin to scratch the surface of Army of the Pharaohs.

Featuring members of Jedi Mind Tricks, most notably rapper Vinnie Paz, AOTP's roll call reads like a who's-who of underground Philly rappers, with Chief Kamachi, Reef the Lost Cauze, and hip-hop duo Outerspace on the roster. Recently returning to the fold is Paz's former Jedi Mind Tricks cohort, Jus Allah. Having put their differences behind them, "Blue Steel" is the first collaboration between the two in years.

The remainder of the large revolving cast of Pharaohs hail from various stretches of the East Coast and include Planetary, Esoteric, Celph Titled, Demoz, and Doap Nixon, among others. While Jus Allah is back with a vengeance, several other Jedis and Pharaohs are absent from the mix. Long-running Jedi Mind Trick member Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind is M.I.A. on Ritual of Battle, and Esoteric's partner, 7L sits this one out, as well.

Unlike the bulk of radio-ready hip-hop on the market, there's nothing poppy about the aptly named Ritual of Battle. Undeniably catchy and a virtually flawless family portrait of East Coast underground rap, the whole of AOTP's sophomore offering is brash and powerful. The bombastic "Frontline" rides into battle tinged with a Darth Vader-esque imperial march vibe. Backbeat-heavy drums collide with a loop of whirring electric guitar groove on "Pages in Blood", competing with verses from Paz, Demoz, and Kamachi. Reminiscent of Jay-Z's (at the time) ground-breaking collaborations with Linkin Park, or a really good mash-up usually reserved for underground swapping of files, the track exhibits a freshness and hard-hitting punch. The main difference is that AOTP goes it alone, without relying on an outside source to provide the searing samples on the track.

Other pieces on Ritual of Battleincorporate a variety of recognizable samples, such as the atypically low-key and introspective "Don't Cry" with Etta James' "Don't Cry Baby" providing the song's building block.

While the Pharoahs come to play hardball for the duration of the disc, at the same time, their second album doesn't devolve into a pissing contest as to which emcee comes across as the hardest. Ritual of Battle drips with just as much explosive ammo as it does the camaraderie of brothers in arms. It's pretty clear these guys are having fun on tracks like "Swords Drawn", "Through Blood by Thunder", and "Dump the Clip". Religious and ethnic themes cut through a number of the album's lyrics, touching upon the variety of different faiths, racial ethnicities, and religious backgrounds of AOTP's members. An unorthodox tableau of tolerance at times, each member and creed has an equal opportunity to offend and be offended. Their approach is subtle. No matter how hard any Pharaoh may try to come across, two steps behind him is a rhyme to let us know it's all in fun -- for the most part.

While Army of the Pharaohs don't have as much finesse as a collective like the grand Wu-Tang and their cinemascope sound, this is also AOTP's strong suit. Ritual of Battle comes across as raw and rough around the edges. In an age of glistening, buffed to an all too bling-laden patina of overproduced and homogenized rap clap trap, it’s a breath of fresh air.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image