Organized Konfusion

Stress: The Extinction Agenda

(Hollywood Basic; 1994)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

1994 was what most heads consider to be The Year of Illmatic. It’s true, there was a time when Nas got ill beats handed to him by the likes of DJ Premier and Large Professor, and he spat fire that melted mic lines without reverie of shoving bottles up bitch asses. What lover of hip-hop can listen to “N.Y. State of Mind” without having her jaw repeatedly chipping the pavement like a jackhammer?

The shadow that Nasty’s tour-de-force casts over that period cloaks most of its contemporary peers into obscurity; this can be the only acceptable explanation for the sad lack of recognition of Organized Konfusion’s Stress: The Extinction Agenda as what may be the best album of 1994 and certainly one of the best hip-hop albums ever made. Let the hyperbole police come; the conscience is clear. Stress: The Extinction Agenda vindicates itself with raw power and smart artillery.

The tight coils of the thick bass and drum beats ensnare juicy jazz samples in a ghetto noir jungle of steam and shadow and sophisticated tribalism. Prince Poetry’s melodic flow and valiant efforts on the microphone could earn him something nigh Orphic status, but then surely Pharoahe Monch is Apollo. Pharoahe’s flow bobs and weaves with skill and insanity, a mad hatter Muhammad Ali that baffles all challengers before pummeling the pulp out of their written rhymes with a delivery that makes every syllable a knock-out blow. Pharoahe even tosses in a couple uppercuts with wig-flipping high-note stresses. The cumulative result of the music and vocal performances is a hip-hop album that’s dark, gritty, hard, almost unhinged, yet supremely artful in its approach to passionate primitivism.

The intro’s modulated vocals squeak, echo, and rumble along with the spare beat for about a minute before cracked nut Monch cries, “I’m so confused, I don’t know what to do, I think I’m going insane…” Organized Konfusion’s self-produced statement sets the tone and makes it known that those who listen (count in Company Flow and Anticon’s Alias) will not walk away uninspired. On “Stress” Buckwild’s circular bass drop loop entices horns from “Mingus Fingus No. 2” to siren the announcement through the scum alleys: Organized Konfusion has declared its own martial law on the hood.

Scratches, a disturbed bass line, and Herbie Hancock’s “Rain Dance” play in the black sandbox of “The Extinction Agenda,” a cymbal spraying grains as Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch kick two of the finest verses on the album over one of their best self-produced beats. Prince Po shoots a staccato flow to spit, “Back in the land I expand data for the wack / Leaving mutilated bodies lacerated limbs grim sites / And new jacks, pick up six and grab the ore / Dig deep into the ghetto (absorb).” With no less intensity, Pharoahe plays a chess game with his enemies: “Nightfall, I stuff the rook, then I’m looking for / The original book which contains the words of God / Six hours until dawn, my quest to capture the queen / Without being seen by the pawns / Call me bishop, bishop takes rook, rook takes pawn, pawn takes knight, knight takes queen / Queen takes the original King James virgin / I’m surgin’ up when I’m emergin’.” The technique’s Bobby Fisher on meth.

As sick as Monch is on “The Extinction Agenda,” his illness rampages about like the plague on all three verses of “Thirteen,” vomiting up some of the most virtuoso flows to be committed to tape. Monch enunciates everything precisely and harshly until the saliva snaps off his slingshot tongue and the cadence becomes a rollercoaster. The way he accentuates the rhyme on “This really enables me to stay stable inside of my mind / Thus, allowing me to climb and then shine / This is a process that will occur in due time” is something that can’t really be described; it must be heard. Heads will roll.

“Black Sunday” lets a soulful chorus and reminiscing verses offer some relief before the militaristic minute and a half of “Drop Bombs” foreshadows the pugilism of “Bring It On” with its barked hook of “Bring it on, motherfucker, bring it on!” Just before the oppression sets in, the romancing keys and Pete Rocky horns of “Why” signal another reprieve and a chance for Prince Po and Pharoahe to ponder love or their lack thereof. Things get positively bouncy on “Let’s Organize” with its Patrice Rushen sample and Q-Tip shouts on the hook, suddenly providing fans of A Tribe Called Quest with their favorite song on the album.

Organized Konfusion produce a couple more fantastic “party” tracks with “3-2-1” and “Keep It Koming” before they mine the darkest pits with “Stray Bullet,” a concept piece from the perspective of a wanton bullet that slays without regard for age or gender. The track’s gloom only begins to dissipate with the larking guitar of finale “Maintain,” a hopeful melody coursing through the rapping of Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch. Po wraps his turn up with “So now I’m in the chop shop creating masterpieces / So it don’t matter money what my funny label releases / Thanks to the streets and the peeps that made me / And the la-la-lee, la-la-lee…” Pharoahe asks, “Who’s that man in the mirror! Ha! / The picture’s getting clearer and clearer, ha! / The end is coming nearer and nearer, ha! / Take a good look at what you fear, ha! / Time marches on and it’s a new song / It’s a new morning, it’s a new dawn / Feet don’t fail me now, I just got to make it to the studio someway somehow…”

As the chant of “We gotta maintain” fades, so fades “The Extinction Agenda” that Organized Konfusion has against the frustrating social circumstances that breed their sort of hard rap. That vitriol has been replaced by a dependency upon the music itself, a need for a moral sort of survival through art. So the album ends at a plateau after a rugged climb, the process of which allowed Prince Poetry and Pharaohe Monch to create a hip-hop work that should be considered absolutely vital by subscribers to the genre. 1994 was The Year of Stress.