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ORGANIZED KONFUSION (Buy CDs by this artist)
Organized Konfusion (Hollywood BASIC) 1991
Stress: The Extinction Agenda (Hollywood BASIC) 1994
The Equinox (Priority) 1997
PHAROAHE MONCHE
Internal Affairs (Rawkus) 1999

New York's Organized Konfusion started as a duo of Queens high school friends concerned just as much with graffiti art, comic books and science fiction as with urban survival, black family life and fly beats and rhymes. Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monche had formidable mentors — among them the late hip-hop producer Paul C. and the Ultramagnetic MCs — but they added up to much more than the sum of their influences. "Releasing Hypnotical Gases," on the band's debut, begins with an obscure break from Weather Report and then shifts up-tempo into a riveting apocalypse narrative. That the track also worked as an extended scatological joke, a comic-book fanatic's trivia test and one of most complex set of battle rhymes ever written shows how weird, funny and virtuosic Organized Konfusion could be. At the same time, though, they offered vivid snapshots of black life — reminiscing on the family on "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?" and relaxing with friends on "Fudge Pudge."

After three years of disillusioning experiences in the record industry, Poetry and Monche turned in the none-too-subtly named Stress: The Extinction Agenda. "Black Sunday," sort of an autobiographical sequel to "Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?," lacks that earlier track's lightness and nostalgia, replacing it with bluesy ennui and anti-corporate rage. The final track is simply entitled "Maintain." But if the album catches the duo in a stalemate with larger forces (Disney, the parent company of their record label, to be exact), its sound is often gripping. The duo's counterpoint to the unrestrained gunplay of hardcore rap, a jarring barrel's-eye view on "Stray Bullet," is absolutely compelling. Stress: The Extinction Agenda also finds its groove more consistently than the first LP, moving lithely from the thick jazz textures of "The Extinction Agenda" to the stark colors of "Stress" to the easy funk of "3-2-1.

[Jeff Chang]