On August 16, 1994, Organized Konfusion – the duo of Simply II Positive MCs Pharaohe Monch and Prince Po – released their sophomore album Stress: The Extinction Agenda to critical acclaim. Four years removed from their self-tilted debut, Stress would go on to define who Organized Konfusion was as a collective. In contrast to their debut, Stress was much more bound to the streets of New York, and more specifically, South Jamaica, Queens.
The album chipped away at the many issues that sprang up in the mid 90s and seemed to spiral out of control. Pressing matters like gun violence became the catalyst for conceptual songs like “Stray Bullet.” Sound wise, the album was a well organized (no pun) amalgamation of hard rock, jazz and gospel.
Stress exemplified what it meant to have an entirely cohesive album that knew no boundaries. Twenty years later, it has permanently woven itself into the fabric of Hip-Hop history – a certified classic.
To celebrate twenty years of Stress, I reached out to Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po, as well as a few other legends (who had a hand in creating the classic album) on the phone, including Buckwild, Large Professor, O.C., artist Matt Doo’s brother Garnet Reid and DJ Premier.
• ON SELECTING OUTSIDE PRODUCERS:
“[Compared to our debut] we wanted to grow and expand. We had an ear for what we were looking for. These guys [producers on Stress] were in our circle. O.C. had branched out into D.I.T.C. and Lord Finesse had already been touring with Big L and Showbiz & A.G. There was just a lot of love.
Buckwild came through with that “Stress” song and I was like “This is what we are! This is who Organized Konfusion is! This is the colors, this is the attitude.” It’s hard, it’s apocalyptic and weird. Not weird in a bad way, but just hardcore. So we jumped on that and was like we need to show the other sides of this group as well.
On [Organized Konfusion] – we jumped into the production thing because we had some dope shit that we wanted to do too. We were kind of thrusted into doing as much as we did on the first album because Paul C had been murdered.”
• FAVORITE SONG OFF THE ALBUM?
“Aww man! Whooo! That’s tough. I’m probably gonna have to go with ‘The Extinction Agenda‘ if we’re talking lyrics. Production wise, probably ‘Stress.'”
• ON THE ALBUM ARTWORK AND ARTIST MATT DOO:
“Matt was an artist doing work for print magazines at the time. He did work for Company Flow and was working with other Rawkus artists. He approached me; he was a huge fan and was from Queens. He was like this big character who spoke with his hands. Boisterous. Very passionate about Hip-Hop conversations. You could tell the wheels were always spinning in his head all the time. I probably never met a more passionate person about Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop culture. We would talk for hours about Rakim & KRS-One.
When I started letting him hear new music from Stress, he was like “You have to let me do this cover! You guys haven’t been represented properly.” I was like “Let’s do it!” He asked for photographs of us, props, all types of shit. He would just be like “Yo! You’re walking through the ghetto and there’s lava and there’s magma and the projects are burning.” I was like “Alright, just let me see it.”
I went over to his crib and he revealed the cover to me and I was like “Oh shit!” It was an actual 24×36 painting. This dude was genius. And I mean that in every sense of the word. It wasn’t some shit that he drew. His brother Garnet still has that original painting.”
• WHAT INFLUENCED THE CREATION OF THE ALBUM?
“I’d say comic books. Definitely Marvel. Also whatever films were out at the time, but the influence [in comics] was more imaginative than what they were doing in films. And then the streets – our environment in South Jamaica, Queens.”
• WHAT MUSICAL INFLUENCES FACTORED IN?
“Jazz, gospel, rock music. We were listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Monch had older siblings and so did I, and being around them, you got exposed to a lot of things. I could go from listening to a Depeche Mode record or Black Sabbath record to a Rakim joint. The Police’s Synchronicity album is probably like one of my favorites. We were just very versatile when it came to music.”
• WHAT INSPIRED THE SONG “MAINTAIN”?
“One of the influences on our music was Monch’s parents. Monch’s Pops had passed away and it was a very hard time we were going through. That event was a great influence on that record. [Monch’s Pops] always encouraged us to go after our dreams and follow what we believed in. We wanted to make a song like that cause we figured people were going through different things all over the world. We wanted to make a song that gave people inspiration and a promise for tomorrow – to let them know we’re going through things too.”
• ON “STRAY BULLET”:
“You know, the crime that we grew up around and the situations we had to live through; there was a lot of things going on in our environment. A lot of killings, a lot of unfortunate situations. We wanted to sort of paint a picture of promise. ‘Stray Bullet‘ was a song that we could relate to, because we wanted people to have a little bit more responsibility in their actions – and to hopefully lower the crime rate by giving people a second chance to think. You know, we have two ears and one mouth for a great reason. We wanted people to realize the responsibility behind a gun and realize that [a bullet] has no name on it.”
“Pharaohe Monch recently reminded me of how important my brother Matt was to this project. He reminded me of how my brother would walk for miles across town to meet up. They’d talk for hours on the phone about the ups & downs in the music industry, as well as record label politics. They were driven; determined to complete this project.
The artwork and music were made together. The moment you purchased this album, the illustration prepared you for what you were about to hear. There was never enough canvas for Matt. He always needed more room. Organized Konsfusion’s Stress album is a classic Hip-Hop masterpiece from beginning to end; we are still talking about it twenty years later. In the words of my brother Matt Reid (a.k.a. Matt Doo) ‘Everything Is Dooable.'”
“Wow! It’s been twenty years already. Man how time flies. Recording this album was amazing, sitting in on all the studio sessions. Watching those two go back and forth on ideas, and trying to come with the best lyrics for the beat. You just had to be there to understand where I’m coming from. The proof is in the lyrics; if you don’t have it you better go out and get it. The first time I heard the song ‘Extinction Agenda,’ I lost it. Like really lost it. At that time there was a lot of music out, but nothing like this. To me, this album should be engraved as an old time classic.”
“My recollection of being around or involved with Organized Konfusion’s second LP was actually hearing them sift through beats from various producers, but one joint that stood out in my memory is the Rockwilder-produced “Maintain.” It was one of those songs that made me feel crazy cause of the album cover’s creator Matt Doo, who had committed suicide. I thought, ‘You never really know what a person is going through unless they talk to you about it, nor do we realize as people that you can be here today, gone tomorrow.’ So that joint really inspired me to go hard at my music.
Prince & Monch basically gave me the tools for daring to be who I am and also to take stressful situations & turn ’em into creativity. Cause you can capture lightning in a bottle with them type of moments and that’s exactly what I did. If you really listen to [my album] Word…Life, it’s a continuation of their album Stress that actually came out two months after their LP.”
“I met O.C. and Organized on The Source tour when I was DJing for [Lord] Finesse. The tour was Organized, Finesse, Red Hot Lover Tone, Biz Markie – a bunch of people. Of course, Organized had O.C. with them. It wasn’t a big, major tour with buses, it was rather small. When you’re on tour, you know, you start building relationships. I built my relationship with O.C. When I first started making beats, I went from helping O.C. with his demo – and when Organized came back, they were working on their album. Being cool with them, we used to go see them and Monch liked what I was doing. I think the first beat they picked was ‘Stress.’
If you listen to “Stress” and even when you look at that time, it didn’t sound like anything else that was out. You know, like when you listen to Tribe and Premo – everyone had the long 2, 3 or 4 bar jazz sample. With “Stress” it was more abstract. That was our first real record we recorded then.
The second record we did was, I think ‘Why.’ I remember having the Brian Auger sample and Monch loved it. He played it and was like I got an idea for this. It took a few sessions. Monch is a perfectionist. I can credit Monch for a lot because of seeing a vision.
Like when I had the beat for ‘Bring It On‘ – I never thought in a million years they’d be like “Yo, we need this remix.” Sonically, if you look at the choice of samples and the types of samples we chose – going in to that time in 1994-’95, like I said before, these weren’t the beats everyone was picking. If you look at that time, it was mostly DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Q-Tip. Even the eerie, haunting sounds that we were bringing in – you know, like I have to say I definitely credit that vision to Monch and Prince Po. These guys were geniuses. The [“Bring It On”] remix was a very, very sought after record.
You can take Pharaohe and put him in his own category, lyrically. For example, ‘Thirteen.’ Now that’s a beat he had when we were doing the album and he just kept it tucked away. He was like ‘Don’t play that beat for anyone. I got something for it.’ If I’m not mistaken, he didn’t even let Prince hear the beat. When he did that record, and he just let loose, I was like ‘Oh my God!’ Monch is like the perfect emcee’s emcee.”
[audiomack src=”http://www.audiomack.com/song/2dbz/bring-it-on-remix” width=”100%” height=”110″]
“We [Organized and I] were alumni of the class of Paul C, the students of Paul C. So we were always connected by that. It was just crazy to see where everyone went. I was with Main Source, but you know at one time, we were all together.
We eventually met back up and they asked me if I’d like to try my hand at the ‘Stress (Remix).’ I’m like, of course. We’re peeps, we’re like family almost. Creating that remix was different than any other remix I did because we actually all sat down and went through beats. It wasn’t like they just sent me the files and I just did it on my own. Once I kind of showed them the outline of the idea, they were like “Let’s do the vocals over.” So we went to the studio and basically re-recorded it. It was a Queens thing too. It was a Jamaica, Queens thing. You know, the cuts on the chorus DJ Sage did. That’s the guy that used to work at Hot Waxx out there in Jamaica.
I was just happy to be a part of that, cause that album was so dope to me. I really loved that album.”
• ON THE ROLE HE PLAYED IN OK’s CAREER:
“When I shopped their demo to Russell Simmons, they weren’t even called O.K. back then. They were actually [called] STP (Simply Too Positive) emcees and they had a production deal with, I think it was L.A. Posse [which also included DJ Pooh]. I used to hang out in Russel’s office and remembering finding their [demo] tape and being like ‘Yo!’ I was an A&R rep at the time and I remember highly recommending Russell to sign them, but he didn’t think they would sell.
As great as their first album was, it only sold like 40-50 thousand. I guess Russell knew what he was doing, in terms of it not being commercially viable. But the thing was, the album was commercially viable, it’s just that it never got promoted or marketed correctly. I mean if you listen to the elements of that album, there’s gospel, jazz, funk, rock – I mean it had every element that could’ve propelled it into a mainstream album, without compromising the creativity or the rhymes, you know?”
“[At the time] we came out with Hard To Earn and ‘Mass Appeal’ was hot, but so was ‘Stress’ and you know, videos had gotten to a point where now it wasn’t rare to see a Hip-Hop video, and creativity was starting to expand. Organized was always creative anyway – from their first album (Organized Konfusion), when they introduced O.C. with ‘Fudge Pudge.’
Stress was just a complete, perfect album. I liked all of their albums – but that one was, or not was but is incredibly ill from intro to outro. When I saw the ‘Stress‘ video and they were in the snow – I was like ‘Yo!’ Like the video and the song went together. Again, they were always conceptual.
Pharoahe Monch has always been looked at as this eccentric, extra dude – almost like the way Busta Rhymes was looked at. Him and Po were just so lyrical in different ways. They compliment each other as a group. Just that whole album man, like ‘Why.’ ‘Why’ was my shit – I used to play that on the radio. ‘Stray Bullet’ was nuts, it was sick. Almost like Nas’ gun record, but this was before ‘I Gave You Power.’ Just the way Monch put together the wordplay in ‘Stray Bullet’ – and it’s something that people in the Black community can relate to because that was something that was going on in the hood anyway, with people getting shot by strays to this day now. A lot of the stuff they talk about then happens in 2014. To talk about it back in the 90s shows he’s tuned to society and tuned to the world and still knew how to keep it ghetto.
Overall, Stress is in my Top 20 albums of all time, and that goes along with Paid In Full or Long Live the Kane or Criminal Minded. I definitely would put Stress in the books because, again, there’s no denying the body of work as a complete album. A lot of people didn’t have complete albums back then, ya know?”
“Around the time that O.K. was releasing Stress, we (Wild Pitch) had O.C. getting ready to release Word…Life. It was such a great time for music in NYC. Wu, Nas & Biggie had already dropped and we were looking at O.C. to be that next dude. Organized were already on their second album so we were looking at them as the big brothers. Being that [O.C.] was down with Organized, there was a lot of overlap of being around each other during that time.
I remember going with O.[C.] and O.K. to the Bronx to promote their projects. We hit up V.I.P. Record Pool as well as made a stop at Music Factory on E. Fordham Rd. I was in charge of retail promotion at Wild Pitch so I would always check the stock of ‘Time’s Up‘ when going to stores then. It was the weekend before the Tuesday release date of Stress and they had already put the album out for sale. I immediately picked up my two copies and bought them on the spot. I couldn’t wait to go home and listen to it.
Stress is to Organized as Low End Theory is to Tribe. Not so much for the drums (I would say Equinox was O.K.’s neck snapping album), but in terms of the album that best defines the group. It was the perfect mesh of emotions, tempos, beats, lyrics and personnel. Buckwild and Rockwilder contributed to Organized’s own beat making abilities, and once again O.C. made an appearance on the mic alongside Q-Tip.
It was also a defining moment for Buckwild who through, ’94 & ’95 was the go to man for beats and remixes. The ‘Bring It On’ remix he did is the quintessential Buckwild sound. And while we’re speaking of remixes, we have to mention one of the best remixes of all time, the Large Professor remix of “Stress.” Not just a typical “switch the beat” remix, but a total overhaul of lyrics, beats and tempo. Not to be overshadowed by contributors, O.K. did such an amazing job of not just rhyming, but vividly painting us pictures to see while listening to their songs. Tracks like ‘Stray Bullet’ which could easily be looked at as an influence to Nas’ “I Gave You Power.” And one of my all time favorite O.K. cuts, ‘Why‘ which shows Monch’s harmonizing flow which he’s come back to numerous times since then.
It’s easy to see how both Monch and Po have influenced a whole scene that followed (indie/underground/”backpack”) with their varying styles. They are the true masters. And if there was a visual counterpart to explain what the album accomplished musically, then it was most definitely the Matt Doo (Matt Reid) artwork which blessed the cover of the album. Arguably Matt’s most recognizable piece of work and in my opinion his best. Unfortunately Matt didn’t live much longer after the release of Stress but he did leave behind a few more pieces of work to let us know he was here and how dope he was. All these components make Stress an incredible album which is why we’re talking about it 20 years later. This is what you call classic.”
“I remember the time when Organized Konfusion’s Stress, their first single came out. I was at The Gavin Convention (a music convention for college radio DJ’s & independent artists/labels) in San Francisco around ’94 with the Beat Junkies, and street promoters were passing out Organized Konfusion stickers. Their buzz was growing, because people on the West Coast loved the first Organized Konfusion album.
I was a big fan of the song “Releasing Hypnotical Gasses.” When Stress officially dropped, cats were buggin out! It was so dark and lyrical, yet you could feel the energy & the frustration of the song. The Large Professor remix was also dope, being it was different than the original, yet it was incredible! O.K. came out swingin!
When Stress: The Extinction Agenda album finally dropped, it was the album that fans were waiting for, and it even surpassed a lot of peoples’ expectations. It definitely surpassed mine. Everyone was talking about the album, especially the “Bring It On” track; everyone was saying Monch just blacked out! And you couldn’t even front on Prince Po either. From tracks like ‘Thirteen,’ ‘Black Sunday,’ ‘Extinction Agenda,’ and the conceptual song ‘Stray Bullet,’ plus production from Buckwild, Rockwilder, & O.K. themselves.
I was burning the cassette tape consistently on my walkman for at least two weeks straight. Personally for me, even though their second album wasn’t a big seller, I believe this album cemented their cult status in Hip-Hop history. It’s even more special for me that 20 years later, as a fan, I am very lucky to call Pharoahe Monch & Prince Poetry friends now, and best believe, I’m still an Organized Konfusion fan.”
“The first Organized Konfusion song I’ve ever heard was ‘Bring It On.’ That song blew my mind at such a young age. I remember being obsessed with their flows and used to recite their verses to the point that I’d annoy just about anyone around me. ‘Til this day that song can’t come on without me wanting to rap along with it. The entire album is obviously incredible but that song (being my intro to Organized Konfusion) was very influential on a young J57.
Stress: The Extinction Agenda was always one of our favorite albums to play at Fat Beats while we’d work and no matter what, every time a customer would walk in, they’d either start rapping along to whichever song was on, or they’d all say the same thing, ‘This is such a classic.'”
“For the youngins late to the party (like me) and discovered this album years after, [it] doesn’t matter. Catch up on O.K.’s catalog. Po & Monch were and still are, trend setters, and one of the greatest duos Hip-Hop has ever seen. It was an absolute honor to have them on my new album [Ed Note: PA2: The Director’s Cut, go cop that!]. These dudes make it hard to tolerate some of the rubbish emcees get away with in 2014. Salute these legends and support their new projects as well!”
Special thank you to DJ Eclipse who made a lot of this happen!