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I stick around like hockey

An ice hockey referee bending down to pick up a hockey stick

Image: Krzysztof Baran via Unsplash

  • Track: Official
  • Artist: Pharoahe Monch
  • Album: Internal Affairs
  • Year: 1999

I write to you today with fingers all a-trembling. Because, dear reader (possibly the only reader), I present to you today a hip-hop track so rammed with simile goodness it’ll leave you breathless.

If you’re the type of person who avoids looking at football scores so they can enjoy Match of the Day blind, forgive me for the spoiler. This track is going straight in at the top spot of my simile league table. Fittingly, it’s a track about sports. American sports, admittedly, but they just about count.

Pharaohe Monch, who has a name I have to check how to spell each time I type it, is here to educate us about obscure basketballers, American footballers and more. Like an excited 15 year old Panani fan struggling to control himself as he opens a pack of stickers, Pharaohe is throwing out sporting personalities left, right and centre. But let’s compose ourselves and at least try to get the stickers inside the boxes in the sticker album.

Monch was born Troy Donald Jamerson, who sounds more like someone you’d find in a champion mathletics team than tearing up the basketball court. Not that I can talk; in PE once I got confused about which side I was on, ran halfway down the court the wrong way and scored a beauty of a three pointer into my own team’s basket. I’m not a natural sportsman is what I’m trying to say.

Wikipedia has been a close ally here, as I’ve heard of precisely one of the people Pharoahe mentions in this track. If by the end of this you don’t have twenty articles open in different browser tabs, I salute you. This tune is the Harlem Globetrotters of sports-themed hip-hop tracks.

Official is an unrelenting banger from Monch’s 1999 debut album Internal Affairs, released two years after the break up of Organized Konfusion. Many years ago, on my one and only blind date, I was talking about my love of hip-hop (she asked, ok?). Luckily for my date’s sake, I hadn’t started cataloguing hip-hop similes back then. When I mentioned Organized Konfusion, she laughed and said they sounded like a boyband. We didn’t see each other again.

Internal Affairs saw Monch debut a new rawer, harder style than during his time in Organized Konfusion (maybe she had a point actually). This is definitely on show in Official. It’s a bit like being going a round with Tyson. Intricate lyrics (something of a calling card for Monch) come at you thick and fast, and don’t always make sense to me. But like plucky embodiment of British disillusionment Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards, I’ve given this my best shot.

So tie your shoelaces tightly and don your sweatband, because we’re in for a lyrical workout and a half. Remember to warm up first.

The lyrics

View full annotated lyrics on genius.com

[Hook]

Pharoahe’s official like Starter, hit harder than Fort Greene
Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hit it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
From my intricate ways to shake your whole team
Official, Starter hit harder than Fort Greene
No Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
For my intricate ways to break your whole team

Woah, woah, time out! Pharoahe’s straight of out the simile blocks like a wide-eyed Ben Johnson. Watch him go, and prepare that sample bottle. This hat-trick of similes over three lines needs a slow-motion action replay. The track’s not just about sporting personalities, but athletic clothing brands too.

Starter is one such brand, having been around since the 70s. Not that I’ve ever heard of them. I’ve no idea about Fort Greene (or Fort Greene Authentic), and Google’s not helping. But I’m going to assume it’s more clothing. It’s also an area of Brooklyn.

The second simile might look like five in one, which would make it some sort of world record. But at some point in the past I made the decision that these so-called ‘Russian doll similes’ would only count multiple times if they used ‘or’ rather than ‘and’. So ‘x is like a, b and c’ counts as one simile, ‘x is like a, b or c’ counts as three. Got it? Unlike EFL’s new handball rule, it made sense at the time.

Unfortunately Monch has rocked me with a big right hook in the first round. I don’t have a clue what ‘hit it behind the back like making ’em all fiend from my intricate ways’ means. It might be ‘hid’ I think, it conjures up images of a round the back feint in basketball. But I’m not sure, and this early failure will return to haunt me each time the hook ambles round.

[Verse 1]

My style makes the crowd say, ‘Ow!’
Like number 55 on the Chargers

The first name on our lyrical teamsheet is Junior Seau, former linebacker (no, me neither) for the San Diego Chargers. What seems like a cryptic simile becomes clearer when you know that one should pronounce his name ‘say ow’ (also the name of his clothing range).

I promise thee, I dodge a nigga like Raúl Mondes
Sombrely stay calm by any means like Natrone

From American football to American rounders. It’s not clear why Pharoahe has switched to Yorkshire for this line. Raul Mondesi played baseball for the LA Dodgers. Which is why he dodges.

Out of interest I looked up why you’d call a baseball team ‘Dodgers’. They’re named after the Brooklynites (the Dodgers were originally New York based) who had to keep alert to avoid trams. I can almost feel you losing the will to live, so let’s press on.

The other simile here, a classic switcheroo, references another American footballer, Natrone Means. I have nothing interesting to add about this man, so I’ll pick a random fact from his Wikipedia page: he has a career record carry of 72 yards. Brilliant.

The bomb like Hail Marys inflated with napalm

This is one American football reference I do understand, thanks to a brief 1994 John Madden addiction. Hail Marys are last ditch long throws to try and nab a touchdown. I think they’re known as bombs too, so it works on two levels. This illustrates the complexity in Monch’s lyrics: they might look inelegant on the surface, but there’s meat to them.

Rap please us, deliver scriptures similar to Jesus
That you couldn’t catch if you was Iván Rodríguez

We’ve not had a visit from Jesus Christ recently. Not, in fact, since the very first track to go into the database. That simile saw RZA ‘flowin’ like Christ when I speaks the gospel‘. Unlike Christ, this simile has returned for a second coming after a fair wait of 338 other non-Jesus-based similes. About time too.

And although Iván Rodríguez isn’t part of a simile, we might as well tick him off while we’re here. He’s another baseballer, and a very good one by the sound of it.

So don’t compete within the zone where the mind enters
I’m on the phone in the luxury box like George Steinbrenner

Pharoahe is moving onto other roles in the world of baseball now. George M Steinbrenner III, as well as owning the most American name of all time, owned New York Yankees for ages. That’s why you wouldn’t look for him in the cheap seats.

The owner, making you give your diamond back like Arizona
Winning, always Indian like Chief Noc-A-Homa

Sticking with baseball, we have a team up now: the Arizona Diamondbacks, appearing in the track’s second switcheroo simile.

The simile density is so high that we’ve got nary a second to clutch our sides and wheeze heartily before we have to press on. It’s like school cross country all over again.

Chief Noc-A-Homa was the native American mascot for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. He lived in a teepee behind the stands (because of course he did), popping out to say hello at each Braves home run. He sounds like the kind of mascot that would be considered problematic in 2020.

Sock a nigga in his face, Pharoahe’s a sporting authority
Blacks attracted to my rap like dames to sororities

One thing I’ve learned from American film and TV is that there is a strong link between sport and colleges in the US. But I don’t really know, or care, enough to delve into the fraternities and sororities side of it. All I can say with confidence is that they are basically secret societies with stupid Greek letter names.

You already fucked up when you stepped up to bat
Strike (one), strike (two), strike (three), that’s that

And that is indeed that for the first verse. Take a breather for the hook, and come back fighting, champ.

[Hook]

Pharoahe’s official like Starter, hit harder than Fort Greene
Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
From my intricate ways to shake your whole team
Official, Starter hit harder than Fort Greene
No Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
For my intricate ways to break your whole team

We’ve barely had time to come to our senses from that first verse assault before Pharaohe opens the second with a flurry of simile jabs. Sit tight, we’ll get through this.

[Verse 2]

Yo, the realness stuck, females blauch my knob like Chuck

We start the second verse’s simile collection with another baseball switcheroo. This is a reference to the amusingly-named Chuck Knoblauch. I have no idea what ‘blauch’ might mean in this context, and I’m actually fine with that.

Dispense the eight count
Commence to rebound like Buck Williams

With that reference to the eight count, Pharoahe welcomes boxing into the mix. But Buck Williams played basketball, so we’re soon back on familiar ground. Williams was well known for his rebound game.

Triple Crown threat to score, plus the bonus strange
Without the Rover, more range than Rey Ordóñez

I’l level with you. I’ve run out of things to say about baseball. But you might like to know that Rey Ordóñez’s batting average sits at .246 and he hit 12 home runs, which doesn’t sound that good to me. And the Rangerover thing? Beats me. Let’s chalk it up to lyrical complexity.

One of the MCs, flip my kind of grammar on the break
Three on one like Phi Slamma Jamma

Back in US college territory, Phi Slamma Jamma was briefly the nickname of the University of Houston basketball team. It was coined by a sportswriter called Thomas Bonk, which is good enough for me.

Serve a slot, a curve-splitter-knuckleball-spitter-change
Every bitter rhyme hit a note, quote, ‘Get a game’
Not Allen Iverson, forget crossing over to shake men
Similar to Troy, I bring the pain destined to ache men

I initially thought this was a welcome break from sports, thinking it was about the Troy of Greek legend. But it turns out to behear another switcheroo simile playing on American footballer Troy Aikman. Check out that jawline.

We don’t see the use of ‘similar to’ that often. This is only the fourth instance of it in well over 300 hip-hop similes. At some point I’ll probably do a pointless pie-chart of the different ways rappers construct simile.

Break men off, take men out, make me wanna slander
Prime Time, my rhyme defence beyond Deion Sanders
I walk the earth with my rod in this strick land
Promise, people thought I was Thomas Hearns the way I hit, man

Because we’re in danger of going into overtime with this post, I’ll leave you to look up who these people are. Don’t miss Rod Strickland tucked away in there.

Could ‘people thought I was Thomas Hearns‘ constitute simile? I think I’ve been generous enough already, and won’t let this one in. It’s not doing enough to compare two things. So it shall stay on the sidelines.

[Hook]

Pharoahe’s official like Starter, hit harder than Fort Greene
Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
From my intricate ways to shake your whole team
Official, Starter hit harder than Fort Greene
No Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
For my intricate ways to break your whole team
Official

After that rousing reprisal of the hook it’s time for the half-time show. I’ve heard this is something US sports does with a lot more enthusiasm than the British.

[Bridge]

Yeah, yeah, come on, come onco
It’s Lee Stone, Pharoahe Monch for real
With the official hip-hop to kill
Know what’s the deal, come on, check it
Yo, yo, yo

Pharoahe could have made his grip on the simile champion trophy even tighter by not adding in this (unnecessary) repeat of the hook. Maybe it’s to make up for the shorter final verse. But he’s already spoiling us, so I won’t dwell on it.

[Hook]

Pharoahe’s official like Starter, hit harder than Fort Greene
Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
From my intricate ways to-to-to-to, yo
Official, Starter hit harder than Fort Greene
No Authentic, Nike, Adidas and Spalding
Then hid it behind the back like making ’em all fiend
For my intricate ways to-to-to-to

[Verse 3]

It’s home stretch time now. We’re close to finishing, but like Linford Christie, Pharoahe really packs them in tightly.

Yo, I stick around like hockey, now what the puck?
Cooler than fuck, manoeuvre like Vancouver Canucks

All of a sudden we’ve completed the US sports quadruple, with an overdue ice hockey reference. And it might be borderline, but I’m letting ‘cooler than fuck‘ in. Yes it’s a comparative, and yes it’s a bit cryptic, but it works.

The (ice hockey team) Vancouver Canucks simile speaks for itself thankfully, as I’m running out of steam here.

In your speaker, destroy your woofer, mids and tweeters
Not Wolverine but still I holds claws like Chamique

And here’s the track’s first (and only) sportswoman, Chaniqua Holdsclaw. That’s quite a name to fit another punny switcheroo round, but Monch manages it.

Waterboys get slaughtered automatic like Bobby Boucher
Push your wig back like Marv Albert’s toupee

I had to turn to Genius for this first one: it’s a reference to 1998 Adam Sandler vehicle The Waterboy. From the transcription notes:

Sandler’s character, Bobby Boucher, is a socially inept waterboy for a college football team. He is constantly the object of ridicule by everyone on the team, until he learns to fights back and becomes a star football player. Boucher’s anger is what drives his ability to plow through opponents with ease. Pharoahe is probably suggesting that, like Bobby Boucher, he won’t even think twice before attacking, as the response will be automatic.

The second simile brings us Marv Albery, AKA ‘the voice of basketball’. To push a wig back is to shoot someone in the head. Inventive stuff.

Blaze a trail like Portland on a track that’ll amaze ya
Omnipotent on the D like Clyde Frazier

Pharaohe’s final switcheroo simile is of course a reference to the Portland Trailblazers.

Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier was a basketballer before becoming a pundit. You can come to your own conclusions about whther this is simply a reference to the D on a basketball court or has a more…adult…subtext.

Slide, phase ya, glide get off the, uh
I’m coming with the…

Peep peep peeeeeeep! There’s the final whistle, just as we limp over the line in this marathon of mixed metaphor. I think I need to work on my stamina, or learn more about American sports.

Some people say you shouldn’t pore over lyrics, and that you should instead leave them open to the listener’s interpretation. I must have heard this track 100 times, and previously had no idea who half the people in the track were. Now I do. I probably won’t remember next time I hear it, but that’s not the point. I suppose what I’m getting at is that my mission to catalogue all of rap’s similes is leading me down some unexpected alleyways. And I like it.

This track’s 25 similes in under four minutes bring us a record similes per minute of 6.61. That’s one every nine seconds. Amazing. I need a hot bath and a rubdown after all that.

The stats

Similes:25
Words:626
Words per simile:25.04
Length:3m 47s
Similes per minute:6.61
Times I spelled ‘Pharoahe Monch’ correctly first time:0

Leave a comment. Bonus points for similes.