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Artist POV

‘Plastic Crack’: Pharoahe Monch on the Addictive World of Marvel Figurines

During the 2020 lockdown, the rapper found unexpected kinship in the wild and wonderful world of collecting. Here’s his story
Pharoahe Monch with I Am Legend Black Panther figurines. (Credit: Pharoahe Monch)

Deep within the shadowy regions of the underworld of collectors, it’s commonly referred to as “Plastic Crack.” Perhaps it’s even more addictive than cooked cocaine, but the comparisons to the infamous ‘80s drug probably stop at the insatiable ability to hook you after only one hit.

I mean, I don’t think cats are stripping aluminum siding off houses to cop, but the anxiety, and withdrawals, are 100% a reality.

I officially became an addict of collecting figurines during the pandemic lockdowns of NYC.Zooms became a part of everyday life. Like a lot of us, I needed to find a small nook somewhere to front, and I hated it. I decided to order a cheap ring light and shovel out an area in the house to display some memorabilia and some of my old Monchhichi collectibles. Yes! I collected those, hence the name Pharoahe Monch.

I hung up about 200 tour laminates, a few select-choice Monchhichis, and an old three-inch Marvel Thing behind me at the bar location in my basement. I positioned my cheap ring light for maximum model handsomeness, and it was “lights, camera, ready for action!” As I paint this picture of me setting up this space to shoot interviews, I’d be remiss if I didn’t describe the insurmountable levels of clutter that surrounded me. It was unequivocally a microcosm of my life. You see, the thing is…we humans tend to have extremely short memories, but if you dig back just a little, you will recall this was a tumultuous time across the country. For days corpses laid outside of historic Queens hospitals in refrigerated trucks. The Navy sent an airplane carrier to be stationed at the South Street Seaport, and the Javits Center was turned into a makeshift military-style hospital.

At this critical moment in time, we were simultaneously receiving advanced American technological and medical advice that ranged from sanitizing all of our deliveries, to perhaps partaking in a delicious savory Clorox cocktail. I was completely scared out of my wits, and while I’ll admit to experimenting with any and every organic remedy to try to boost the immune system of this extremely chronic asthmatic, I never once tried a “sex on the bleach.”

Pharoahe Monch performing during Beat Horizon at London’s O2 Academy Brixton, January 2020. (Credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns)

Late at night I would take the car out on the highway just to experience something that I always imagined, but never thought I would see in my lifetime in NYC. The roads were completely empty because of the lockdowns. It reminded me of the movie I Am Legend. I also had a Mustang; the similarities to the film were creepy as fuck. With a full Moon overhead, no cars to be seen for miles, I would open her up. I needed to clear my head some nights and this was the perfect release.

I believe it was an interview with Dstroy, jack-of-all-trades, funniest guy on earth, fellow artist, and longtime friend, on his IG show “Showoff Your Gems” when I noticed a comment scrolling down the feed that mentioned my three-inch Thing figure that was posed behind me. This quickly prompted an engaging conversation about Marvel and comic collecting. It also introduced me to who I now cite as the person who got me addicted to plastic crack. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Count Wade Merrick (a.k.a. @unparalleled_universe).

Count Wade Merrick (@unparalleleduniverse): “Hey I see you got that miniature Thing behind you on the shelf, are you into Marvel, who’s your favorite character?”
Translation: “Hey bro you smoke weed, have you ever tried cooked cocaine? I got a friend and he has an extra Marvel Legends retro Thing; he said he’d send it to you, if you’d like.”

Me: “Okay sure, I guess. A little crack won’t hurt, plus crack is played out. These kids have moved on to syrup and other cool designer drugs. Okay yeah sure, send me some crack.”

Man, let me tell you, that first Ben Grimm hit was insane. The only problem was it died out in about a week. That’s when I knew I needed to try some of that Reed and Sue Richards, I was fiending for a hit of that Johnny Storm. The high got better and better. Each time I was able to complete a team was like going from a little sprinkle of crack to freebasing. The more elusive the crack, the more I chased it. Finding out how elusive some of the figures were came with more anxiety, and more anticipation of the high.

It doesn’t matter what you collect. Missing out on an important piece takes you on an emotional roller coaster that can go from, let’s say…missing the latest sneaker drop, to trying to reach back in time to get your hands on some original Jordan 1s.

The equivalent for me in the figure world would be trying to get my hands on the elusive San Diego Comic Con release of the X-force Archangel. It was released in 2012 with an insanely amazing paint job of his black and silver costume. His personality had become way more hardcore than they developed him in the earlier writings. I had already collected the rest of the members of that team and only needed Archangel to finish the squad. Problem was it dropped so long ago, and in a 3 pack that included Wolverine and Psylocke. At this point you were only finding this piece used, or on the secondary market. And those prices were just too insane. I couldn’t pull the trigger.

I Am Legend figuring. (Credit: Pharaohe Monch)

Along with the joy of my newly found collection, came the remembrance of these amazing stories which I used to draw inspiration from to write. I found myself escaping the perils of the pandemic and truly centering myself when I created my own scenarios and scenes. This really helped to open up the writing process for A Magnificent Day For An Exorcismtremendously. The realization that there was an entire community of collectors who were also going through the same shit. That sense of kinship was invigorating. I mean, who in the hell knew there were married couples hunting for figures and collaborating on photo shoots? Cats were also hitting me in DMs telling me they were hiding purchases from their wives. How fucking funny is that? I felt understood. It felt comforting to know I wasn’t crazy; well, yeah, nah, this shit is pretty insane.

Holy shit! Community! Am I becoming a part of a newly found community? And, if so, they should understand my crack habit, right? I figured I’d reach out to some of the more seasoned collectors about this impossible-to-get Archangel. Maybe I could get it with a trade, perhaps someone had two. Without hesitation, just like an ashy crackhead walking briskly in the rain, scratching my neck with my eyes bugged out, looking for that next hit, I posted that I was on the hunt for the figure. Please can somebody help me, please?!

The community understood me all too well. I’m sure they imagined me convulsing with a dry mouth, eyes darting from side to side, paranoid. Mad people hit me back, “Yo I gotchu, I’m going to reach out to my people.” “Hey, Pharoahe, I got a guy.” “Wow that’s a really hard figure to get, let me send you some links.” For me, the comfort of knowing that there’s people out there just like you, makes knowing you have an addiction easier to swallow.

I was just chilling at home one day watching the New York Giants when — Beedleling(that’s my attempt at creating onomatopoeia for my direct message notification). I made actual prayer hands before I checked it and lo and behold, someone had located the figure. It was the life-saving The Figure Report (@thefigurereport) that name—how ironic. “Peace Pharoahe, I got a lead on that Archangel but it’s in Florida. I’m pretty sure I can get it to you but it’ll take some time.” “No problem, bro, I’m patient,” I messaged back.

We released the band’s album A Magnificent Day For An Exorcismto amazing reviews froma myriad of publications. We had appearances on Tiny Desk and bodied our first live show in Brooklyn.

“Plastic Crack” Credit: Pharaohe Monch

I found myself with a pretty impressive collection at this time. But man, I could write a book on what it took to release an album with visuals during the midst of a pandemic in winter. Right there by my side the entire time was very good friend of mine Apathy. You know him: lyricist, producer extraordinaire. But most of all, to me, one of my go-to hip hop therapists. I was on a call with Ap when he asked if I could show a good friend of his my collection. Ap would call me pissed off at times because his kids really loved the song “Scarecrow” off the album, and they would ask him to play it on repeat in the car. That image would just tickle me to death. I jumped out of bed and went downstairs to the collection and called him on FaceTime. We bonded over the figures but more importantly, we emotionally bonded over the fact that my mother had just entered a rehabilitation center for the elderly, and he went through a similar situation with his father. His friend was digging my collection, but wasn’t blown away because he also has a pretty extensive one. I mentioned that the only thing left I really wanted was that Archangel. Ap’s boy was like, “Yeah, I got that joint.”

Forty-eight hours later I received a call from Apathy. “Yo, what’s your address, I just got some new vinyl, some AOTP stickers, etc. I wanna send you some shit, but you’re going to have to sign for it.” “Okay, dope.” I said, then looked at the phone with a side eye. Five days later, I received the entire San Diego Comic Con X-Force 3 pack in the mail.

“What in thee entire fuck? Are you kidding me?” I immediately called my assistant and started working on a thank you package to send to Apathy. Twenty-four hours after that I get a DM from The Figure Report (@thefigurereport): “Peace Pharoahe. I just got back from Florida, I picked up that Archangel for you.” I repeat! “What in thee entire fuck? Are you kidding me?” I have no words for the elation.

We planned to meet up in Brooklyn and make the exchange; it literally felt like I was buying a brick of cocaine. I was so happy. I kept looking around for cops like we were doing some illegal shit. We kicked it a bit, he had just premiered the new Moon Knight release, he told me he was coming to check out the show at Knitting Factory, and I told him that the band’s tour was postponed for various reasons, business and personal.

(Credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns)

The music industry tends to throw the word “legend” around a little too frequently for me. But I understand because I have my own personal reasons for deeming someone or some event, legendary. The last two years on this collector mission has induced loads of untold emotions that I’ll eventually put into songs. The story of obtaining this particular Hasbro Marvel Legend has been incredible and it introduced me to yet another amazing culture.

I’ve also learned during these tumultuous times to embrace my greatness, and to bet on myself in times of despair. Because I, too, am legend.