Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Review
Tracks/Length: 16 tracks, 47:35
Notable Guest Appearances: Talib Kweli (“D.R.E.A.M.S.”), Black Thought (“Rapid Eye Movement”), Mr. Porter (“Losing My Mind”)
Album Genre/Tone: Socio-political Hip-Hop with a dire and aggressive tone
Lead Single: “Damage”
The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.
A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.
B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.
C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.
D: This album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs.
F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.
History Behind the Album
Those of you don’t recognize Pharoahe Monch might identify him as the artist behind the Godzilla theme-sampled “Simon Says” (yes, the one that was in that Charlie’s Angels movie, as my lovely wife pointed out). He’s been in the game for over two decades, first as one-half of Organized Konfusion and then to release four solo projects (Internal Affairs, Desire, W.A.R. and P.T.S.D.). The selling point of Pharoahe is that he’s highly entertaining; he uses complex lines and popular references to cover deep topics with the guise of humor – “Lay in the cut like Neosporin.” Not to mention, he’s also a huge comic book nerd, as you can tell from our “Diggin’ Through the Crates” articles. His entertaining style is super-ceded only by his stark and provocative lyrics.
P.T.S.D. is another concept album from the master of ceremony, Pharoahe Monch. Released three years after his first concept album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), it seemed only naturally to follow an album about revolution and social dissection with one centered on the fallout of socio-political failure. Pharoahe has always been one to speak his mind – be it about gun control, drug abuse or mental health – giving no fucks to whom he pisses off so long as his voice is heard and his point is made. However, on a bonus track of his 2007 Desire album (one of my favorite of all time) called “Book of Judges,” Pharoahe revealed a ferocity in his music that I hadn’t heard before. The track is laced with direct attacks on America and it’s institutions – “Piss on the Constitution, then burn the Magna Carta.”
W.A.R. and P.T.S.D. both channel that rage, turning it into a theme. While Desire was the more complete album, W.A.R. fit into a crevice of Hip-Hop that none of his other solo ventures could. We start out with Pharoahe at some clinic called Recollection, where the promise that traumatic memories can, in essence, be extracted from somebody’s brain, “restoring healthy life.” It’s an interesting concept, but you know that it’s doomed from the start. The transcripts are set one year after the dead drop from Idris Elba’s character in W.A.R., and the final skit on the album reveals that Pharoahe (who has been in Recollection for ten years now, on some crazy Dollhouse stuff) is now sentenced to life in prison for violating the World Free-Thinking Agreement. There’s got to be some crazy connection here we don’t know about – yet.
What You’re in For
At forty-one years old – and twenty plus years into his career – Pharoahe Monch has found his identity. For those unfamiliar with his music as of recent, he treads somewhere in the middle of a champion of the people (a la Mos Def) and enemy of the state (like Immortal Technique). He’s found his niche, and he’s found his flow, because he glides effortlessly through the record. None of his tracks feel rushed or superfluous and they all fit within the neat little package that is P.T.S.D. That being said, tackling the subject of PTSD is no light matter. When Pharoahe’s agent came to him with the idea of the theme, he was both elated and afraid. In an interview with Respect magazine, Pharoahe clarified, “Damn this shits not gonna be easy. This is a real fuckin’ thing. You’re not gonna be able to high school essay bullshit your way through this. You’re gonna have to dig a little bit.”
Drawing from his own personal bout with depression, P.T.S.D. is not as upbeat as Desire, nor as angry as W.A.R. There’s a lot of introspection found in this album, and it might be a mouthful for those just looking to enjoy a casual Hip-Hop album. But that’s not why you buy a Pharoahe Monch album, is it? Pharoahe’s albums are the kind you blast unabashedly with your windows down. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to call it formulaic, but there is something about P.T.S.D. that feels familiar to W.A.R. (guess that’s the thing about PTSD, huh?). A bulk of the album follows the theme, but there is also the standard badassery (“Damage” and “Bad M.F.” to W.A.R.‘s “W.A.R.”), the guest feature throw-down (“Rapid Eye Movement” to W.A.R.‘s “Assassins”) and the soothing theme song of inspiration (“D.R.E.A.M.” to W.A.R.‘s “Haile Selassie Karate” and “Black-Hand Side”). Oh, and the final track on P.T.S.D. is just a remixed version of a track on W.A.R. I feel this is great because it truly gives the impression that this is a continuation of the journey we went on in W.A.R. They are essentially two sides of the same coin, and it translates to a cohesive package.
Songs On Repeat
Lyrics to Go: “F*** a stray bullet, I take aim when the gun draws/For ever lasting fame I will maim those who change the gun laws”
The premise of the leading single for P.T.S.D. is that Pharoahe Monch is the bullet. It completes a trifecta of abrasive tracks written on gun control (“Stray Bullets” from Organized Konfusion’s The Extinction Agenda and “When the Gun Draws” from Pharoahe’s Desire are the other two tracks) that began twenty years ago. The song was written before the Aurora Theater Shooting, but eerily reflects The Dark Knight Rises theater incident. Lee Stone’s production is as angry as the words in the track are. The track is capped off with a chorus borrowed from Hip-Hop classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J. It’s a great twist of words to translate verbal slaying into gun violence.
“Rapid Eye Movement” featuring Black Thought
Lyrics to Go: “Monch is medicinal man made medical marijuana/With a phase plasma rifle like I’m searchin’ for Sarah Conner”
Straight out of a Black Dynamite action-scene, “Rapid Eye Movement” brings two of the best MCs in the game together in their first collaboration since “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” in 2002 (Talib Kweli’s Quality). Spittin’ venom over a track that is so reminiscent of a James Bond flick that it’ll have you thirsting for a martini by the time it’s over. There is a theme in this song, going along the lines that rapid eye movement (or REM) is the deepest level of sleep where dreams – and nightmares – most often occur, but really, this is just two rappers wrecking a track on some old espionage shit.
“D.R.E.A.M.” featuring Talib Kweli
Lyrics to Go: “Can’t take what I visualize from it, you pull the wool over my eyes, I swallowed the red pill/Even if I was broke as fuck I would lend you my last so you could holla at me still”
P.T.S.D. isn’t all melancholy and anger. What I would consider the last track on the album is one of the most uplifting songs I’ve heard from Pharoahe since Desire‘s “Shine,” this Talib Kweli-assisted track is about staying true to yourself and trying to fulfill your dreams. The title is a tribute to Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.,” but instead of Cash Rules Everything Around Me, the motto is “Determination Runs Every Aspect Mentally.” It’s a great way to close out the album, and although it kind of clashed with the tone of the rest of the album, it may be signifying that Pharoahe has found peace.
The Quick and Dirty
Y’all know the name! This is, unwaveringly, a Pharoahe Monch album. That means tons of hard-hitting lyrics with as many great metaphors as socio-political commentary. It also means that anybody offended by real talk will find themselves quite turned off by his brutal honesty. The beats are just as sharp as the lyrics, and the guest features from two of Hip-Hop’s most socially conscious rappers (Black Thought and Talib Kweli) result in two of the album’s best tracks. The only drawback is that it feels just too damn short. Minus interludes, P.T.S.D. is only eleven songs that clock just over forty minutes long (actually pretty close to the same for W.A.R.), I was left a little disappointed that it was over so soon. That’s not to say that it lacked substance, but fans have been waiting on this record for years. P.T.S.D. is for true fans of lyricism, it weighs heavy and impacts listeners like a good Hip-Hop album should. If I didn’t know any better, this just screams “trilogy” to me – one where we get to see the end of P.T.S.D.‘s events unload into the establishment on whatever album is next. World Free-Thinking Agreement, my ass.