Diggin’ Through the Crates: Talib Kweli “Distractions”

Song: “Distractions”

Artist: Talib Kweli

AlbumPrisoners of Conscious (2013) 

Lyric: “How you keeping up with my rapping?/ You barely keeping up with Kardashians/You caught up in distraction/It’s the living proof-you try to make the truth elastic as Mr. Fantastic.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

What? What was that DTCers? You ready for another dope ass lyric that drops truth bombs and creates nerdy fallout? We got that! Our main man on the mic this week, Talib Kweli, is bringing it to your front door. If you are looking for some socially conscious rap that not only brings a message but an incredible rhyme scheme with it, then you not need look any further. In this 2013 hit, Talib Kwali dropped this song as a commentary on the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. What he is saying in this song is, “Who the hell is paying attention?” There are social issues happening all around us and none of them are going to change by sitting around waiting for the next big gossip. Who is sleeping with who? Who badmouthed which other idiot today? That is why when people stand up and take charge of their own lives, it is viewed as something special. Talib Kweli once said, “Anytime people are willing to take their future into their own hands and attempt something, I think it’s brave.” DARN TOOTIN’ IT’S BRAVE!! But the problem is, so many of us are still distracted, and Kweli notices it all. We may be willing to protest on our street corner for something local, but it seems that no one takes action for causes like the events in Darfur, or are even aware of the Arab Spring movement (Google it).

In this song alone, he tackles such subjects and even points out the flawed history and thinking of this country. From the very beginning with the treatment of Native American’s, we still have missiles (like kill people missiles. Like BOOM missiles) that are named “Tomahawks.” And then we dress up our mascots and name our sports teams after their culture for entertainment. Who’s paying attention and who’s distracted? He even touches on what I perceive to be politics in our chosen lyric of today. Now before I go on and say some possibly hurtful stuff about the Kardashians, congratulations to Kim and Kanye on their wedding. I didn’t get my invite but I’ll let that slide for now. One of the biggest phenomena of the past couple years has been societies infatuation with the Kardashian family. Now I can’t say much about it because I have never seen an episode, but it has consumed many lives and many attention spans. What some may classify as empty media or nonsense television has gained a bigger interest and a larger following than political failings, religious wars, and natural disaster relief efforts. And all the while politicians are out there spitting game at us and very few people check the facts. That is why so many of them can say elastic truths and make them stretch to fit who ever they have their eyes on next.

I know, I sound like I’m preaching and saying, “Yeah I’m good, I know whats up. While everybody else wondering what Ryan Gosling is thinking about, I’m about to go save some third world children.” That’s not the case; I am part of the masses too, but I want to be brave, I want to pay attention, I don’t want to be distracted by shiny objects and blush worthy gossip. Talib Kweli just wants us all to open our minds and see past the bullshit. Even at times when we think we are paying attention, it was just a fake out and we once again are distracted by something that doesn’t matter. Kweli says this perfectly when talking about President Obama addressing his whole “flag pin” issue back in 2008 (Google it). But the president responded by saying, “I have never said that I don’t wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins…This is the kind of manufactured issues that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I’m commander-in-chief…” OH SNAP!! That’s exactly the point. We can so easily get caught up in things that don’t matter. Things that one way or another truly have no effect over our lives or anybodies lives. And the things we should be paying attention to slip right by us because we are distracted.

Alright, that was all pretty heavy. Let’s calm down and pay attention to some nerdy stuff briefly before I end this. Nerdy stuff like the Fantastic Four! In case you all haven’t heard, the Fantastic Four franchise will be getting a reboot that has been defined as “grounded, real, gritty.” According to Kinberg, this film has the same feelings as Batman, Iron Man, X-Men, and more. It will not be goofy like the first films, rather this will be a true drama sprinkled with bit of humor that come from character. Also we will officially be having an African-American Human Torch! I can hear all the critics heads exploding now. However I am very excited by this news especially because Michael B. Jordan will FLAME ON!!! “STRING, WHERE’S WALLACE? WHERE’S WALLACE STRING?” (Google it). Well Wallace is in the Marvel Universe doing badass things with badass powers. And for all you haters, know that Stan Lee is on board with the idea, Kinberg also said, “We knew casting an African-American Human Torch would be news, but I can tell you it’s something that Stan Lee loves, and I can tell you that having been on set and seeing Michael bring him to life, he’s really spectacular.” I don’t know how the story will change due to this, but I love the idea and I cannot wait. If you want more information on Michael B. Jordan being the Human Torch, Google it. If you want more information on Talib Kweli visit his website at http://www.talibkweli.com. So in closing, pay attentions, don’t get distracted so often, and FLAME ON!!!

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Sadistik ft Vast Aire “Writes of Passage”

Song: “Writes of Passage”

Artist: Sadistik featuring Vast Aire

AlbumThe Balancing Act (2008)

Lyric: “I used to cry out why (why!)/Cus like Scott Summers, I couldn’t open my eyes/Cus everyone would die/If i took one peek, everyone would fry.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Coming to the main stage of “DTC” this week is Sadistik. This very deep and nerdy lyric comes from the featured artist Vast Aire. Now typically “DTC” likes to have fun with its lyrics and show the handsome side of comics and Hip-Hop, however, most things in life both have a dark and light side to them. In both Hip-Hop and comics, it’s not always about saving the day, or speaking about rising above adversity. Sometimes things get dark; there are death, destruction and other pretty ugly things. I think that is exactly what Vast Aire is speaking about in this lyric. I can’t say that I personally know Vast Aire, but my guess is that when he wrote this he had a lot on his mind and some difficult things to deal with. Sometimes when things get so bad, people feel that no matter what they see, no matter what they put their focus on, it all gets broken, destroyed, and turned to ash. That could possibly be what this lyric is saying, that there is so much bad and wrong going on that he could possibly feel responsible. Or perhaps not, like I said before these are all just theories. But what do you “DTC” fans think I am? A one trick pony? Never. I have another theory.

Many rappers in the game aren’t here because everything in their life was sunshine and rainbows. A lot of rappers have experienced poverty, rejection, and death. My guess would be that Vast Aire is no different, that everywhere he goes he sees all these negatives. He sees people trying to provide for their people, he sees people trying to do better for themselves but continue to get pulled down, and he sees people die. So maybe, just maybe, if he closes his eyes, and shuts the world off, the pain will go with it. Like Cyclops when he first developed his powers, if he opened his eyes to the world and to the people around him, they would die. Maybe Vast Aire, was tired of seeing everyone around him go, so the best way to not see it, is to shut it down. Maybe we will be able to see this struggle in the new on going Cyclops series which will be written by Greg Rucka.

In this series, Rucka focuse on a younger Scott Summer (Cyclops) with illustrator Russell Dauterman. This is exciting because this will be the first on going solo series for Cyclops, one of the original leaders of the X-Men. This series spins out of “The Trial of Jean Gray.” I can’t say much about this series without spoiling what the main focus will be of the Cyclops solo series, however, if you are truly curious it might be a good idea to pick up that comic, or just look it up on the internet because well, you know, we can do that. I’m actually very excited about this series, and I hope it proves to be something special. It should be the same old Scott Summers we know and love, however the story will force us to look at him from a different angle and attitude. Seeing that we will be taking a look at Cyclops in a different time, with a different mind frame will allow us to see how this young character developed into who he is today. This solo series is set to drop in May and my bet is that this comic will be something very interesting and something all comic fans should check out. So remember fans, for every one ugly event in your life, there are fifty beautiful ones waiting in the wing.

Atmosphere – Southsiders Review

Untitled

Album Specs

Tracks/Length: 15 tracks, 59 minutes (iTunes Deluxe version is 20 tracks, 77 minutes. TOTALLY worth it)

Notable Guest Appearances: No guest spots. Just a rapper and a DJ, being awesome

Album Genre/Tone: Basement style flow (very comfortable and personal), Overall cynical tone

Lead Single: “Bitter”

 

Review Scale:

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 enjoyable.

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.

DThis 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

Through the years, Atmosphere has garnered quite the cult following. From what started as high school friends laying tracks together has ended up filling up amphitheaters across the country. Together, rapper Sean Daley AKA Slug and DJ Anthony Davis  (not the eyebrow guy) AKA Ant, along with a couple other friends, founded Rhymesayers, a independent record label focused on making good music. Since opening their doors in 1995, Rhymesayers has been home to Hip-Hop underground royalty like Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, Evidence and Eyedea & Abilities. Rhymesayers artists are heralded for the way they relate to the masses. Atmosphere notably does this by bringing our most common disgraces and embarrassments and celebrating them in a way that makes listeners feel like they are not alone in these dark feelings.

For almost two decades, Slug and Ant have released great music, improving technique with each release. I first got into Atmosphere with their 2008 release When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold. I bought it purely off of the name and nothing more; I can still remember picking up the Deluxe Edition, which came with a children’s story to summarize the tracks in the album. It was a true attestation to the hard work and detail that was put into each album. There were plenty of bars that made me laugh, ooh and ah, but they were portrayed in a way that never made you take for granted the fact that Slug was opening the door to the home of his scarred heart and letting you Rick James all over the couch with your shoes on; from alcoholism and drug abuse to relationships with women to just straight up having a shitty day, there’s an Atmosphere song for every mood.

Those close to Rhymesayers, or Hip-Hop news in general, can remember the tragic loss of fellow label-mate and Slugs close friend, Micheal Larsen (Eyedea), who passed away in 2010. The loss shook the whole Rhymesayers house, and has really changed the entire tone of Atmosphere’s music. The songs became tinged with cynicism, and an emphasis on the importance of family and where you come from. Even the album titles The Family Sign and Southsiders echo these tones. The “young and stupid” days of Atmosphere are over; there are no more waking up in “Glasshouses” or resentment towards LucySouthsiders is very much the product of the matured artists it comes from, and if you’ve been along for the ride so far, then this is just the next stop on the bus.

What You’re in For

Southsiders is the eighth studio release from Atmosphere; suffice to say, they’ve done this before. Ant brings back the beats and unique instrumentals, while Slug keeps the words flowing effortlessly over the beats. For the second record in a row, Atmosphere has recorded an album with live instrumentals, and it really pays off. I mean, Ant has always been a phenomenal producer, but using live instrumentals allows him to try out different beats that he has not before. With each track given such a unique flavor, there’s a wide range of sounds that come across on Southsiders, and not all of them will impress the same way with the same people.

While Ant’s production has always been the heart of Atmosphere, the real power of Southsiders is in the voice. The mellow bravado that Slug shows throughout the album is a testament to how comfortable he is while on the mic. Even the subject matter has been dialed up a notch, taking on subject matter from totalitarian fear-mongering on “The World Might Not Live Through Tonight” (“And put your hands up in the air like a drone/Now hold ’em over your head like your home got invaded by the FEDs”), social equality on “I Love You Like A Brother” (“Unless you slept a night in my nest/You shouldn’t waste your breath trying to criticize my mess”). Slug has become extremely comfortable letting fans into his life, and we’re all thankful for it.

Listening to Southsiders, it’s very apparent that they know this, too. In the words of Pharoahe Monch, Slug is a sadomasochist MC – he bites himself. There are about a dozen lines throughout the album that allude to an earlier piece of work from the duo (let us know how many you find!). It’s very rewarding to long-time fans to hear references to their earlier work. Slug’s strongest trait is that he can write songs like short stories. There is a clear point to every song; I never feel like Slug is rapping just to rap. It’s also worth noting that Slug enunciates everything he says, which is really helpful for fans who struggle keeping up with Hip-Hop’s fast-paced lyrics; word to Riley Freeman, maybe it’s because “white people say the whole word, like this.”

Slug’s mellow bravado could only be that of a veteran MC. He’s always been able to glide across Ant’s instrumentals, but he straight-up flies over the smooth sounds of Southsiders. This should be taken largely as a compliment to Slug’s intimacy with his fans, but pessimists can view it as a form of apathy. I see it as more of a reflection of the connection Atmosphere has built with their fans. Just because the fury that built “Bird Sings Why The Cage I Know” or the desperation that created “Pour Me Another” isn’t in the songs doesn’t mean that there isn’t just as much emotion in each bar on Southsiders. This album is a tribute to the house that love built, Southside Minneapolis and the Rhymesayers dynasty. It’s a legacy that Slug and Ant should be extremely proud of.

 

Songs On Repeat

**You can stream the entire album on Pandora. You lucky people, you.**

“Mrs. Interpret”

Lyrics to Go: “I could look you in the face for all time/And even if I fall blind I’ll still see you in my mind/You got the grace of a raven/It ain’t no misbehaving if I tell you that you’re the taste that I’m cravin’

This might seem like the obligatory love song at first, but “Mrs. Interpret” is a hilarious analogy to how dumb-struck men can get over a beautiful woman. Laced with the beautiful voice of a French girl on the hook, “Mrs. Interpret” eloquently explains how easy it is to get lost in the eyes of a loved one when they talk. The song is relatable and guaranteed to get yourself out of a fight with your significant other over whether or not you listen to them.  It has a playful ambiance, which is a welcome break from the darker tone of the rest of the album.

 

“Flicker”

Lyrics to Go: “Now I’m tryna write a song for a dead songwriter/That wrote they own songs about life and death/And every breath is full of self-awareness/Don’t ever be afraid to be embarrassed”

“Became,” the tale of how he lost a friend who became a “wolf” on The Family Sign, was thought to be an ode to late label-mate Micheal Larsen, AKA Eyedea. “Flicker” takes that concept even further, and doesn’t beat around the bush this time, and we get an uplifting anthem for the fallen MC, rivaling “Yesterday” in terms of earnestness. I can only hope that I get a eulogy of this magnitude. Although the concept is sorrowful, the light-hearted instrumentals of Ant and powerfully upbeat voice of Slug really gives Eyedea the celebrated exit he deserved. While “Became” was more for Sean, “Flicker” is for Micheal.

 

“My Lady Got Two Men”

Lyrics to Go: “My lady got two lovers/One for the funk and the other for the comfort/I’m trying to understand/But I gotta figure out which one I am”

Slug has a knack for telling 90% of a story, and then completing the art with the stroke of a pen at the end of the song. This song walks listeners through the battles of adult relationships – straddling the line between fun lover and man of the house. This is a phase that comes with growing up and, as their fan base grows older, so must their music mature. It’s also inspiring to see Slug’s personal development unfold; with no disrespect to Sean Daley, if he can go from “Trying to Find a Balance” to actually finding a balance, so can I.

 

The Quick and Dirty

Grade: B-

Slug and Ant are on their grown man shit on Southsiders. Atmosphere might not have the pep in their step that they used to, but that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t any less powerful. While Ant’s experimentation on the production side can be hit or miss with me, there are a few tracks that the beats alone warrant a spot in the all-time rotation. Fans of Atmosphere will recognize the beat and the movement, especially when Slug drops his own Easter Eggs over his own tracks, but there’s a distinct difference in the level of maturity that carries on through the album. It’s refreshing for a Hip-Hop album to show a mature stance on life, and Southsiders is an exemplification of where Atmosphere has taken their work, but I’m not sure it brings enough to the table for new fans to want to look back on the journey with us.

 

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Wu-Tang Clan “Protect Ya Neck”

Song: “Protect Ya Neck”

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan

AlbumEnter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)

Lyric: “I smoke on the mic like smokin’ Joe Frazier/ The hell-raiser, raising hell with the flavor/Terrorize the jam like troops in Pakistan/Swinging through your town like your neighborhood Spider-Man”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nottin ta F#@! wit! Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nottin ta F#@! wit! Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nottin ta F#@! wit! Comic book nerds ain’t nottin ta F#@! wit! That’s right all you “DTC” fans out there, the one and only Wu-Tang Clan has officially touched down on our main stage, and they bring with them the nerd mentality. If you are going to mention pioneers of Hip-Hop it would be shameful not to bring in the Wu. Similar to how Spider-Man has been a monumental character in the Marvel Universe, comic books, and our hearts. It’s is no surprise that Hip-Hop has been a culture and pretty much a religion in the black culture, however, many may not realize that Spider-Man has meant a great deal to the black community as well. “What? How can that be? How is this nerdy white guy going to mean anything to black culture?” My guess is that these were some of the thoughts that paraded in your mind after I so bravely typed that sentence.

First off, Peter Parker comes from one of the birthplaces of Hip-Hop culture, Queens, New York. There have been countless rappers to come out of that neighborhood to find success such as: Nas, 50 Cent,  Marley Marl, and Pharoahe Monch. So right from the start, that parallel and that connection allows Hip-Hop fans to feel a little tingle in the back of their heads. Still to this day, African-Americans struggle, suffer, and have to continually faced discrimination coming from all angles in life. Housing markets, job opportunities, resources, opportunities, and especially the media. I may sound preachy to some, and come off as “hating white people” but that is not the case. I am all about inclusion, and I simply want to bring issues to light. Spider-Man means something to young black youth because he IS them; Peter Parker transcends race, being relatable to more than those who just look like him. The media continually portrays Spider-Man as being a menace and a monster that only hurts the city. No matter what he does, no matter how many people Spidey saves a person, no matter if he is set out to improve his community, the media will still only report the damage caused saving hundreds of lives. The media will always talk about how the only reason Electro attacked was because Spider-Man was present in the first place.

The same can be said about the black community. The news would much rather broadcast a murder than the opening of a community center, or a robbery rather than a second chance school for black youth. And this is not limited to the black community, this truth spans through all races, religions, and creeds. If you came from a single parent house hold, and your mom brought home a Spider-Man comic for you, and you read that he also came from a broken home, wouldn’t you feel something? Knowing that this character is feeling what you are feeling, and all the while he was just an average kid, is resonates with many of us. Far too many of us forget the origin stories, and what came before the heroism. Raised in a big city, with no parents at home, living modestly, trying to figure out his position in life yet more than willing to help someone with theirs. My guess is that more than a few people can relate to this. Beyond all this Peter Parker showed a life of possibilities. He is college educated mostly paying out of his own pocket striving for betterment. He showed that there is more out there, and that an awkward kid who constantly deals with loss, and less than favorable circumstances doesn’t have to let that define him. And in addition to that, he made being a nerd cool. He showed you can be smart and strong and regardless of what others think, that won’t change his morals and motivations. In addition to all that, president Obama was featured on the cover and in Amazing Spider-Man 583 (2009). That is both nerdy and bad-ass. I feel that I don’t have to explain that rappers coming out of Queens, or any where else qualify for almost exactly what I’ve said about Spider-Man. Substitute Spider-Man or Nas or 50, the same concepts apply. With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 set to release on May 2nd, you will see the mixture of brains, brawn, courage, and all that other Spidey goodness come together. So remember people “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I have no justified way of tying that quote into this article but I feel like I have to use it, because you know, Spider-Man.

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Childish Gambino “Run This Town (Bambi Remix)”

Song: “Run This Town (Bambi Remix)”

Artist: Childish Gambino

Album: (No album single)

Lyric: “Yea, the flow so absurd/It’s C.G. boy, king of the black nerds/I gotta get my Urkel on/ I won’t stop until i see an afro at Comic-Con/And not just Samurai.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Childish Gambino is back with “DTC” to prove once again that nerds cannot fit into a one size fits all mask and cape. In this week’s song, “Run This Town (Bambi Remix)” he is out to spread a message to everybody out there that has ever experienced any sort of bullying simply for being who they are. If you have ever been teased or made fun of because you don’t fit into the stereotypes of your race or culture, or like to express yourself differently, this song is for you. Gambino talks about his experiences with such matters, just because he likes to wear pink clothing, yellow hats, and rainbow colored items people use to call him hurtful things and basically tried to destroy him just because of his style. He talks a lot about how this happens to black kids, while at the same time addressing various stereotypes. If you are a young black man who prefers a power ring to a dime bag, or likes to hit the skate park after school while listening to Coldplay and recite every syllable and letter, then you are made to believe that you should be ashamed of who you are.

Gambino said no to all of this, and tells us that we have dealt with haters like this for too long. It is well known that Childish Gambino is a huge nerd. With his #donald4spiderman campaign, various comic book references in music, TV, and comedy, and overall praise of nerd culture, Gambino is at the top of my list to wear that nerd crown. Even back in 2012 Gambino made a cameo appearance in an Image Comics series called The Li’l Depressed Boy. In issue #10, Gambino can be seen performing a concert, which inspires the main characters to get out and experience the world. The series is said to mirror Childish Gambino’s first studio album Camp. Although it is exciting to see Gambino represented in a comic book, the chosen lyric for this “DTC” reminds us that African-Americans are still vastly underrepresented in the nerd community, both in character and fandom. It may not be a surprise to most, but there are not very many black superheroes in the mainstream. Sure, we have had some: John Stewart, Storm, Black Panther, Bishop, Static Shock, Luke Cage, Falcon, and Blade. But beyond that, there aren’t an abundant amount of characters compared to white heroes – who always seem to be at the top of the comic book totem poll.

The same can be said for people who attend comic conventions around the world. Thing is, black people want to be represented at comic conventions beyond cosplay. And a majority of the time, at a majority of the conventions, that representation is not present. As the years have gone on and progressed, I believe this image and concept of the “black nerd” has been skewed and misunderstood. When people think of black nerd, they automatically think of Urkel. However, that is rarely the case nowadays. Black nerds are as diverse in their interests and styles as Iron Man is with his suits or armor. Urkel can no longer be the poster boy for black nerds. In fact I’m not so sure there even can be a go to black nerd for today, but if there had to be one, Gambino is a front runner. Currently Gambino is on the “Deep Web Tour” promoting and performing his latest album, because the internet. I know one thing, this black nerd is going to be in that crowd when he comes to Denver, CO. on April 29th. If there is one thing to take away from this article, I would say this, be who you are and love yourself because of that. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, brown, purple, orange, green or whatever, in the end we all want to be represented and we all want to be able to embrace what we love and be embraced by those around us. Because for every person who is willing to put you down for being you, I’m sure there has to be two people who that you are pretty cool for not giving a crap what the others think. And if not, then scratch all three in the face and make it known that they just got beat up by a nerd. So stay nerdy, stay proud, and be open to new experiences, because you never know if that person sitting next to you on the bus stop is also on their way to the comic book shop.

Diggin’ Through the Crates: Pharoahe Monch “Rapid Eye Movement”

Song: “Rapid Eye Movement”

Artist: Pharoahe Monch

Album: P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) (2014)

Lyric: “Vocally twice as magnifying as ever hearing Chewbacca scream/Through a megaphone with the significance of Dr. King.”

Character Reference/Meaning:

Coming back for his second tour to “DTC” (Pharoahe was featured in our second ever “DTC” for “Agent Orange.”) Pharoahe Monch brings us back to his world with his fourth studio album P.T.S.D. Similar to his last solo album W.A.R. (We are Renegade), this album bring to light a lot of topics other artists aren’t even willing to touch. Topics that are not only relevant to modern society, but topics that are sensitive to the general population. These themes include mental health, the right to basic freedoms, gun violence, war, and other issues that can affect anybody no matter what age, gender, race, or tax bracket you associate yourself with. It is obvious when listening to this album he draws from the emotions he had to deal with in his own personal life such as depression. I can continue to talk about this album for hours on end, however “DTC” must focus in a different path (for a full review of P.T.S.D., check out our review here).

I think the best direction to start off with is this sick ass nerdy line coming off of Pharoahe’s song “Rapid Eye Movement.” What is the loudest thing you can think of? A car alarm? A jet flying overhead? Chewbacca screaming through a megaphone? Aww, close but no cigar; the correct correct answer is Pharoahe Monch when he is doing his thing on the microphone. Maybe loud isn’t the right word, but strong definitely is. What Pharoahe is bringing is the power and passion through his voice and his art and presenting it to you the best way he knows how. With such a powerful voice spreading such a passionate message, how could you possibly mistake it for something insignificant? Quite possibly one of the world’s greatest speakers, humanitarians, and civil rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had nothing but significance come out of his mouth. That is what Pharoahe is trying to exemplify with his music and his art. I can only imagine that he wants to a spread a message out to the public and bring out the darkest facts of life that seldom leave people comfortable, because progression never develops when there is no struggle. And if you don’t believe me, well then I find your lack of faith disturbing. Because ignorance is bliss but knowledge is power, and with a devotion like that, how could you not listen?

I’m just saying, you should pay as much attention to him as you would Chewbacca screaming the “I Have a Dream” speech into your ear with a megaphone. Sadly, Star Wars has been quite the opposite lately with their news. A few small things here and there, but nothing that makes that like nerd cortex in my brain throb. It has been released that filming for Episode VII will start next month in May. Even though many of the actors set to star in this film are relativity unknown, this could prove to be a good thing for the movie in the long run.  Besides that, other casting decisions are still just rumors. However, there are many other cool things that are happening surrounding Star Wars. Star Wars-themed march madness tournament “THIS IS MADNESS” ended not too long ago with Obi-Wan Kenobi snagging the championship with a fairly close victory over Darth Vader. In other delicious news M&Ms are re-releasing their Star Wars-themed candies which we all better take advantage of while we can get them. One last amazing thing Star Wars is doing is that they are helping fight illiteracy. On October 11th, Star Wars Reads Day III will be occurring. This is where Star Wars authors, artist, and costumed volunteers get involved in Star Wars Reads Day events happening all over the world. DOPE AND NERDY!! So if you have been feeling a hole in your heart due to lack of Star Wars news, I just tried to help out a little bit. And I know that isn’t nearly enough to fill the whole void, but that is where Pharoahe Monch comes in. Because like I’ve said time and time before, nerds and Hip-Hop heads are so close to being the same thing. So go out there and buy P.T.S.D. and help spread the word of the Monch.  “[Insert inspiration/awesome/favorite Star Wars quote here]” There is like a million of them, and I’m sure they will all fit.

Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D. Review

Pharoahe Monch – P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Review

Album Specs

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”

 

Review Scale:

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.

DThis 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 AffairsDesireW.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

“Damage”

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

Grade: A-

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.