Back in 1999 Pharoahe Monch released his solo debut album, “Internal Affairs” on Rawkus Records. At that time, Rawkus was producing a lot of high quality, underground hip hop including Company Flow, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and others. Fifteen years later, hip hop has changed quite a bit. There is much less division among the indie and mainstream crowds, the CD format is dying and Rawkus Records has folded. One thing that hasn’t changed or diminished is Pharoahe Monch’s rapping ability. Being arguably one of the most technically advanced rappers of all-time, Monch’s output may be a little disappointing – only four solo albums. But with many of his peers seeing a sharp decline in the quality of their releases over the past couple of years, Monch is still on top of his game, with his latest LP “PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” possibly being his best work to date.
“PTSD” follows 2011’s “W.A.R. (We Are Renegades)” and is Monch’s most conceptually driven album to date. The semi-concept album tells the story of a veteran who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is trying to get his life back to normal. “PTSD” is an extremely focused effort and deals with some very heavy topics. “Damage” is the third and final chapter of Pharoahe’s famous “Stray Bullet” series, where he raps from the perspective of a bullet (the other track being 2007’s “When the Gun Draws”).
On “Losing My Mind,” which features an excellent chorus from Mr. Porter, he talks about mental health disorders: “My family customs are not accustomed to dealing with mental health, it was more or less an issue for white families with wealth.” Much of the album is focused on mental health issues, but manages to never be too heavy handed. The two battle rap tracks, “Bad M.F.” and “Rapid Eye Movement” (which features Black Thought) offer a nice balance to the more serious tracks and incorporate references to themes that tie the songs in with the rest of the album.
While the production, which is mostly handled by long-time collaborator Lee Stone, is not going to blow anyone away, it nicely complements Pharoahe’s multi-syllable rhyme schemes. “D.R.E.A.M.,” which features Talib Kweli, has a nicely chopped soul sample that is uplifting and triumphant as the song’s lyrical content. On the somber “Broken Again” The Lion Share Music Group offers a staccato bassline and bluesy guitar licks, that complements one of Pharoahe’s most introspective tracks on the album. “PTSD” is consistently excellent throughout and its lone misstep is “Scream,” which features a pretty sloppy chorus.
It really is a shame that Pharoahe Monch’s catalog isn’t bigger, but there are few artists who have remained as consistent. There are only a handful of rappers who have been in the game 20 years that are coming out with exciting music like Monch – Nas, Big Boi and Black Thought are a few. A majority of rappers who have been making for 20 plus years are either riding the waves of the successes of their early releases or are shadows of their old selves. Pharoahe Monch has always been among the most talented rappers in the game, and now with “PTSD,” he has an album that showcases not only his lyrical prowess, but also his ability to craft a fully focused and theme driven album.