Album Review – Pharoahe Monch – PTSD (2014)
You know, I really have to hand it to Pharoahe Monch. For a dude that can rap his ass off, I’m really surprised how slept on he still is. Here’s arguably one of the best lyricists of all time and he never gets the respect of more major artists. In all honesty, I’m okay with that. I don’t think I’d want Monch to go mainstream. Just think about how toned down his records would be if he didn’t have creative control over them. Which brings me to the review.
I love Pharoahe Monch! His technique is off the hook and he goes over a lot of people’s heads. Why? My guess is because he’s using metaphors with such crazy delivery that you have to slow down the album, listen to it a couple of times, or just read the lyrics afterwards. He doesn’t create Hip-Hop hits though. Let’s be honest, if you’re introducing someone to Monch for the first time, you’ll probably start by playing his classic Simon Says track. They’ll be a lot of people that will automatically recognize the beat and the crazy flow. However, he’s not one to create catchy hooks or songs you remember.
Enter his newest album Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With all of the underground hype around this album, you think we were looking at the Holy Grail of underground albums here. Here’s an emcee that has giving us solid material with Internal Affairs, Desire, and W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). All of those albums have been completely different and have really shown off how creative Monch can be. But here’s the thing, as much as you like Pharoahe for his imaginative mind frame, creativity, and killer flow, he tends to be stuck in a box in some ways. Have you noticed how much Pharoahe tends to use the same multiple rhythmic placing with his delivery? He doesn’t really venture out into changing his style up at all. Sometimes, you need that to happen. Especially when it comes to just how much knowledge Monch is dropping on you. So, with that said let’s get to this album.
We start off in the recollection facility. This seems to be a medical facility used to recondition the brain from stress disorders. You’re not supposed to know anything further, as it’s just an intro to the album. Automatically, you’re thinking, “this should be interesting”.
Times2 opens up with a sparse beat track with Monch singing the hook. Here’s the deal, although Monch does sing better than many emcee’s, that doesn’t mean he should. He’s a pretty nasal singer and it doesn’t always work well with the track. In this case, I don’t think it does. But, that being said, this dude just starts his flow crazy! This dude is so creative, at one point in this track, he starts stuttering to the beat like he’s lost his mind:
“La-la-la-last ye-ye-year they hired me/And this-s-s-s we-we-we-we-weekend the-the-they fired me/And I g-g-g-got all these b-b-b-bills to pay/And what the f-f-f-f-fu-f-f-fuck am I supposed to say/T-t-t-t-to my wife she’s p-p-p-pregnant/And if the kid does not go to college his life’s irrelevant.”
Damn Pharoahe! Talk about hitting the nail on the head with this one! For many, these ordinary stressors when it comes to day-to-day can start to wear down on anyone. And that’s exactly where Monch wants to take you. How even the most mundane schedule can start to eat away at you.
Losing My Mind has an old school rock feel! The track sounds live with those guitars and live drums feel. I’m glad to hear that Pharoahe left the singing for the most part to dEnAun. However, the dude still got to sing a little bit, right? The hook is smooth, catchy, and pretty frightening. Which is probably where Monch wants you to be. The flow is classic, but I don’t know if you’ll remember the track.
This gets us into a kind of prelude to the next track. Heroin Addict is a very rock influenced heavy guitar-sounding track. Can’t say I particularly understand why he needs an introduction to the next track. But, nonetheless:
Damage is a nuts beat! I mean, this turns the whole Heroin Addict track before on it’s head and makes it a slow rock beat. This dude is completely going nuts with his delivery! He’s doing everything he can to switch it up, which I love. At one point, he almost sounds like a serial killer but it could also like he’s a gang member looking for revenge. The opening to his second verse is just ridiculous:
Nigga I will twist your liver like Oliver (TWIST)
Scratch your name off my calendar
See that was me thru a silencer
What you just heard was a .44 caliber
Now you can fill in the blanks
I will pillage your town
Killing them with Dillinger rounds
Nigga fill in the clip cause I’m willing to flip
Again, I will say this however. This track is not catchy. Sure, Monch is doing his thing but I wouldn’t remember it. There’s no hook that really catches on, which seems to be a problem with this album overall.
Monch loves those heavy beats! This is one of the funkiest off of the album, but it’s definitely rocky. Bad MF is pretty much exactly that. And man, for once on this album Monch makes a pretty catchy hook. In fact, it’s almost enough for me to remember it! I can’t say this is the most lyrical of his tracks on this album, but that beat, hook, and background vocals makes it one of my favorite on the albums!
Friendly reminder that we’re still in a reconditioning medical facility and that he’s dreaming. Makes sense, I think…
Which brings us to one of the most energetic tracks on the whole album! Rapid Eye Movement is fun, fast, and furious! Oh, and the hook is memorable! You heard me right, he finally made a track on this album where I remember the hook! He gets help from another ill emcee that’s been at it for years: Black Thought from The Roots. Both of them are completely killing this track. The beat is just ridiculous! Probably the most “mainstream” tracks on the album too.
Back to some abstract. It’s not that Scream is a bad track at all. However, after hearing Rapid Eye Movement, I just wasn’t expecting it. By the way, the track list for this album is very dissonant. What I mean is, he doesn’t place songs in this album the way a lot of emcees would do it. He tends to put you on this emotional rollercoaster of fast songs right after slow songs. I’m sure he does this on purpose though, as it gives you that crazy, multiple personality effect. He is singing over this track, which might not be the best idea. However, he has the ability to spit that undeniable flow. Dude is straight spitting!
The skit is funny and a little scary after Scream, enough said.
The Jungle is tamer on the beat. Which is a nice break, considering that he’s been taking us on an emotional rollercoaster with the sound. The hook is dope and memorable (score 2 for Monch). I think this might be a possible second single after Rapid Eye Movement. The beat is a little more acceptable for mainstream and Monch is taming his flow down a little (probably on purpose for a possible single format). However, he’s straight getting it! I mean, it’s just that good with his word play!
I don’t know if Monch is singing the hook on Broken Again, but if it is, GOOD JOB! If you haven’t noticed, I’m not big on Pharoahe singing on his tracks. For the first time I’m really liking it (if he’s actually singing on the hook). The track is a huge dynamic of sorts. You go through the different volumes as Monch is flowing. It’s a nice departure from his other tracks. It’s a smooth beat with him “calming down” on it. He’s got a nice contrast flow:
Family infuriated by the myriad of tracks but my train never came
So humiliated, started begging for change
Failed rehabilitation so the scars still remain
Nice clothes became frayed
Okay, so Monch is getting a little happier over this album I guess. Here he is in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder talking about living! I got to admit, after all the emotional roller coaster of feelings, experiences, and craziness, I think I would have problems understand what’s to live for too. But I think the perseverance to stay alive is inherent in everyone, which is definitely noticeable through this track.
Another pleasant reminder from the medical “Recollection” facility as we go to the next track.
I’m saying this, I don’t know what it is, but Eht Dnarg Noisulli is my favorite production wise. There’s so much happening but cohesively it just works. This track is so crisp and clean! Don’t know who the Stepkids are, but it’s nice to hear a different sound from a feature! Pharoahe kills it on the track. I don’t know what the significance of the title means, but it doesn’t really matter. This track takes you into a dreamscape.
Which gets us to the last track, a bonus track called Stand Your Ground featuring Vernon Reid. Wasn’t completely impressed by this track. The hook is kind of catchy, but truthfully I could have done without this track on the album. It’s pretty funky though.
So, overall PTSD is a rollercoaster of ideas and sound. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Hip-Hop album with such multiple personalities. Its heavily rock influenced which is definitely needed in an era of repetitive beats and rhymes in the Hip-Hop world. Pharoahe is also stretching out with his style as well! For the first time in any of his albums, I could hear him breaking away from those repetitive delivery placements. Sure, he still does it from time to time. Hands down, this album is the most creative I’ve heard in quite some time. Great idea for a theme and it’s one that is seldom talked about in the Hip-Hop world. I still think he needs to stop singing on his tracks, but that’s a small price to pay for such creative wordplay!
I give it 4.5/5! Monch is just going crazy!