Pharoahe Monch is in a league of his own. There have been more successful careers, more powerful public figures and more engaging public personas in the world of hip-hop, but Pharoahe Monch possesses some quality that pushes him above anyone else. The tantalizing call for a new full-length project from the lyricist extraordinaire has been ringing since Monch and his W.A.R. Media team’s first hints: the stellar single “Damage”, which completed a multi-decade trilogy of tracks from a bullet’s point of view; the unfinished but dynamic “Stand Your Ground”, which Monch released in response to the George Zimmerman verdict; and the transformation of the project from the early discussion of an EP to full-length album P.T.S.D., Monch’s fourth solo effort.
The 2011 album W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) created a world of militarized control and grand illusion. The emcee’s verbal acrobatics have a wide range of playgrounds to explore, from the massive soundtrack feel of “Calculated Amalgamation”, to the showcase format of the Jean Grae and Royce Da 5’9”-assisted “Assassins”, to the anthemic “The Grand Illusion”. When Pharoahe states that he will “expose the movement/illusion,” the listener believes his version of the world because it is so thorough in sonic scope, lyrical ambition and ideological intention – it covers the big and the small, the universal and the personal.
P.T.S.D. tightens toward the personal as Monch’s focus shifts from W.A.R. Rather than attempt to create a novel world, Monch’s new album tries to share the different shades of one figure – the tortured, exhausted soul embodied in both a sci-fi scenario and all-too-real tales of Monch’s biography as a Black hip-hop artist from New York. He brings his same lyrical intensity and innovation to the this approach, proving why he deserves to be seriously considered in the conversation for “Best Rapper Alive.” The second verse of “Times2” is just one example of his genius – he integrates in a verbal stutter to show the helpless nature of the verse’s protagonist. Throughout the album, his deep understanding of how to employ syncopation and the sound of language to reinforce his ideas is, as always, his strongest attribute as an artist.
This move to the personal narrative seems to be mirrored in the production. While risks are still taken, the range of influences seems a bit more restricted than on W.A.R., on which Monch showed his ability to thrive in so many different musical environments. The sound seems more singular on P.T.S.D., which makes sense. The album is a portrait of a single figure, rather than the landscape of a different reality. And yet, the project would have faired better if more risks were taken on the production side, challenging Monch to bring the pieces together as only he can do. However, the sonic backdrops do certainly serve as a suitable setting for his ambitious, rich story. As Pharoahe gets more personal, his storytelling and unmatched ability as a rapper work together to create a portrait worth taking the time to explore.
4 out of 5
You can buy P.T.S.D. on iTunes.