Pharoahe Monch takes it straight to the head on his fourth solo release P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The concept album has the Queens MC detailing the life of a man struggling with depression. Each track is a chapter that reveals something new or gives more insight. On “Losing My Mind” featuring deNaun, he shines a light on the racial and economic disparities of mental health assistance. “My family customs wasn’t accustomed to dealing with mental health / It was more or less an issue for white families with wealth.”
The album’s lead single “Damage” is probably the best display of lyricism as Monch goes into metaphoric overdrive rapping from the perspective of a bullet taking out its victims. “For ever lasting fame I will maim those who change the gun laws / Cause post traumatic stress disorder, ask any vet I’ve worked with / My purpose catching bodies like safety nets at the circus.” The song samples the line “Damage” from L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
Rhyming at a skillful pace with lyrics that get straight to the point has never been an issue for Monch, and he shows no signs of rust on the album. The beats compliment the changing mood of the character going from the bass heard in the horns that gives “Bad MF” its menacing feel to the light flute played on “Broken Again” that demonstrates the sentiment of reflection.
While “Eht Dnarg Noisuilli,” which is “The Grand Illusion” backwards, uses violins and an operatic choir of women to sound like a world of confusion, the hook being spoken rather than sung by a computerized male voice makes the track seem less like a rap song. Rather, it sounds more like the music you’ll hear in the opening credits of a bad science-fiction movie.
Scattered across the LP are skits parodying the varying ways people treat mental illness. While the skit “SIDEFX” effectively pokes fun at society’s obsession with self-medication as the answer to all problems, they disrupt the momentum of the album.
But on “D.R.E.A.M.,” featuring Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli, the wah-wah guitar gives the song its soulful feel reminiscent of 1970s songs that encouraged listeners to keep striving. The other collaborations include Black Thought of the Roots on “Rapid Eye Movement” and the bonus track, “Stand Your Ground” with Living Colour’s Vernon Reid. Monch keeps the featured spots to a bare minimum, which is good because it allows listeners to dive into the story and not get sidetracked.
There’s usually a two to four year gap between albums for Pharoahe Monch, which isn’t a bad thing. In the case of a skilled MC like Monch, the few years between albums gives him time to make the best LP possible, or allow him to experience life to find something heartfelt to spit about. No matter the reason, P.T.S.D. takes listeners on a worthwhile journey from confusion and loneliness to bitterness and triumph.—Barry Ward