Pharoahe Monch: PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The beats jump back and forth between great and subpar, but Monch's lines are as great as ever.

Pharoahe Monch

PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Label: Duck Down Music Inc.
US Release Date: 2014-04-15
UK Release Date: 2014-04-15

Pharoahe Monch’s time between albums is rage inducing. Each Organized Konfusion album had a down time of three years before the next one, but the eight-year break between Internal Affairs and Desire was maddening. Monch is finally back to a fairly regular release schedule, which makes sense as PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder acts as a brother to Monch’s 2011 album WAR. The acronyms, gas mask album covers, and Monch’s continued socially conscious flows tie the albums together.

PTSD weaves many stories together; drug addiction, government surveillance, and gang violence are the themes of choice. This isn’t anything new for Monch, but he’s trying to mix it all together as a concept album and it doesn’t always work. The problem is never Monch’s lines (legendary and impressive as ever), but the album’s structure collapses under its own weight thanks to questionable production and a plot that never becomes cohesive. Still, Monch’s bars are among the best in the game. Put his words over shoestring production and your jaw would still drop.

The complaints on the production side come from the tracks that try to infuse rock into the background. Monch is best over boom-bap and soulful sounds, but he still holds well over some eyebrow raising beats. Monch handles his own production on “Heroin Addict”, which clearly wants to plant Jimi Hendrix’s DNA into the track. It makes sense since PTSD deals with mental illness and the opening guitar riff sounds like “Manic Depression". Unfortunately, it ends up less “Purple Haze” and more Lenny Kravitz. Similarly the seemingly random guitar scratches on “Scream” add nothing to the track. That song also holds the most cringe worthy chorus on the album and some of the few weak verses that Monch has done. This is a 17-track album, but the track list is misleading. Five tracks here clock in at around or under a minute and only act as glue to hold the story together. Even then they seem shoehorned in. A robotic voice advises Monch on the intro, “Wake Up", and the outro. The only skit that really works is “SideFX” which pokes fun at pharmaceutical companies peddling drugs with dangerous side effects.

But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. If you just want raps you’ve come to the right place. Monch, over two decades since his rise to fame, is still one of the best in the game. He’s got enough charisma for a dozen other rappers and you might not even realize how his rhymes interlock. Monch is still a big fan of internal rhymes that would make other rappers’ tongues get tied in knots. “REM", which features a great verse from Black Thought, has Monch painting himself as a savoir. “My philosophy prophecy / The opposite of Mephistopheles' eye inside an isosceles / Sent to Earth to warn of environmental atrocities.”

There are plenty of those “Holy hell what did he just pull off” moments. The first real track “Times Squared” has a second verse that finds Monch sputtering his lines that makes the song jitter and twitch. “Panic, I'm a manic depressive mechanic that manages to frantically do damage / To his brain with Xanax, and it's, like the word 'anxiety' is branded panoramic.” There are plenty of references to gang shootings, the NSA, and police brutality, but the main theme is drug addiction. Monch tackles his demons head on when the album turns to its second half. The one-two punch of “Broken Again” and the title track is made potent, not just by Monch’s lines, but by the soulful production. After a beautifully somber hook Monch goes into harrowing detail about heroin addiction. “Her skin deteriorated / Family infuriated by the myriad of tracks but my train never came.”

On “PTSD” Monch does let some light shine in. “When your cerebral ceases to administer silence / And the only faith you have left is a CD,” he raps just after the chorus comes in. “Sure as kingdoms rise the same kingdoms were sure to fall… as if weren't there at all / Like broken limbs of trees that's lost its leaves to Winter's wind / Spring will come again.” It’s a gorgeous sentiment hidden in an album cloaked in choking darkness.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.