20+ years in the game and Pharoahe Monch is still one of the sharpest lyricist out today. His fourth solo studio album (and second indy joint) PTSD is a thematic follow up to his indy debut album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). Monch said, "The W.A.R. album was like, I'm going to battle against the machine, I'm doing this independently. I'm putting some things out that I learned and I'm going to expose about the music industry." And if you follow any news about veterans (or have people close to you who have gone oversees), you know that often the unfortunate aftermath of war is the mental and physical consequences. Monch has dealt with depression and battled with asthma, and on top of this has fought against the status quo of the business side of hip-hop. Thankfully he is now in a place where we get a Pharoahe Monch that is as confident as ever. Did PTSD live up to the intricate subject he chose? Let's find out.
Pharoahe Monch has had a requiring narrative that he has chronicled throughout his career, solo and with Organized Konfusion. In the duo's 1994 album, Stress: The Extinction Agenda, he featured the first track in the saga. Stray Bullet featured a younger more aggressive Monch, painting a raw hood introspective narrative. With images of playgrounds and apartment hallways, he tells tales of innocent bystanders falling to stray bullets. The bullet doesn't discriminate or care how old you are. His second solo album, Desire, gave us the follow up track to the bullet series. In When the Gun Draws Monch gives us another layer of the gun violence problem. He creates a more personal track that focuses on the issue like children who live in homes with guns. This is not just a street corner problem. It has spread to the suburbs and white america. In the second half of the track Monch touches on famous gun deaths like JFK and public figures who were taken before then could make changes in world. Finally, Pharoahe ends the trilogy with Damage. Pharoahe Monch tackles multiple gun issues and perspectives. He comments on hip-hip rappers who flash guns in music videos. They want to be cool but are not prepared for the consequences. This third installment presents a demanding bullet, who is insane yet in control. The bullet is in full control of its factions and will not waste stray bullets without purpose. After seeing unspeakable horrors, the bullet is more aggressive and assertive. It has welcomed its title as "murderer" and will fight to make sure it's influence stays supreme, especially making sure gun laws stay suppressed. Monch finishes the saga with the most dangerous bullet yet. It is deranged and warped under its own power, but unaware of its own mental instability. He sums up the track with one last verse, "See there is no need for conversation when we are discussing the bullets point of view."
I ain't gonna feature more tracks like I normally do. I think this track alone is strong enough to peek the interest of any Monch fan. And hopefully bring this lyricist to new ears. The growth of Pharoahe Monch is organic and genuine. With his fourth solo project, we get a more emotional and personal look into the emcee's soul. He is vulnerable but not weak. The ingenuity to build upon W.A.R. and still have an album that could stand on its own is remarkable. We get the classic intricate, though provoking lyrics and wordplay you expect from a Monch album. His social commentary is eloquent and intelligent from beginning to end. Even his features were few and deliberate, paring with Black Thought and Talib Kweli to gives us tracks full of substance and skill. Production is also top shelf. 2014 is panning out to be a good year for hip-hop. Hope the trend continues, and with PTSD in the headphones, think it will.