One can only imagine what its like to be recognized as one of the top performers of your craft, name-dropped by the biggest rapper in the world, yet still a face of anonymity to most. What must it be like, when success has been awarded to you via a hit single called “Simon Says”, only to have it taken away, thanks to an uncleared sample?
But this is not the reason why Pharoahe Monch is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as the title of his new album suggests. It’s a fitting follow-up to his last album, W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), with an even more tightly-knit concept running throughout, symbolic of both his struggle as a starving artist and that as product of his environment.
From the onset, Monch choses to open the record up with a pair of bleak tracks. Over a Havoc-esque beat, “Time2″ parallels his current position as a now independent artist, with that of the recently fired company man, going out in a blaze of glory in the middle of Times Square. Followed by “Losing My Mind”, Pharoahe weaves ridiculous rhyme patterns, as he contemplates suicide: “I spin, the cylinder on my revolver / I spin, the cylinder / Would someone explain who’d leave a Dick in charge of a Bush / Of a colon I’m screwed, saw more war than Warsaw Poland, viewed / An infant’s insides, outside of his body / Inside of a place of worship, ungodly / Out cries tears ‘Dear God, where are we?’”. It’s the complexity of Eminem, meshed with the crystal clear visualization of Nas. Or simply, it’s Pharoahe Monch.
He’s a rare breed of an emcee that can paint such pristine visuals, while still penning the most complex, jaw-dropping lyrics possible. Yet he still bumps it up a notch when the competitive bar is raised. “Rapid Eye Movement” is a lyrical tour-de-force, as he and Black Thought go toe-to-toe, almost arriving at a draw on who had the better verse. The same can be said for “D.R.E.A.M.” with Talib Kweli, as the two subtly re-imagine Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”, peppered with references the classic track, yet not done so in such an obvious manner.
Both “The Jungle” and “Damage” find Monch speaking on his surroundings, backed by heavy concepts. “The Jungle” describes every day street life as the literal wild safari, while “Damage” is the third chapter in his “bullet trilogy”, where he spits from the perspective of a slug. Later on “Broken Again”, Monch’s character turns to heroin to cope, as he vividly describes putting the needle to his arm. Once he does, the track takes on a high of its own. The album closes with the melodic Step Kids collaboration, “Eht Dnarg Noisulli”, which offers little hope at escaping “the grand illusion”, yet he finds solace through his rhymes. A light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps.
In his most focused and consistent LP since Internal Affairs, Pharaohe Monch has taken a real-life bout with depression and turned into arguably the strongest independent LP of the year, thus far. He doesn’t try to recapture the success of “Simon Says”, nor does he try to crossover with Cee-Lo-esque gospel/soul tracks, despite his obvious singing chops. This is an unapologetically dark, incredibly well-written, musically sound LP that finds the emcee returning to greatness. Pharoahe Fucking Monch, ain’t a damn thing changed.
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