Pharoahe Monch (or as I prefer to call him, Pharoahe Fucking Monch) is actually the best rapper ever. A lame way to start a review, but it’s not a random case of dick-riding on the former Rawkus star who insists on putting the ‘O’ before the ‘A’ in “Pharoahe”. I did run a short-lived blog whereby I averaged every review score from ten review sites for all your usual suspects, to uncover who truly was the greatest rapper of all time. It turns out that Organized Konfusion are the best group/duo and Pharoahe Monch is the best rapper, based on the strength of their discographies and favourable reception from hip hop critics. It helps that Organized Konfusion only have three albums, but it is still a mean feat to top both categories (FYI I stopped the blog after being appointed by RapReviews). Looking back at Pharoahe’s solo albums, they all have one thing in common – balance. “Internal Affairs” has its fair share of ‘bangers’, benefitting from popular artists such as Busta Rhymes (“The Next Shit”) and M.O.P. (on the moshpit-inducing “No Mercy”), and the monstrous “Simon Says” that still finds its way in to party playlists, particularly if your friends aren’t flat-chested. As he has matured over the years, Pharoahe has refrained from prompting females to rub on their “titties”, and has leant more on conceptual songs that have pushed him lyrically. 2007’s “Desire” was proof of this, with not only “When the Gun Draws” being a popular single, but it felt more grown-up with songs like “Body Baby” moving away from Pharoahe’s darker origins with Organized. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (or “P.T.S.D.”) is a continuation from 2011’s “We Are Renegades” (itself taking on the acronym “W.A.R.”) that doesn’t so much feel like a person returning from war, but somebody experiencing conflicts in their own back yard. This album is very much one about modern society, taking in intense themes such as depression and addiction without ever feeling “emo”.
The Blaxploitation atmosphere that sprouted on 2007’s “Desire” returns on the Talib Kweli collaboration “D.R.E.A.M.”; proof that both artists have come a long way since their Rawkus days, and both demonstrate their fondness for soulful production and intricate flows. But it’s the nuances and finer details that make Monch such a special emcee – here both Kweli and Monch drop nods to the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” without outright mimicking the song itself. If the Kweli track isn’t enough, brace yourself for “Rapid Eye Movement” which sees The Roots’ Black Thought upstage the Organized one himself. They may as well have named this “Rapid Jaw Movement” as you’ll be picking yours up after hearing how Pharoahe leaves “Man United like the UK soccer team”. We are all aware of Black Thought’s ability to own a track – anybody that can go toe-to-toe with Big Pun on a song named “Super Lyrical” should be treated with utmost respect, and Black Thought guest appearances rarely disappoint. Let’s just say that his ability to outdo Pharoahe Monch is one of the highlights of 2014.
As much as I enjoy mature topics in my hip hop, it’s the healthy dose of character in Monch’s delivery coupled with his unrivalled technical ability that has me hooked. He tries his hand at melodies on “Broken Again” without sounding like a cornball. The metaphorical song “The Jungle” is a refreshing take on the whole inner-city wilderness that hip hop has done to death, but taking it literally with cops being cheetahs and skyscrapers being trees. It doesn’t hurt having Marco Polo providing the production. Marco also laces “Time2”, a track packed with wordplay. Then there’s the third entry in Pharoahe’s “pretending to be a gun” series of songs, with “Damage” taking on the role of a bullet (throwing in a dope homage to LL Cool J).
This latest album from Pharoahe is as lyrically intricate as ever, but that is expected and is of no real surprise. Where Pharaohe Monch albums rank (as they are inevitably all good) is largely based on their production. “P.T.S.D.” is far more consistent with its production than “Desire” and “W.A.R.”, which both veered between slower, low-key sounds and then full-blown bangers like “Let’s Go” and “Clap”. There were times on “W.A.R.” where Monch came across a little preachy, yet “P.T.S.D.” is amiable and sees him share some of his best storytelling to date. Is this his best album yet? It’s hard not to say yes, and it’s certainly one of 2014’s best regardless.