P.T.S.D. – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Just when I think I’m out – they pull me back in! I’m a tourist when it comes to hip-hop, I’ll always be (among) the first to say it. No shame. It’s just how it is. I don’t buy that lifestyle bullshit, or rather don’t buy into it – I’m happy for the others, the ones that dedicate their life to a genre and in particular the desperate fight to claim it as a lifestyle over a genre, but I’m in this as someone interested in music. If I can’t hear music I move on. There’s more music in some hip-hop records than in whole other genres. There’s some hip-hop albums that only (just) contain traces of music. My version of a nut-allergy reaction is to just move on. To head for greener pastures.
But then something pulls me back – be it Earl Sweatshirt’s album or a reminder of how much I love Dilla and The Roots, those first vital recordings by Nas, the latest set of playful jazz-meets-rap cut-ups by L’Orange. And just lately this fucking extraordinary, killer-good fourth album by Pharoahe Monch. It’s not actually a great surprise, I was on board for the other records, loved the shit out of Desire particularly. Also W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). And whilst on one level PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a continuation of the dialogue, a further exploration of the same lyrical themes, the dedication (and hardship) of fighting the industry, of being fiercely independent, it’s also a whole other thing; it might actually be the finest album Monche’s produced. That’s saying something when he hasn’t really put a foot wrong previously.
At first I thought of Nas’ Illmatic – purely because that’s still a benchmark for an album that does not fuck-around, that doesn’t bore, that gets on with the job of lining up kick-ass tunes and spitting ‘em out. There’s an almost production-line efficiency, and it’s so good. PTSD doesn’t sound like Illmatic as much as it (almost) plays out like it. But no, actually The Roots’ undun (and so much of what The Roots are about) seems a better comparison. Broken Again could have been a track on undun – could have furthered that album’s musical palette/seems to have come from that particular antecedent.
Elsewhere there’s happy hoppers, like D.R.E.A.M which is pushed into place by the usually on-form Talib Kweli (also on a pretty golden run of late) and Rapid Eye Movement (actually featuring Black Thought of The Roots spitting it out alongside Monche) is another highlight, a mid-album hinge that has Marco Polo creating a Dre-like production value, huge rolling bass though, such a mighty groove.
The Jungle is a mini-manifesto in one four-minute groove, but it’s one of many. The mental health theme is perfectly addressed on Losing My Mind, call it a bonus that the thick, creamy bassline that hooks you in is just another hook, the lyrics as well as the lyrical flow, the feel and sound, all sell you on the song first.
I come back to the fact that what’s most remarkable though is the jam-packed nature of this, the economy within that too; a 16-track album in just 45 minutes shows you can have skits (so often, for me, the bane of hip-hop listening) and you can offer a huge range of sounds. There’s a lot of great pop music ideas here, killer choruses, some guitar riffs, big surges of bass and drums to help the ride. And there’s such a feel of potency, the Lee Stone-produced Damage all but lampoons gangsta rap, while parading a series message inside the tune.
So much in this album – and it sounds so good.
The Great American Novel might even have just been delivered. I’m sure I heard it here – somewhere inside this record.