Pharoahe Monch Talks ‘P.T.S.D.,’ The Knicks, and Why This Could Be His Last Album [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Stress is something that all of us can relate to. Dating back to his time as a member of rap duo Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe Monch has revisited the stress theme on a number of occasions. So, it’s no surprise that his latest effort, ‘P.T.S.D.,’ is centered around his personal experiences of dealing with depression and the plight of being an artist in an industry where artists are disposable.
The Boombox was lucky enough to get the Queens, New York native on the line to talk about the album, his beloved New York Knicks, and why this may be the last album we ever hear from him.
The Boombox: What was the spark that initiated the making of this album? How did you come up with the concept?
Pharoahe Monch: Well, we had just finished the ‘W.A.R.’ album and had just done a year worth of touring and I realized I needed to put more music out. I started to think about what the album should be called, and I chose ‘P.T.S.D.’ because it fits along with the ‘W.A.R.’ setting. But what wound up happening was it started lead to me talking about some personal issues and it became more about that.
And I thought that was dope because I knew my fans would be combing through the project. I didn’t want it to just be like “that’s a cool complicated name to call something,” but you didn’t really dive into what the situation is about, so I thought it would be a challenge and not an easy thing to do. And talk about my issues as well with healthcare, being depressed over the years at different times. Financial situations and all that, so I thought it should be some real ass s— to write about.”
You continue your ‘Stray Bullet‘ trilogy with the Lee Stone-produced, ‘Damage.’ Does the series stem from any personal experiences or did it begin as strictly an artistic statement?
In the beginning it was very real, as far as growing up in Southside [Jamaica, Queens] and actually seeing people get shot, it’s a real a– subject to talk about. And by the time I got to the second one, it was more political and social, and this one was just to round it off and the music made me feel like I should finish it up. They all stem from different experiences and inspirations.
Can we expect any more installments in the future?
Nah, [‘Damage’) is definitely the last one.”
How did the collab with Black Thought (‘Rapid Eye Movement’) come about and how far does your history date back?
Marco Polo did the beat and I first heard the beat I was like “alright, this is a straight spitting track.” But I still wanted it to fit into the theme of the album so I called it ‘Rapid Eye Movement,’ which is what happens to you when you’re dreaming — your eyes move rapidly because your brain thinks that you’re looking at what you’re dreaming about. It’s a certain level of dream state that you go into.
And this is like my dream match-up. I wanted Black Thought on the song and what’s happening, not necessarily lyrically but thematically, is I’ve decided to say “f— the system and fight to do the type of music I wanna do,” but I can’t do it alone. So, in the dream world, I’m hiring Black Thought to help me fight the system.
Was the song recorded in person or via sending vocals back and forth?
I recorded my verses months before he heard the track.
What was your initial reaction to Black Thought’s verse?
Amazing. That’s why I wanted him on the song because, he’s Black Thought, You know what I mean? That’s what I expected. I don’t mean to sound conceited but I definitely knew he would come through on that beat.
How long have you two known each other?
I’ve known about Thought since The Roots started, but I didn’t know him personally. But then we worked on Talib’s record, then I did something for a Roots project that didn’t make the album. We’re cool.
Diehard fans may be aware of you and [longtime collaborator] Lee Stone’s chemistry together. How and why do you seem to deliver winning results whenever you connect?
I just think we see eye to eye on a lot of music things and as a producer he pushes me, which is what I like from a producer. And I can come to him with music and be like ‘what do you think about this idea’ and he’s never going to placate or just do something. It’s always for the benefit of a bigger picture, we always have that in mind. So when we work together it not just about if it’s a dope song, we feel like it’s needed in music or the album needs it, or it benefits more than just and MC and a producer getting together.
There’s a new prescription drug being marketed to us every day, your ‘Side EFX’ skit, speaks to this. What did you mean to convey with that skit?
It’s exactly that. They promote these medications to us and it never really heals you, and in most cases it makes you worse. A lot of ‘P.T.S.D.’ is about drugs, healing, and things of that nature. So even if it’s a physical problem like asthma — which I was getting at — it’s like, a lot of times, I gotta do this s–t, but then it’s still it’s an effect, the whole ‘P.T.S.D.’ sh– was written because of mental side effects of the medication that I take.
On the track ‘Jungle,’ you have a lyric on the third verse in which you spit “I go to Queens for queens and eat organic in Brooklyn,” what was the meaning of that and what are some of your favorite organic food spots of the moment?
It’s so many different spots. Different juice spots and health spots and, I can’t really think of a favorite one off hand but I think culturally,on Brooklyn has been at the forefront of that movement, a little before anybody else. And you have allot of natural food and vegan places and the Caribbean culture and just culturally in general and I just wanted to big them up. I spend a lot of time in Brooklyn too and I’m often trying to eat as well as I can, so I just wanted to big Brooklyn up [far as organic food spots].
Your collaboration with Stones Throw group The Stepkids [‘Eht Dnarg Noisulli’] was a nice surprise, how did that come about?
The lead singer and the guitarist in the band used to play in a band of mine when I was touring for Rock The Bells. And he went on to play for Alicia Keys, he’s very talented, and he went on to form his own group and they got signed to Stones Throw. I just loved their stuff. So I wanted them to remix the song for me. It was all played live. I told them don’t worry about the tempo just make music and I’m gonna rhyme on it.
Were there any songs that were particularly challenging to tackle or did the tracks come together fairly quickly?
‘Broken Again’ was probably the hardest one because it took allot of research and there’s still hidden subliminals in that song that nobody has caught yet, that I haven’t heard anybody talk about [far as] lyrically. And that’s a good thing. It’s so well hidden but it took allot of research to find it.
I sing a little bit but I’m not the best singer [laughs], so it took a lot of time in the studio trying to nail the chorus.
Lets take it away from the album for a second and move on to another passion of your, sports. What are your thoughts on the Phil Jackson hire by the Knicks?
I think it’s a good hire. I think it all starts with the culture and if he’s gonna revamp the culture, then it’s a good hire. What I mean by that is, if he’s gonna hire his own regime and if they’re [management] gonna stick to it, then at least players know what they’re getting into with [James] Dolan, and players can decide if they’re gonna buy into it or not.
Do you think Melo should re-sign with the Knicks or move on to another team?
I’m a big Carmelo Anthony fan. I want him to get a ring, I want him to get a ring here. I think he’s a top five player in the NBA. I think he’s still hasn’t played a full season with his equal. Stoudemire’s always been hurt. In Denver he always had good teams, but never a number two, a Robin to play to his Batman or vice versa. I want him to stay but if he leaves then f— it, cause the Knicks are the Knicks. I’ve been so disappointed with ownership and I’m like “whatever” so I’m kind of detached a little bit from the love I used to have [for the Knicks]. So if Carmelo decides to leave, I wouldn’t even be mad.
Maybe you need to start rooting for the Brooklyn Nets.
I can’t f— with Brooklyn right now, man, I’m a Knicks fan. I don’t not like the Nets, but it’s kind of ill for me to root for both. And that’s weird for me, cause that’s the case with, I’m a Mets fan, but I don’t like the Yankees. And I’m a Giants fan, but I like the Jets. I’m not one of those people who thinks you gotta have one team in New York and hate the next. I don’t hate the Jets and I don’t hate the Nets. But I’m detached as far as the Knicks.
If the Nets win it all this year, I’ll be real happy for Jason Kidd, [though].
As a native New Yorker, are there any up-and-comers or mainstays from the boroughs that you’ve taken a liking to musically?
Sean Price, Joey Bada$$, and Troy Ave.
That last one [Troy Ave] was a curve-ball coming from you. What put him on your radar?
I like his moxie, man. I like his street shit. I like New York s—. I like New York pop s–t as well. I think there’s a misconception that there’s gotta be certain genres. I’ve been f—ing with him for a long time now.
Longtime fans are excited by reports of you and Prince Po’ linking up again. What can we expect from that?
We’re doing some shows for the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of ‘Stress: The Extinction Agenda,’ but that’s about it. We’re working on music and s— like that, but no album, though.
Getting back to the new album, on the skit ‘The Recollection Facility Pt. 3,’ you are sentenced to life imprisonment for the violation of the World Free-Thinking Agreement. Does that stem from your own fear of where art and free-expression is headed in the future?
It’s part of the theme but it’s happening right now before our eyes. Dumb ass s— is getting promoted and recorded, and intellectual s— that’s stimulating is put on the back burner. And I am being punished.
The truth will be told about that skit based on this album. If this album isn’t pushed to the forefront then what’s really happening? Pharoahe will not be able to eat, and then there are no more albums. So, it’s kind of the truth in a weird way.
What do you hope fans will take away from the album?
[I try to] promote and bring awareness to issues that I talk about on the record, and try to feature really dope rap, lyrical s— like ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ and ‘The Jungle.’ It’s not hater s—, it’s not underground s—, it’s just good. And that after three solo albums, that this guy is still trying to put out good music. And that they feel it. I want them to feel the art of it, you know?”
Purchase ‘P.T.S.D.’ on iTunes.