(AllHipHop Features) Seeking professional help in addressing mental health issues has long been a taboo subject for many in the Black community. A combination of relying on religious support, limited access to health care, and a tendency to self-medicate has contributed to a culture of complacency for African-Americans when addressing mental illness.
As a microcosm of a greater society, Hip Hop has also often buried its head in the sand when it comes to facing anxiety and mood disorders. The stigma of being perceived as weak or afflicted inaccurately associated with mental illness conflicts with the Alpha male persona that is usually championed in rap music. But it is also hard to ignore the contradiction of Hip Hop’s obsession with celebrating "being real" with its tendency to ignore the real-life concerns of battling depression.
Pharoahe Monch is one member of the Hip Hop community that has chosen to keep it real by revealing his own past complications with mental health issues. Like a true artist, the South Jamaica, Queens emcee used those past experiences to inspire his work. His story about overcoming depression comes in the form of his upcoming concept album P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
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"It was a challenge because it forced me to draw upon my health care and mental health," says Monch. "Before I even started writing, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be a challenge, but this is where an artist needs to be.’ I don’t think an artist can be comfortable. I think an artist should take chances, feel pressure, and try to live up to the ideas they’re trying to bring into fruition."
Monch’s journey from his 1999 debut album Internal Affairs to his latest collection has included pit stops that have tested the celebrated lyricist. He struggled with depression and insomnia at one point in his life. It was those personal trials (and the apathy of his friends towards them) that would eventual inspire the P.T.S.D. album. Monch drew on his own past complications with mental health to create two particular songs on the project.
"'Losing My Mind' and the title track are actual accounts of me dealing with a bout of depression where I had been hospitalized with asthma. The attack at the time was real severe, so the amount of medication I was receiving was pretty harsh," explains Monch. "After leaving the hospital, I went from taking the medication intravenously to pills, and I was just bombarded with not being able to sleep and overall not being able to process anything. I just remember being like 'what the f**k is happening to me?'"
While Monch used that period to inspire his new album, he says his depressed state actually took place many years before. At the time, he reached out to the people around him, but many of the individuals he confided in brushed off the episodes.
"When I went to my friends, some of it was met with 'have a drink,' 'chill out,' 'smoke a blunt,' 'you’re bugging.' Some of it was met with 'Yeah, okay. If it’s that f**king bad then you need to get real help,'” Monch says. "Luckily, that week I went to the dentist."
It was that trip to the dentist that led to the performer eventually getting the help he needed. As he waited for his appointment, Monch had to fill out medical forms which included questions about current prescriptions he was taking. When the dentist viewed his paperwork he realized the combination of meds Monch listed were known to cause severe depression.
"I started crying in the office, because finally I’m like, 'I get it now.' I didn’t realize the s**t could be that real," says Monch. "I called my doctor, and he says to do this, do that, stop taking this. I’m yelling at him like, 'What the f**k? You gave me this s**t. You prescribed it.'"
On P.T.S.D., Monch not only provides a real-life based account of a man laboring against mental illness. He also narrates the conceptual saga of an independent artist’s life in the aftermath of a war against the entertainment industry and the struggle of being a Black man trying to survive in America. The LP features the single "Damage," the hard-hitting "Bad MF," the Marco Polo-produced "Rapid Eye Movement" featuring Black Thought of The Roots, and the Talib Kweli assisted "D.R.E.A.M."
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is set to arrive three years after Monch’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades). That critically acclaimed project was his second album released after his prolonged legal fight to get out of his label deal with Geffen/Universal and his first album released on his independent label W.A.R. Media. P.T.S.D. is the continuation of the artistic and economic mission established by W.A.R.
"I thought it was fitting to do a record called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a record call W.A.R. It really made a lot of sense," Monch says. "The W.A.R. album actually did very good independently, but we are still hustling and struggling as an independent label and artists. Marketing, promotion, videos - all those things are still out-of-pocket. Since that was our first record, we’re just now getting it going."
Up next Monch will be jumping into several visuals for P.T.S.D. The rhymer/producer presents his directorial debut with the "Bad MF" video being filmed in the near future. A few other tracks may get treatments as well.
"We’re trying to shoot 'The Jungle.' We’re trying to shoot 'Rapid Eye Movement' with Black Thought. I just spoke to him. He said he’s down," Monch states. "The one I’m really most interested in is 'Broken Again.'"
"Gotta move on. Gotta let go. Would’ve opened my eyes, if I would’ve known" are the opening lines of "Broken Again." Mental illness may still be regulated to the shadows by people afraid to confront it, but Pharoahe Monch's choice to shine a light on the subject via P.T.S.D. may open some eyes to overcoming the fear.
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P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is scheduled for release on April 15, 2014.
Follow Pharoahe Monch on Twitter @pharoahemonch
Check out the cover art and tracklist for Pharoahe Monch's P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) below.
1. “The Recollection Facility” (produced by Pharoahe Monch)
2. “Times2” (produced by Marco Polo)
3. “Losing My Mind” featuring deNaUn (produced by Jesse West)
4. “Heroin Addict” (produced by Pharoahe Monch)
5. “Damage” (produced by Lee Stone)
6. “Bad M.F.” (produced by Lee Stone)
7. “The Recollection Facility Pt.2” (produced by Pharoahe Monch)
8. “Rapid Eye Movement” featuring Black Thought (produced by Marco Polo)
9. “Scream” (produced by Quelle Chris)
10. “SideFX” featuring Dr. Pete (produced by Pharoahe Monch)
11. “The Jungle” (produced by Marco Polo)
12. “Broken Again” (produced by The Lion Share Music Group)
13. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”(produced by Boogie Blind & B.A.M.)
14. “D.R.E.A.M.” featuring Talib Kweli (produced by Lee Stone)
15. “The Recollection Facility Pt.3” (produced by Pharoahe Monch)