Pharoahe Monch, P.T.S.D. (Duck Down Music)
At 41, MC Pharoahe Monch is still rapping circles around the competition, proving that rap isn’t just a young man’s game. Monch’s P.T.S.D. is yet another treat from the MC who possesses one of the strongest catalogs in hip-hop. With an overarching theme of mental health, the album is a furious barrage of complex rhyme schemes over head-snapping production. From “Losing My Mind” and its bout with depression to “Damage,” personifying the lifespan of a bullet, Monch is at his best. But it is the Black Thought-assisted “Rapid Eye Movement” with its lyrical gymnastics that reminds young MCs they have their work cut out if they want to compete. ★★★★✩
Locksmith, A Thousand Cuts (Landmark Entertainment)
The rap game is awfully crowded these days. That’s unfortunate for a talented MC such as the Golden State’s Locksmith because he’s as lyrically inclined as they come. Over the course of 12 tracks, A Thousand Cuts exhibits exceptional storytelling. “Hardest Song Ever” stands tall with its harrowing tale of the narrator being sexually abused as a child. It’s not all weighty subject matter, though, as Locksmith trades volatile verses with R.A. the Rugged Man on “House of Games,” and he has a little fun at the expense of the ladies on “F*cking Idols.” It won’t sell a million records, but Locksmith’s latest is certainly worth your time if you are looking for something refreshing. ★★★✩✩
SZA, Z (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Being the first lady of Top Dawg Entertainment, SZA is well aware of the pressure to impress. And her ear-catching electro-pop stylings on Z are a welcome departure from the label’s powerful stable of MCs. Production ripples around her often-blunt lyrics surrounding heartbreak and self-pity on this dreamy sonic voyage. She’s at her best when she digs deep and avoids commonplace pop tropes. “Sweet November” is infused with a ’70s soul flare that wraps around her tale of a doomed relationship. The Kendrick Lamar-featured “Babylon” slaps you around with deep synths while SZA shrugs off regret. It’s not perfect, but Z gives SZA a solid entry that should keep listeners wondering what’s next. ★★★✩✩
Upcoming on Andreas’ radar…
May 13: Ice Cube trades his actor chair for a microphone and looks to prove that he still has it with Everythang’s Corrupt.
May 20: The always-elusive Blu returns to the scene with the appropriately titled Good To Be Home. Now if we can only get him to stay and not vanish from the scene.