Not too long ago, rap pundits were writing the concept album’s obituary. Then a little under-the-radar project called Good Kid, M.A.A.D City dropped, and mainstream hip-hop’s love affair with grandiose themes and album-long arcs was rekindled. But for a myriad of reasons - budget, conviction, imagination, time, budget, budget - the concept album is far less ubiquitous outside of the mainstream, and when unsigned artists do invest energy into conceptual projects, the execution is often underwhelming.
With no regard for the constraints underground artists often feel smothered by, Ashville by way of New York City rapper P.T.P’s latest project Bitter answers as a ballsy beacon of light for indie hip-hop fans unwilling to bury the LP. Constructed around the various psychological and physical manifestations of the eponymous psychological labyrinth, Bitter is a collection of variations on a theme; a dense concept album with an intricate, precisely woven emotional core.
Sonically, Bitter strays far from the traditional New York City Boom Bap aesthetic that many of P.T.P’s contemporaries cling to. There are traces of the five boroughs all over this project, traditionalists will find dense lyrics and crisp snares galore. But P.T.P positions himself firmly outside-of-yet-inspired-by New York; for every low-key Primo inspired bass drum hit on Bitter there’s an 808 boom with enough bottom end to be a Kardashian sister. Wiki, Angelo Mota, Chris Rivers, Radamiz, TruthCity, and many other upcoming NYC affiliated artists have positioned themselves similarly, P.T.P’s rejection of a strict traditionalist labeling is endearing throughout as both a stylistic choice and an assertion of identity.
The finer details of that assertion are illuminated as you descend further into Bitter’s many layers of subtlety and nuance; P.T.P exercises an impressive dedication to lyrical density, unwinding each track feels like walking down a spiral staircase with your eyes shut. Open them for a peak, and the paintings you’ll find adorning the walls are dark, damaged, and disturbed.
“Black Coffee” is the best encapsulation of Bitter’s overall perspective. The track’s third verse opens “They wonder why my sound ain’t more New York, like you gotta be breastfed by the origin / Rather be me than the crates that you forge in;” just like his production choices and general stylistic direction on the project, P.T.P’s lyrics address this ethos of independence consistently. But that proud individuality is surface level, the hook’s dizzying black coffee and ganja refrain feels like catchy filler for the repeating “feelin like I’m always wrong” line. That duality- coffee and weed, confidence and self doubt- is further complicated as P.T.P gets blunt about the pain those recurring dialogues can cause, rapping “just seems every word I writes a knife in me.”
For all of “Black Coffee’s” “self-made-man” swagger, it’s the pervasive vulnerability and subtle self-deprecations that make the track enticing. Bitter is at its best when you can see the cracks in P.T.P’s psyche and follow the spiraling rabbit hole of anxiety, doubt, fear, and pain that pushed those moments of self-questioning to the surface.
Track to track, we see a wide variation in both the nuanced complexity and emotional basis for P.T,P’s songwriting perspective. “WYD” is aggressive and as directed as you can get without naming names, “BITTERSWEET” reads as a slightly more refined variation on similar themes of contempt, lighter tracks like the delightful “BETTER” are just as up-front and raw with the emotional intensity. As a concept album centered around a psychological theme, the eponymous sentiment “bitterness” and how that complex emotion affects us and plays out and is resolved or not resolved, Bitter runs well front to back and provides plenty of variety in both sounds and ideas.
But it’s the few tracks that aspire to encapsulate all of these textures of identity and emotion into one joint that standout as the strongest. Take “Roles,” where P.T.P reflects “What good’s an education if nobody trusts me when I speak? / Sweaty as I try to clutch the dream.” The echoing “tryna find my role” that repeats throughout the chorus is haunting, but taken as a whole, not even the minor chords and defining self-questioning overpower what to me can be read as an ultimately optimistic record. Throughout, P.T.P expresses his doubts and questions his identity so acutely and with such a level of self-awareness that all of the fear and anxiety serves as evidence of an impressive emotional progression; P.T.P the character in “Roles” seems overwhelmed with the pressures of self-knowledge, Peter the writer of “Roles” has kept his head above water for long enough to process and present all of these ideas. While Bitter is heavy with recurring doubt, “Roles” gives us a glimmer of hope that we’ll figure it out if we keep confronting those lurking shadows.
Don't be afraid to turn your back on those who do not believe in you for more supportive pastures. But wish them peace on their way, as you embrace yours. Make them believe by blazing your trail. On one hand, people can be fickle, flawed, even deserving of scorn. On the other - people can also grow, people can change for the better, people can recover from their missteps and become valuable allies and loyal comrades. Forgive, welcome, and embrace their better self if and when it comes into view - as I'm sure you've been blessed with the forgiveness and understanding of another. Pass it on. But also be wary of the inherent unpredictability of man - with an open heart but no expectation foes will be made fuel instead of foil. The more you know all the actors on your stage, the stronger the bonds forged and friendships made. The more you know your potential adversaries [persons or otherwise] within, the less of a threat their plots or negative energy become. Connect & engage with both. My lead single 'The Wave' off my upcoming EP 'Apatite' is available for streaming now! SoundCloud.com/p-t-p/the-wave Photo by @theo_vangogh Like, Share, Repost 'The Wave' Support the Music: soundcloud.com/p-t-p @awayteamny Artist & CEO @street_trash_panther Brother #HipHop #Life #Rap #Inspiration #NYC #Portrait #independent #underground #music #advice #photography #new #rapper #emcee #artist #talent #creativeprocess #people #poet #newyorkcity #beard #release #tall #knowledge #philosophy #motivation #upandcoming #pensive #thoughts
Stand-out Tracks from Bitter
At once refreshing and familiar, “Better” is just so damn sweet and charming that every time I hear it I look around my apartment for someone to hug. There’s plenty of the duality that defines Bitter sprinkled throughout P.T.P’s verse, but the melody and production in the chorus especially are just so bright that “Better” is goddamn uplifting. There are hints of Chance the Rapper’s magic here; the true authenticity of a hurting artist who still knows how to smile. And while I see the impetus for Bitter’s overarching thematic darkness, I hope P.T.P’s future projects gift us with more of the warmth that oozes out of “Better.” Both featured verses complement the project well, but it’s that cheery hook and the way this track’s optimism fits into the more disturbed album arc that makes “Better” a gem.
Thematically, the opening title track frames “Bitter” well, displaying all of the vulnerability that makes P.T.P a relatable storyteller and tragically endearing figure as the album progresses. But sonically, opening with such a profoundly sad and laden track was a very ballsy move. If you’ve never heard P.T.P before and don’t know what to expect, this one will catch you in the feelings; throwing what’s a conceptually dark listen up-front is the first indication of how fearless the artist you’re listening to is about to get as he examines a wide swath of the human experience. Rappity-rap lovers will find plenty of heavy lyrics to digest, and “Bitter” features some of the project’s nicest bars and tightest flows. Anyone who gets scared off by the pain and emotion here probably wasn’t meant to find this project anyways.
Aside from serving as a delicious encapsulation of much of what makes Bitter a worthwhile listen, this track is just damn good hip-hop. P.T.P’s flows are catchy here, he incorporates pauses and pacing well, the melodic components of his delivery progress well into guttural climaxes. It’s tracks like this one that make underground heads yearn for a bygone era; “Black Coffee” has all of the charms and strengths of a bevvy of Golden Era classics, if there were still real labels in New York and artists still got discovered off of talent alone and you could make a career off of one well written song, all it would take is the right A&R hearing this joint for P.T.P to get his. But while the track’s nostalgic feel might have listening forgetting, it’s not 1995 anymore; for better or for worse, it takes a whole lot more digging to unearth true diamonds in the underground scene. Consider “Black Coffee” such a find, this is New York City Boom Bap inspired songwriting at it’s finest.
The hardest thing for me to do is to calm my mind. Find that meditative quiet. The only time I have clarity and peace is on stage. #BookYourBoy My lead single 'The Wave' off my upcoming EP 'Apatite' is available for streaming now! SoundCloud.com/p-t-p/the-wave Photo by @theo_vangogh Like, Share, Repost 'The Wave' Send to your fave friend, blog, magazine! Support the Music: soundcloud.com/p-t-p Every click counts!Share&Engage @awayteamny Artist & CEO @street_trash_panther Brother #HipHop #Community #Rap #meditation #NYC #Portrait #independent #underground #beyourself #cathedral #photography #confidence #rapper #emcee #artist #talent #art #people #poet #newyorkcity #beard #tranquility #tall #knowledge #relax #upandcoming #fashion
“Bitter” is far from an easy listen, but it’s a worthwhile one. While the persistent recurring themes are often dark and challenging, the perspectives throughout this project are intriguing, the moments of vulnerability endearing, the efforts put into detail and nuance of construction impressive. Play “Bitter” front to back. Enjoyable concept, well-crafted execution.