The West Coast has always been a boon for launching rap oddities; today, it’s brought us Lil B and Blueface, and in the ’90s, Cypress Hill, E-40, and The Pharcyde. Pharcyde made the perfect counterpoint to the rising (and often bleak) gangster sub-genre, portraying themselves as the endlessly clowning stoner-kids-from-class on their 1992 debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. The album is fittingly joyous — a bizarre ride indeed — interlocking dexterous lyricism, complimentary flows, fractured and absurdist storytelling by freak-show characters, and a lot of jokes. It’s an experience that demands to be undergone in its prescribed order, with skits included (no wonder why Kanye West loves it). Their skits were almost the height of their art: multilayered, genre-morphing jams. “It’s Jiggaboo Time” fulfills the promises of a group who sat on the sidelines of In Living Color (Imani, Slimkid3, and Bootie Brown all danced on the show) and is just as cathartic as it is biting (“When you’re runnin’ out of lyrics / It’s jiggaboo time“; “When you’re rapping for the white man / It’s jiggaboo time”). On the jazzy “Quinton’s on his Way,” the group randomly breaks into a show-tune when their weed dealer calls them, each of the members trying to out-weird the last in zany vocal fries, Muppet-voices, and falsetto bleats. (Fittingly, the follow-up track, “Pack the Pipe,” features a verse from Quinton.) Really, the Pharcyde’s songs were extensions of their skits — just far more ordered. Chaos, fit into neat 4-verse packages — like the first proper track, “Oh Shit,” which summarizes the basic approach, with Slim, Imani, and Fatlip delivering little vignettes centered around the theme of someone saying, “Oh shit!” Slim’s clear, leading-man tenor clashes perfectly with Imani’s nasally intonation: “I’m so slick that they need to call me grease / Cuz I slips and I slides when I rides on the beast / Imani and your mom, sittin’ in a tree / K-i-s-s-i-n-g.” Producer J-Swift, who the group first met in high school, created the perfect balance of hyped-up beats and soothing, almost hypnotic instrumentals. He did more with less — much like RZA did for the Wu-Tang Clan on the other coast. “4 Better or 4 Worse” trades bright synths, drenched in reverb, for bass-heavy growls. When Fatlip goes into decidedly… disturbing territory, trading psychopathic bars as a serial killer stalking a woman (who freaks out in the ad-libs), Swift eventually throws some sax and background singing in the mix, relieving the tension from said character.
The album is fittingly joyous — a bizarre ride indeed — interlocking dexterous lyricism, complimentary flows, fractured and absurdist storytelling by freak-show characters, and a lot of jokes.
Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde ebbs and flows — the raucous, group vocals in the hook of “I’m that Type of Ni**a” contrast the party-time swing of “Soul Flower (Remix).” Bootie Brown’s presence always adds some levity, his Danny Brown-esque cries on “Flower,” or his legendary masturbation verse for “On the DL” (“And let the hand I hold the mike with take control”) being pretty strong contenders for the best moments here. The thing about this group, on this album, is: each song ends up sounding richly constructed, even as the construction feels effortless. If Kendrick Lamar’s take on jazz-rap could be likened to Charles Mingus in its stringent approach to composition, the Pharcyde is more Charlie Parker. It’s the little moments of inspired improvisation that make the record: Fatlip’s Jim Morrison impersonation on “Passing Me By”; the slight lyrical variations each MC bring for their turn on the hook of “Yo Mama” — or just the brief moments of synergy when J-Swift combines voices, or adds new tones. It’s clear, not only from their experience as dancers, but from the longer, repetitive structure of the songs, just how close this album comes to its EDM forebears. Reducing their voices to instruments, the flows may repeat, but they find variation, and maintain the driving momentum. As the album progresses, the group smartly hones in on maintaining momentum, aided by the propulsive drums, through language. “Officer” increases the comic irony of getting pulled over (remember: a huge fear, especially circa ’92 L.A.). Fatlip, with the suspended license, begins the first verse driving to pick up Bootie, who grabs “a bag” (probably of weed), before scooping Imani, who begins eagerly rubbernecking out the window. The hook, when it comes (and really, there are few hooks throughout the LP), is a childish group-vocal dripping with spite: “Please, Mr. Officer… please!” The dadaist turns between verses add both to the humor and the growing dread. On the other hand, “Otha Fish” (a Slim solo), and all-time classic “Passing Me By,” temper their humor with complete sincerity. Many seem to think that the Pharcyde’s style hasn’t aged well — crucial for Hieroglyphics, and tenfold the corny suburbanite rappers making “clean rap” in the ’90s — but their balancing act of tones did aptly reflect the dejection of the environment in which they lived, while also conjuring the kinds of countless weirdos anthems they needed to escape. The Pharcyde would slowly fracture from here; but their clown-rap flows could never have been served better than they are on this Bizarre Ride.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.