Feb 4 2022

Album Review: The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (#MWE)

Bizarre Ride kicks off with a jazz interlude, which segues, via record scratching, into the rowdy opener “Oh Shit.” All at once we are introduced to The Pharcyde – a playful, satirical, humorous, rap collective from South Central LA. In the age of gangsta rap, these guys were lowbrow clowns by comparison. But time has treated their debut well – Bizarre Ride and its maximalist melodic layers, lush samples from producer J-Swift, and straight-up funny rhymes sound as fresh as the day the album dropped in the fall of 1992.

Punchlines ensue throughout the album, but let’s be clear: The Pharcyde had something to say. The skit “It’s Jiggaboo Time” is a satirical comment on black caricature, delivered in a fashion only the rambunctious, clever group could bring. “4 Better Or 4 Worse” features big beats and echoing piano lines that remind me of East Coasters A Tribe Called Quest. But the colorful, self-deprecating, and over-the-top lyrics reveal these guys weren’t just copycats from LA. The lyrical dexterity was there, but the Pharcyde went into character in lieu of standing on a soapbox. It was more cartoon than conscious, more Shock G than Q-Tip.

The banter and casual back-and-forth of The Pharcyde is immediately recognizable to younger listeners. Because of my age, they immediately remind me of Jurassic 5, a crew that emerged a few years later (so much so that Jurassic 5 seem shamelessly derivative by comparison). “I’m That Type of Nigga” is a party anthem with carefree charm akin to Slick Rick and Beastie Boys. Fatlip, Slimkid3, Bootie Brown, and Imani trade bars like the Wu Tang without delving into the New York collective’s penchant for street raps. The Pharcyde still have a thesis to convey, but the presentation was more lighthearted than their peers, which was probably why Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was only a modest success.

Throughout the album, a sly balancing act between socially conscious rhymes and humorous wordplay is consistent. “Soul Flower” is infectious, from the horn line to a deftly-placed repetitive sample of a woman humming. “On the DL” features incessant record scratching, pleasant piano lines, and background vocals that are reminiscent of vocal R&B groups of the time, like Shai. “Officer” deals with racial profiling by police, and interpolates the style of Public Enemy, from Flava Flav’s hypeman intro to the screeching sound effects. The end result, however, is 100% Pharcyde. Lead single “Ya Mama,” meanwhile is pure comedy, a whole gimmicky song based on, you guessed it, “yo mama” one-liners.

Better, and more successful, is the follow-up single “Passin’ Me By” an immediately recognizable track for even the most casual hip-hop listener. The song deals with each MC commiserating about schoolboy heartbreak. My millennial mind just kept hearing Joe’s “Stutter” the whole time, which heavily interpolated the song years later. Near the end of the album, the full goofy side of The Pharcyde come out in the “Quinton’s On His Way” interlude and the spaced-out weed anthem “Pack the Pipe.” Alternative rap has a tendency to reflect on the past (much like other rigid “alternatives” like alt-country) and the Pharcyde lean toward this on the closer “Return of the B-Boy,” paying homage to the origins of hip-hop and giving notice to “sucker MCs.”

Gangsta rap, at its peak, was about telling sobering tales, evoking masculinity and keeping it real. The Pharcyde, by contrast, were about telling far-fetched stories and keeping it interesting. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, which was not common of rappers in their era. They were a refreshing alternative to the onslaught of mostly humorless G-Funk lyricists.

The Pharcyde never reached the dexterous heights they conjured in their debut. Critical and commercial interest waned with each subsequent release, and slowly the group became a revolving door for members and producers. But when they had their moment, it was a pretty significant one. In the age of The Chronic and Illmatic, The Pharcyde probably sounded pretty… bizarre. But for those who were growing tired of the mean-mugging in rap music, they were likely a breath of fresh air. After the dust had settled, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde stands out as one of the best in its lane.

Score: 9/10