Much like the Wu a short while later, in 1992 The Pharcyde entered the hip hop landscape as a fully-formed entity, not only a dope-ass group but damn near a valuable and refreshing philosophic, musical and aesthetic movement. Emerging from the left coast, they flew under the radar of the gangsta craze, instead joining with fellow creative oddballs such as Freestyle Fellowship and Souls of Mischief (and later Project Blowed, Solesides, etc) to create music that was damn funky but also thought provoking. When their debut LP “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” dropped, the excitement it created for the relatively small number of heads who heard it was palpable.
Unfortunately, after a series of increasingly unremarkable releases it remains the group’s crowning achievement. In the end, that only adds to its legendary status as one of the most creative albums of the early 90s, one that both celebrated and challenged past and existing forms of black expression in an effort to redefine hip hop, youth and blackness for a new generation of California kids with something to say.
In short, the Pharcyde display here a style and a viewpoint deliciously and profoundly contradictory (as life, and all good art that reflects it, usually is) in so many ways. Simultaneously subtle and brazen, overtly celebratory yet deeply dark and twisted, both ephemeral and timeless in scope, “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” is one of those cult favorites that in a perfect world would’ve sold Michael Jackson unitsâ€”a record that can be enjoyed by all without losing any edginess or provocative lyricism.
Ironic. Jazzy. Self-depreciating. Clever. Funkier than a bag of gym socks. On and on, and I’m only describing the first song. With four talented members of similar mind producing and rhyming (although Fat Lip does frequently steal the show with his effortless charisma), the group’s debut LP has an amazingly natural feel both thematically and musically.
Not feeling contrived in the least, they manage to take on subjects both profoundly silly and serious, including the dozens (“Ya Mama”), police profiling (“Officer”), female (or, more accurately and hilariously, male) troubles (“Oh Shit!”), and black cultural exploitation (“It’s Jigaboo Time (skit)”). And they do it all in a tone that’s impressionistic, creative, improvisational and unstoppable; through entertaining storytelling and off-the-dome magic, each MC creates an engaging and convincing personae.
Musically, the group surrounds itself in can’t-miss samples and deep funk grooves. Fifteen years on, these are joints that still leave you helpless not to nod to, break to, and throw your hands up to. You could call “Bizarre Ride…” a party album with soul, or maybe a “conscious” album that never forgot the all-important P-Funk mandate to free your ass along with your mind. Whatever you call it (and this classification is more difficult to do than expected, being so fresh a product) however, the tracks remain like the lyrical content a stunning reflection of The Pharcyde manifesto realized.
By simultaneously being aware of, following along with and audaciously rejecting the dichotomies and stereotypes inherent in being a black entertainer (or even a black man in general), “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” isn’t just a profound artistic statement, it is also arguably a valuable document in the ongoing dialogue of what it means to be disenfranchised in America. So please revisit this platter a few more times. Free your mind, free your ass, and take a bizarre ride to a place that remains pleasant, infectious, thought provoking and essential.