The Pharcyde: Cydeways - The Best of the Pharcyde
Label: Delicious Vinyl/Rhino Home Video
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Hip-Hop historians and musical experts alike both take the contributions
of The Pharcyde for granted. That's not surprising given the fact the group
was taken for granted in their own heyday. Their 1992 debut "Bizarre Ride
II the Pharcyde" was light years ahead of their peers. The sound was a
mixture of jazz, funk, and straight up boom bap beats. Their origin was
California, but their raps were not the hardcore gangsta rap most people
associated with the West coast. The Pharcyde relied on humor and clever
concepts while excelling at lyrical wordplay and narrative storytelling.
Despite being a four man team, there seemed to be no weak link in the group.
Fat Lip, Imani, Slim Kid and Booty Brown played off each other perfectly,
achieving that rare hip-hop gestalt later seen in the East coast emergence
of the Wu-Tang Clan.
A follow-up was highly anticipated but took three years
to arrive. When"Labcabincalifornia" did finally emerge a fickle
rap audience had moved their attention to 2Pac's "Me Against the World,"
Mobb Deep's "The Infamous" and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's "E. 1999 Eternal"
among others. Rap with a sense of humor and a fun-loving swing was pushed
to the side for thugging and mean mugging. It's not that these albums
were bad and "Labcabincalifornia" was good or vice versa, it's simply that
what The Pharcyde had to offer did not "go with the flow" and made no
apologies for it, and as such it got overlooked. They never quite recovered
from this "sophomore slump" and a 2000 attempt at a comeback entitled
"Plain Rap" missed the mark, musically
acceptable but lyrically lacking, due in part to the absence of Fat Lip.
Remaining members Imani and Romye (Booty Brown) continue to record under
the name and released "Humboldt Beginnings"
in 2004, but for all intents and purposes the "Bizarre Ride" closed for
repairs years ago and never really re-opened.
"Cydeways - The Best of the Pharcyde" is a video tribute both to what
was and a glimpse at what could have been. Their classic music videos are
interspersed with rarely seen interview footage and live performances such
as "Soul Flower," where the electricity of the crowd as they jump around to
the beat is a far cry from the ice grills and hard elbows you see at most
rap shows today. Not surprisingly, you'll see a lot of weed being smoked,
a potent source of inspiration for the quatro even though they comically
warn the viewers that "it will F you up" and cut a public service announcement
saying if you don't already smoke don't start - but if you DO smoke
to make sure you're using the chronic. Appropriately enough this leads into
the video for "Ya Mama," a song which definitely feels inspired by
altered mental states. Few videos have ever captured the lyrics quite so
aptly, as the group uses a mixture of actresses and animation to portray
all the fat ugly mothers they diss dozens style in the song. They're all
there, from a mother who has a peg leg with a kickstand to a mama whose
afro is held in place with a chin-strap. As colorful and vivid as this
video is, it stands in stark contrast to the follow-up "Passin' Me By,"
shot entirely in black and white as the rappers seem to literally hang
upside-down in the air, an apt metaphor for how they feel at being ignored
and dissed by the women they are hung up on.
Hip-Hop fans might be surprised by the prominent role Ice-T plays in
this vide, as he is backstage with The Pharcyde on tour and often seems to
be the de facto narrator for the madness, as nobody else is really taking
the time to explain what's going on. On the other hand, the hip-hop
documentary with a fan or director narrating events is a played out cliche
in itself, so the catch-as-catch-can style of this DVD is refreshing.
Live performance footage of "Otha Fish," the musical and lyrical answer
to how forelorn and lovelost Pharcyde were in "Passin' Me By" is immediately
followed up by the video itself. One can only hope the studio where they
shot this video had flood insurance, because the water flows freely around
and over the rappers and the women swimming around them. It's quite a
surreal, technicolor experience, with intentionally grainy footage and
images that stretch and blur before your eyes. If you were tripping when
you watched this video, it would seem like some ol' next shit. This is
followed by the rarely seen video "4 Better or 4 Worse," where the members
of the group are shown going through the stages of getting hitched and
the drama that ensues after you tie the knot. It's here that one of the
few major complaints of the DVD is found, as the music levels from the
videos and the footage were not equalized in any way - you'll have to crank
it up pretty loud here and crank it back down later.
The middle of this presentaton has two music videos that best epitomize
how far ahead of the curve The Pharcyde were as both musicians and artists,
and not surprisingly both are from "Labcabincalifornia." It would have
been easy for the group to make a "Runnin'" video which literally showed
the group running from their enemies, but they chose to operate on a much
deeper level. In a classic example of flipping the script The Pharcyde
picture themselves as plantation owners, having white slaves wait on their
beck and call, serving them drinks and hanging laundry out to dry, even
going so far as to pose for photos with their "property." The footage is
interspersed with the actual drama that would cause the members to run,
such as fighting with the school bully. While it does function just as
entertainment on a basic level, it can also be analyzed on multiple levels.
Did the Pharcyde members simply mean to imply that the institution of
slavery is something anyone would run from, regardless of race, or do they
realize that portraying themselves as slaves on the run would be too
controversial and likely get the video banned from TV? It gets deeper
though - while the Pharcyde members can be seen running from their troubles
in the alternate footage, the white slaves on their plantation seem to be
entirely content and not at all trying to escape. It's entirely possible
that the subtle point here that slaves who don't know what freedom is
haven't the capacity or desire to "run for it" would be entirely lost in
the uproar over the content if the racial roles were reversed.
The video itself is therfore a critique of the modern day world, where
we are all born into the bondage of a society and nation-state, each with
it's own expectations as to what we "owe" as a price for the limited
freedoms we enjoy. The song lyrically reminds us that we "can't keep
runnin' away" while the video itself implies that even if you do there's
no escaping the harsh realities of the world, and only the idle rich can
fool themselves into a complacent somnambulate state of being, seeing
nothing but the luxury around them. Struggles of race, class, and ethnicity
are the tensions we are all "running" from, but at some point we have to
confront these problems head on. The video for "Drop" doesn't have as
much of an agenda, but is equally innovative in it's presentation. The
entire video is shot backwards, which sounds easy to comprehend but really
isn't. Any time the members are shown vocalizing, they had to practice
saying the words in reverse. Any time the members are shown jumping
towards the camera, they had to time it to jump away from it at
the right moment and in the right direction. What's even more incredible
is that even though the video is no doubt edited through clever camera
transitions a la Xzibit's "What U See is What U Get" it's hard for the
viewer to discern it, as the entire thing flows almost seamlessly from start
to finish - or in this case from finish to start. The lengths to which
The Pharcyde were willing to go as both musicians and entertainers
through clever music and thought-provoking videos is quite astounding.
Far too many videos today
follow a cookie cutter formula - big expensive cars, dimepiece models,
lots of gold and diamonds. The days when videos were as clever and
creative as these, or simply as entertaining as the "Fantasy Island"
parody that The Pharcyde seem to be implying with the "She Said" video
are far too hard for most overblown productions seen on MTV and BET
to recreate, despite how simple, budget conscious and entertaining they
could be. The DVD rounds out with some of their more obscure material,
such as the computer animated "Trust" video, which was probably pretty
sophisticated at the time but sadly looks like a bad episode of "Reboot"
by today's standards. From the DVD's main menu you can select a
subsection of three features, including a "She Said (Remix)" shot in
Amsterdam in 1996, the last video to feature the group as a foursome.
Delicious Vinyl also included two videos from Fat Lip's solo album,
"Worst Case Scenario" and the comical "What's Up Fatlip?" While this
is not the most extensive selection of bonus features to ever come
with a home video, it certainly makes up for the amount in terms of
the quality, as they are all worth watching. "Cydeways" is a great video
for fans of The Pharcyde as well as a must see for those who missed out
on some of the most innovative and refreshing concepts both musically
and visually that the group offered in the 1990's. It's remarkable
when you consider both the impact that they had, inspiring other
self-described "Left coast" artists to be more creative, and the lack
of impact they had considering how hip-hop kept getting more cliche
and self-referential as the 90's wore on into the 21st century.
Maybe today's artists could learn a thing or two from watching this DVD.
Content: 9 of 10
Layout: 7 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: July 19, 2005