First, there was four. The four were good. The four were The Pharcyde. Slim Kid Tre, Fat Lip, Imani and Romye a.k.a. Booty Brown made one hell of a hip-hop barbershop quarter. Their “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” debut in 1992 would be an unheralded hip-hop classic, were it not for the fact that it IS heralded. Their use of fat and jazzy beats paired with hilarious rhymes and skits made them a refreshing change of pace from the often much too serious West coast gangster rap scene. Not many albums can be said to change the game by completely rewriting the rules, but their debut did for the Cali rap scene what “Enter the Wu-Tang” did for New York. Unfortunately by waiting three years to release their follow-up “Labcabincalifornia” the group lost momentum, and the album was largely overlooked. In the five additional years that followed, the four slimmed down to three as Fat Lip left for a solo career. “Plain Rap” was released to mixed reviews, featuring some stellar production but sounding much less inspired lyrically. Four more years have passed, and now the three have been whittled down to two, as Slim Kid Tre decided to seek his fortunes elsewhere. Despite their shrinking ranks The Pharcyde have pressed on. They now seek their fortunes by appealing to the marijuana crowd, a fact proven by the album’s title “Humboldt Beginnings.” Rap group Potluck targetted the same audience with their album “Humboldt County High” in 2003, since it’s an area of California well known to be more Green than Ralph Nader.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with embracing the sticky icky icky as musical inspiration, as it’s been successful for rappers from Cypress Hill to Snoop Dogg for years. Of course those same rappers didn’t rely solely on herb to get over. Were it not for top shelf beats, fly rhymes and vocal tones and deliveries that were appealing, they’d just be known as dopeheads instead of dope MC’s. And it’s certainly not unprecedented for The Pharcyde to profess their love for drugs, as their debut over a decade ago included a track called “Pack the Pipe” and a musical ode to their hook-up man called “Quinton’s on the Way.” The drug subculture was just a part of their overall package, but now the remaining duo called The Pharcyde have made it almost a singleminded obsession. One look at the song titles on this album should give you the idea: “Bongloads II,” “Mixedgreens,” “Clouds,” “The Bomb,” and “The Climb/Paranoia” among others. The album cover reflects this obsession as does the inner CD, whose artwork makes it look like a big ‘ol pile of greeny greens. I want to make it clear that I’m not making the issue out of this on purpose, but noting that The Pharcyde’s remaining members have gone so far as to include a “brownie” recipe on the inner fold of this CD, suggesting you add some special “flavorite” to your melted butter before making the mix. There’s no question what flavor that is.
No pun intended, but the result on “Humboldt Beginnings” is definitely a mixed bag. There are some dope tracks musically throughout. SpaceboyboogieX’s beats rock on “Storm,” the superbly smooth and refreshing track “Knew U,” the electronica and bass mixture of “Rules & Regulations,” the softly spoken “Right b4” and his solo “Clouds” instrumental. It should be noted that between these songs are unmarked and unlabelled skits, like track 16 where Opio from the Hieroglyphics talks about smoking “Some some some good good green y’knahmsayin?” Even when a song might occasionally take you away from their THC induced concepts, things are brought right back into blurry focus with intermissions like this. As far as the rapping goes, I hate to be the one to say it, but the two members left would have been dismissed by Anne Josephine Robinson as the “Weakest Link” if all four were on a gameshow. The most inspired Imani and Booty Brown get is probably on “Illusions” which features a live interpolation of “Just an Illusion” for them to rap over:
“I hate when niggaz be tryin to act all hard
when the cameras on, when the lights go off
they soft like lambskin or camelhair
Pharcyde gon’ clear the air and take you there
You know the routine, you know the episode
Makin cream, take your whole team to a
new city, got a new persona
Now you can be whoever, or whatever you wanna..”
Pharcyde’s come a long way since their early days of being trendsetters in hip-hop, but as it stands now the group really shouldn’t be called The Pharcyde at all. They may have two of the original foursome, but the dynamic that made them hot back in the 90’s is no longer there at all. What’s left is simply two decent to slightly above average rappers who sound like they’d be on the Project Blowed second line or the B-squad of the Hieroglyphics, limited to making cameo appearances and occasionally dropping a fat verse on some more prominent member’s shit. That’s really not enough to sustain a whole album, but you have to give them credit on “Humboldt Beginnings” for trying. To be fair there’s nothing really terrible about this album, nothing that would make your eyes roll back in your skull and your ears bleed profusely. It should also be noted they suffer by comparison to The Pharcyde of old. Still there’s no getting around the fact that beyond getting high, Booty Brown and Imani don’t have that much to say, whether the beats are up to par or not. Weed smokers may appreciate their loyalty to the herb, but dedicated fans of The Pharcyde hoping for a throwback album won’t find what they’re looking for.