Out of the folks I’ve done First Listens for this week, the Pharcyde is the group I know the least about. Other than a few mentions of their music at various points in my life, I’ve never heard anything from them or heard anything more about them other than “they’re one of the best hip hop groups ever.” I wanted to find an artist or group from California to bring in a little bit of the West Coast for this week, with my original plan being to listen to The Chronic (1992), but it was too long lol. So in my search for a shorter project and one with a little less Snoop Dogg, I came across Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (1992). Led by a couple of solid singles, Bizarre Ride is considered one of the best albums to come out of Cali in the early 90s, so i decided to give it a listen.
1992: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
There was a comment under the Genius lyrics for one of the songs on the project that said “all [the] songs on this album have useless rapgenius descriptions…” and honestly…that’s really the vibe of this entire thing lol. While I was reading through the lyrics, I actively had to stop and ask myself if I was just in a state of delusion because I started listening to this at 4am (lol it’s wash day, again) or if the lyrics just weren’t making sense lol. It was probably a little bit of both, but primarily the latter. And it’s not really that the lyrics don’t make sense, it’s just that everything about this project feels all over the place. I started thinking about salad spinners around 4th track on this project. I’ve never used a salad spinner before, but I can only imagine that those leaves of lettuce feel exactly how I felt trying to make sense of this project.
But something that I started thinking about as I reached the end of this project was how refreshing this was to listen to. I think, when most of us think of 90s LA hip hop (especially hip hop coming out of South Central LA), people like Tupac and N.W.A. come to mind. Raw, no nonsense bars about drugs, guns, and gang culture, on top of heavy-hitting production. And that makes sense. The music is a reflection of the environment that it comes out of. However, I love that the Pharcyde gave us something lighter on this project. They actually poke fun at that expectation – and the general consumption – of that stereotypical gangster-rap character and music on “It’s Jiggaboo Time.” I’ve probably mentioned this before on here, but I know I’ve mentioned it elsewhere (here lol), but part of the appeal that hip hop has for a lot of people is that ability to take a vacation into a certain type of Black experience. Non-Black folks – and Black folks who didn’t grow up in those areas – are able to listen to the music and be transported to Compton or Chicago or Brooklyn and feel like they’re witnessing Blackness and Black people in their natural habitat, “ooh and ahh” at the spectacle, and then return to their regular lives unscathed. That’s part of the reason why “hood films” were coming out so frequently in the 90s. I was talking about this with some folks a couple of weeks ago, and someone brought up Vince Staples’s video for “FUN!” as a great visual example of this dynamic.
What the Pharcyde does on Bizarre Ride is give us a narrative completely separate from that. In fact, there’s barely any consistent narrative at all. It’s really just a group of friends having fun making music together. They’re not worried about upholding the lyrical legacy of N.W.A. or telling a story that fuels our dreams and ideas of what it means to grow up in South Central. And this is a project that could have very EASILY not worked out. But the chemistry that the folks in Pharcyde have on this project makes it work. They laugh at each other, throw random adlibs during other people’s verses – it’s really an enjoyable experience. It feels like a moment where you can just let your hair down and enjoy; at one point I stopped looking at the lyrics entirely because I felt like I was doing myself a bit of a disservice by trying to decipher meaning, instead of just enjoying the project.
And I think that’s actually a really important thing to remember with anything, especially when interacting with music and art. I think there’s a little bit of pressure to always make something that can be sociopolitcally digested or has some long-winded message about this or that. And those things are fine! I’ve talked about plenty of those types of projects on thursday email, and I will always be a big fan of art that allows room for conversations to happen; often, art is what makes those conversations accessible to people who wouldn’t know those conversations were happening in the first place. But art should also be FUN. I think that’s so important – especially now. I was thinking the other day about the pressure of commodifying the things we create. I think there was a Tumblr post – that was potentially a screenshot from Twitter – that mentioned that internet culture has perpetuated the idea that you need to always be looking for a side hustle and how that mindset is dangerous to being able to actually create for the sake of enjoyment. And what a message that is.
Bizarre Ride is a continued reminder of the importance of having fun, and the guys do that over some really cool and jazzy, hip-hop production. There’s jokes on this project – they spend a whole track telling yo’ momma jokes (which reminded me of “Lookin’ Boy” by Hot Stylz, y’all remember that song??), random stories of introducing children to weed, whatever is going on in “On the DL,” and fantasizing about how the guys of the Pharcyde would handle being President. But don’t get me wrong, there are some songs on here that feel less sporadic, like “Soul Flower (Remix),” “Otha Fish,” and the New York hip hop-inspired “Return of the B-Boy” that show off the real talent that the Pharcyde has. Those songs still have a lightness to them, but they feel a bit more solid.
Overall, I really enjoyed Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. As WILD as it is, it’s a testament to what you can do when you’re just having fun with the homies. You might mess around and make an incredible project.
Featured Image Credit: https://www.last.fm/music/The+Pharcyde/+images/625685cbae71431f943b1fa7d9c22f6a
(listen to Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde on spotify by clicking the image below)
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