The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Music Album Reviews

The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the singular comedic thrill of the Los Angeles rap group’s debut.

In 1992, legendary stand-up comic Richard Pryor began work on new material in preparation for a tour. Appearing drawn and frail from multiple sclerosis and years of unruly living, Pryor performed sets at Los Angeles’ Comedy Store while sitting in an easy chair. He sometimes relied on the arm of his assistant to guide him to his place under the lights on stage.
Like the first heart attack in ’77 or the horrifying freebasing incident in ’80, the trials of his disease became part of the routine, and he joked freely about his body turning on him. How his 51-year-old dick no longer worked how he wanted. How it wasn’t unusual now, to piss himself. The personal moments of weakness and shame became a source of laughter among strangers at the small venue on the Sunset Strip.

Nearby, in a graffitied house near the USC campus of South Central L.A., the original members of the Pharcyde absorbed the eye-popping honesty and absurdity of the ribald albums Pryor cut in the ’70s. Holed up at the digs they dubbed the Pharcyde Manor, they worked on their debut album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde over the better part of 1992, elaborating on a demo made up of three gems: “Passin’ Me By,” “Officer,” and “Ya Mama.” Pryor’s language, gathered from bits like “White and Black People” and “Black Funerals,” showed up in their lyrics and in the production, sampled from vinyl. He was their spiritual kin.

Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde remains one of the most boisterous and creative acts of adolescent knuckleheadedness and confession in hip-hop history. The album, released in November of 1992, is as much the product of the Black comedic tradition as it is a continuation of the sample-drunk playfulness of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, or the Digital Underground’s Sex Packets. It borrows from the past, delights in the present, and anticipates the future. One song (“Ya Mama”) consists entirely of the Dozens, a dissing game that leaves no mother spared and no friend free from embarrassment. It’s an album of outrageousness, the kind that brings tears squeezing through the creases around your eyes because your friend just said the smartest stupid shit you’ve ever heard. And instead of the moment dissipating like weed smoke, it’s laid down permanently on wax.

“I suppose the first thing I was allowed to laugh at without fear of repercussion was myself,” the L.A.-born novelist and poet Paul Beatty wrote in the introduction to Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. Pryor recounts a similar realization in his autobiography, Pryor Convictions: “I sat on a railing of bricks and found that when I fell off on purpose everyone laughed.” A dog walked through the yard to defecate and Pryor improvised: “I got up, ran to my grandmother, and slipped in the dog poop. It made Mama and the rest laugh again. Shit, I was really onto something then. So I did it a second time….That was my first joke. All in shit.”

Running counter to the steely-eyed displays of power on Ice-T and N.W.A. records, Bizarre Ride is full of self-deprecation and ego deflation; the group is almost aggressive in their willingness to talk about masturbation and STDs (“If Magic can admit he got AIDS, fuck it: I got herpes”), about the molecular-level hurt of heartbreak, about generally coming off as weirdo punks. Like Pryor, they’d found that “human untidiness” (to use Hilton Als’ apt description) was good fodder, especially when you didn’t take the dripping, nasty stuff very seriously.

Before getting into rapping full time, most of the MCs in the Pharcyde entered the revolving door of show business through dance, and none could be accused of taking shit too seriously. Trevant “Slimkid3” Hardson linked with Emandu “Imani” Wilcox at Torrance’s El Camino College in the late 1980s—Tre an Elco student, and Imani still a high school senior. Both made their living as dancers, frequenting local clubs, chasing after young ladies, and scoping other crews. They had some interest in making music, but in a lackadaisical, adolescent fashion; they needed guidance.

A local after-school music program for aspiring musicians and entertainers called the South Central Unit (SCU) would provide a new structure and setting for their ambition. Juan Manuel Martinez, a teenage R&B producer known as J-Swift, introduced them to SCU, which occupied three bungalows in Inglewood and housed a mirrored room for dance rehearsals, a recording studio, and various musical equipment. Bankrolled by Reggie Andrews, who had produced and co-written smashes like the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip,” SCU became the Pharcyde’s home base and incubator. (Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, and Terrace Martin also studied at SCU.)

Soon, Romye “Bootie Brown” Robinson, from Pasadena, and Derrick “Fatlip” Stewart, from Fairfax, rounded out the crew. Most of the guys still danced in music videos and at competitions to make money, but with Andrews and J-Swift in the picture, music became the mission. J-Swift would produce (using samples culled from Andrews’ massive record collection); Tre, Imani, Romye, and Fatlip would rap; and Andrews would help navigate the industry side. (Andrews was soon replaced by a younger guy, Paul Stewart, who had managed House of Pain and was more familiar with the rap game.)

“We danced for Tone Loc,” Romye told journalist Andrew Barker in his 33 1/3 book on Bizarre Ride. “You know how rappers used to have all these niggas boogying in the background? We were the niggas in the background, boogying.” The dance circuit, with all its auditions, was a grind, even if it did earn them a couple appearances as “Fly Guys” on In Living Color. By the time the crew was ready for record label auditions, they’d started to feel the burnout. “I feel like we performed for every record label that meant anything,” Tre recalled to Barker. “We got fed up.”

Maxed out on performing for industry suits, the group put together a different routine for one memorable audition. They bought one-piece mechanic’s coveralls and wore them without anything underneath. “And on our asses we wrote the name of our band, right down to the last ass,” Tre told Barker—one letter per cheek. When the performance was over, they doffed the coveralls and literally showed their asses. Then they walked out.

The accounts differ, but at some point in the late ’60s, Richard Pryor reached a breaking point onstage at a Las Vegas club. He couldn’t do the whitewashed, punchline-dependent comedy he’d been told was the only way he would make it, and he abruptly quit at the start of his set. As he recalled in his autobiography, “I asked myself, ‘Who’re they looking at, Rich?’... And in that flash of introspection when I was unable to find an answer, I crashed… I turned and walked off the stage.” After that, he started being Richard Pryor.

He released albums with titles like That Nigger’s Crazy and Craps (After Hours). The cover of the latter depicted Pryor among an intergenerational group of Black people, throwing dice on a felt table under cheap yellow light, in casual defiance of the “No Gambling” sign hanging in the background. It’s the kind of grubby and fertile nightlife scene he knew from his childhood in Peoria, Illinois, where he was raised by his grandmother among the network of whorehouses she ran. This is the material the Pharcyde used for inspiration when recording their debut.

The first voice heard on Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is Pryor’s. Sampled from a bit about Sugar Ray Robinson on Craps, he delivers the project’s mission statement: “Oh shit!” After J-Swift’s brief instrumental intro fades out, Pryor’s exclamation cuts into the dead air. Then the drums come in as the group incredulously repeats the phrase after him, introducing their premier posse cut, “Oh Shit.” Tre jumps in first, beginning his verse by flipping the “Little Sally Walker” nursery rhyme into something dirty, fitting only for the back of the school bus or the loudest table in the lunchroom.

Tre’s voice undulates with melodic possibility—he’s on the verge of becoming a singer, if only he’d let a little more vibrato in. (His bittersweet solo cut “Otha Fish” is a perfect song in part because he finally does.) His verse reaches its punchline when, while seemingly alone with a "brown-eyed bombshell," he’s instead caught having sex by his entire school; J-Swift embellishes the moment with another wry Pryor bit: “He came and went at the same time.”

Sampling aside, J-Swift’s musicality is one of the most impressive parts of his production. His beats are never simple loops, but almost always complex productions that evolve over the course of the song. Bouncing in like a rubber ball, Imani joyfully squeaks through a verse about sleeping with his friend Greg’s mom, who is eager but also sort of frightening, undercutting the alleged bravado of the act a bit. (Of course, Greg catches them, doggy-style, on the living room couch: “Oh shit!”) Then, after Imani’s verse, a darker piano bit enters the mix to set up Fatlip.

Another Pryor sample appears—“son of a bitch”—and Fatlip describes one summer evening on Crenshaw Boulevard with a trans woman. It’s not difficult to imagine the verse devolving into something violent in the hands of a different artist; Fatlip, on the other hand, feels tricked but laughs at his situation. The verse isn’t exactly sensitive—it clumsily distorts transphobia into a punchline—but its ignorance acknowledges his own insecurity. Each verse of “Oh Shit” gestures to the anxiety underneath macho posturing about sex. (Coincidentally, their muse also once spun a bit about guys too afraid to ask if their partners had come.)

That soft underbelly is exposed fully on “Passin’ Me By,” the group’s highest-charting single and that rare sort of song that can reasonably take credit for entire careers. (Where would the puppy-dog wistfulness of early Drake have come from if “Passin’ Me By” hadn’t existed?) A miraculous simp anthem, “Passin’ Me By” tells four tales of unrequited love that leaves everyone with their dignity intact. J-Swift’s beat is a marvel of wonky craftsmanship, combining several different samples into a creaky framework for the guys to empty the lowest moments of their young lives into. They share their wisdom too: “I guess a twinkle in her eye is just a twinkle in her eye”—cold comfort to live by.

“Passin’ Me By” isn’t the first rap song about wanting love, but it refuses the smooth bravado of LL Cool J or the ridiculousness of Biz Markie. The guys sound sincerely wounded by unrequited desire. It’s the sort of tenderness that was not very hip-hop—or, as Fatlip used to say during the recording of the album: “This shit ain’t bangin’ in the hood.”

On their Bizarre Ride, the members of the Pharcyde gleefully run around a cartoonish version of Southern California with pins, popping norms like balloons. Traditional masculinity, being hard, being a player: pop, pop, pop. At a time when Los Angeles hip-hop was typified by gangsta rap as heard on Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic, Bizarre Ride is fearlessly quotidian and relatively low-stakes. Even “Officer,” their irreverent homage to Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” turns the real peril of operating a motor vehicle as a Black male into a comic escapade.

Though the album is not without its tensions. Immediately after “Oh Shit,” the first skit, “It’s Jigaboo Time,” begins. It’s a queasy number that lists the acts that would earn an artist the titular epithet and was surely inspired by the group’s experience on the dance-and-rap audition track. “You’re rapping for the white man,” Fatlip spits out. At one point, the guys discussed naming themselves the Jigaboos instead of the Pharcyde. “We just felt like no matter what, when you’re up there on stage you’re definitely being exploited, and you’re definitely lining someone else’s pockets,” Imani told Brian Coleman in his book Check the Technique. Musically, the skit shakes itself to pieces, with brutal piano stabs and cymbal crashes before the final line: “But we’re all jigaboos in our way,” delivered sweetly, like a deranged kindergarten teacher. “So might as well just get paid.” Then it’s back to the show.

Simply put, every track plays its part; the skits just as necessary as the songs. If De La Soul’s Prince Paul admired the heart-rendering audio journey that concludes Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” for its virtuosity and verisimilitude, the skits on Bizarre Ride succeed because they are absolutely what they appear to be: the pure shenanigans of friends fucking around. Recorded during an hours-long jam session arranged by J-Swift and edited into digestible interludes after the fact, the skits find the guys rethinking the U.S. presidency and improvising a blunted Tin Pan Alley ditty about the impending arrival of their beloved weed dealer, Quinton. It’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” for indica enthusiasts, wedged tightly into the sofa cushions.

For an album with so many jokes, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the first days of recording Tre stood in the booth at Hollywood Sound and cried. Suddenly overcome by the enormity of creating an album—“This is gonna exist forever,” he thought—Tre broke down. Granted, he was very high, but still, there’s something important to acknowledge here. Being funny is hard work that can be too easily dismissed, especially in hip-hop. Maybe it’s because the genre has fought for artistic credibility for so long, maybe it’s because of rock-critic values, but “serious” work tends to get the accolades. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is the exception that proves the rule.

The early work of Kanye West, so willing to make the corny joke or memorialize a mundane experience like wanting to fight the manager at your lousy job, bears Bizarre Ride’s influence (Kanye once named it his favorite album). What is J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz” if not a Pharcyde song with less slapstick? Is it not possible to draw a direct line from Fatlip’s deranged prank-call verse on “4 Better or 4 Worse” to Eminem’s murderous fantasies to the first releases from Odd Future?

After the album’s release, the group spoke with The Source. “Your album didn’t really have a message, right?” the interviewer began. “There’s lots of hidden, secret messages. You can’t hear them?” Romye replied. It was easy to mistake their jokes for a lack of substance. But on Bizarre Ride, humor was a way of processing anxiety and pain; a tool to show self-deprecation isn’t always the inverse of self-aggrandizement. Like their hero Pryor, it was a way to make themselves the larger-than-life center of attention, to give their struggles and fears their due.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Music Album Reviews The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, December 06, 2020 Rating: 5

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