Back in June, Uncle Imani and Bootie Brown of The Pharcyde gave a doozy of an interview to Okayplayer's The Revivalist in which they detailed what drove a wedge between themselves and the group's other two members, Fatlip and Slimkid3. Though they listed many factors that contributed to the quartet whittling down to a duo, the usual suspects behind most group breakups ranked at the top: stubbornness, pride and oversized egos. The interview proved a disheartening read considering that it was just 20 years prior that the guys had released their game-changer of a debut with Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde.
To say that 1992 was a big year for hip hop would be an understatement. When Bizarre Ride was released in November of that year, it joined a host of other seminal albums that were dropped the same year. Common, Boogie Down Productions, Too Short, Ice Cube, U.G.K., House of Pain, Das EFX and Dr. Dre were just a few of the other artists that released albums in 1992. But what set The Pharcyde's debut apart from their counterparts, especially those also hailing from the West Coast, was what they didn't do. With most of the rap music coming from that region falling into the gangster rap category, The Pharcyde provided a much more lighthearted take. When everything felt so aggressive, especially in the months following the L.A. Riots, Fatlip, Tre, Imani and Bootie Brown were a refreshing change of pace, reminding us that it was still OK to have fun.
Their introduction to the world came via their debut single, and what an intro it was. "Ya Mama" was a full four-minute game of the dozens laid out over producer J-Swift's beat. The song's comedic spin caught the attention of many with its wacky and unique approach to rap music. Though we had been telling "ya mama" jokes for years, never before had an entire rap song revolved around it. Each member got their chance to shine with their own set of disses, their high-pitched vocals making the snaps seem that much funnier. Although "Ya Mama" never reached any of the Billboard charts, the video was in heavy rotation on such early '90 mainstays as Yo! MTV Raps, BET's Rap City and The Box.
However, it would be their second single that would earn the guys crossover success. When "Passing Me By" was first released, it gave listeners a chance to see another dimension of the group as they recounted past crushes that paid them little attention. Though there was still a humorous undertone, they were now pointing their fingers at themselves with all the self-deprecation of a lovelorn school kid. Regardless of age, race or background, anybody could identify with that feeling of going unnoticed by someone you've been pining away for. The video drove home the lonely feeling of rejection with its black and white image of the guys rapping upside down as they told their stories. The effects of "Passing Me By" continue to live on, with the song appearing on the soundtrack for 2008's NBA 2K9 video game. In 2010, it was recognized by Pitchfork as being one of the Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s, coming in at No. 41.
Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde was indeed that, a bizarre ride of an album far different from anything else out at the moment. Slimkid3, Fatlip, Imani and Bootie Brown became critically-acclaimed darlings with their eccentric storytelling styles. The album provided a much different perspective than what we had been accustomed to with their tales of finding themselves in sticky sexual situations, prank calling and drunken nights. Even their interludes were filled with ridiculous fun, with a visit from the weed man resulting in a jazzy, scat-filled sing-a-long. The absurdity of their lyrics provided a levity that was missing from rap music at the moment. They came across like a group of obnoxiously funny college kids who let us in on their inside jokes. But beneath their wackiness, lay a group of guys with a genuine love of hip hop that helped redefine the musical landscape.
From start to finish, Bizarre Ride felt more like you had stumbled upon a house party where the only requirement for entry was to expect the unexpected. There's always the group of folks who show up strictly to party to songs like "Return of the B-Boy" and "Soul Flower" with their uptempo grooves. Then there's the group that sits in the corner and engages in a ruthless game of trash talking that usually gets going once the drinks start flowing like on "Ya Mama." Then of course, towards the end of the night, there are always the introspective drunks who start revisiting their tales of heartbreak as The Pharcyde does on "Otha Fish." No matter which group you would fall into at this most awesome of house parties, you'd end the night sweaty and satisfied (and hopefully with a few numbers in your pocket).
Twenty years after the album's release, listening to Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde can still elicit giggles and headshakes of disbelief at some of the things they talk about. But even in the midst of all that, it can still make you nod your head, a true testament to the timelessness of the music they once created.