While the west coast may not be the originators of gangsta rap (that title is often credited to Philly native Schoolly D), there is no disputing that they innovated the style, adding their own left coast swag to it, and made the sub genre popular all over the globe. With the help of artist like Ice-T, N.W.A. Above The Law, Compton’s Most Wanted, Cypress Hill and Snoop Dogg, it became the west coast’s signature style, and by the early nineties you had all kinds of west coast artist popping up that would approach the mic with a gangsta persona. The Pharcyde was one of the few west coast artists to arrive on the scene in the early nineties and go against the grain.
Los Angeles natives Slimkid 3 (the “3” is pronounced “Tre”), Fat Lip, Imani and Bootie Brown were actually dancers before they ever thought about picking up the microphone. But thanks to a mentor who had an in-house recording studio, the foursome would soon start honing their mic skills, formed a group and begin recording. In 1991 Pharcyde’s three song demo would wind up in the hands of Delicious Vinyl co-founder Michael Ross, who loved it and quickly signed the quirky quartet to a deal. The Pharcyde would release their debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, in the winter of 1992.
The Pharcyde would let newcomer J-Swift (who actually produced the demos that got them signed) handle the bulk of the production duties, with a co-production credit going to themselves as well. Bizarre Ride wasn’t instantly deemed a critical or commercial success upon its release, but thanks in large part to one key hit single (that we’ll get to in a little bit), the album slowly begin to pick up steam. Though it took nearly 4 years, the album did earn the quartet a gold plaque and now many hail Bizarre Ride as a classic. But before we do that, let’s go back and revisit Bizarre Ride.
4 Better Or 4 Worse (Interlude) – Bizarre Ride opens with J-Swift playing the instrumental to “4 Better Or 4 Worse” on the piano. I remember listening to this back in the day and rewinding it over and over again, just to bask in its beauty. It sounds just as pleasing to the ears today as it did back then. If this is the last thing I hear before I die, I’ll leave this earth content; it’s that good.
Oh Shit – The Pharcyde officially begin their bizarre ride with this comical piece, as Slimkid 3, Imani and Fat Lip each take a verse to recall a sexual encounter that made them utter the two words in the song title. Decent song, but it’s probably one of my least favorite songs on the album.
It’s Jiggaboo Time (Skit) – When it comes to interludes and skits,Bizarre Ride probably has the best group of them on any album I’ve heard. Over dope piano keys provided by J-Swift, the boys throw out different actions that they equate to jiggaboo like behavior (does spelling jigaboo incorrectly count as jigaboo like behavior?). Side note: when they first got started, Pharcyde was thinking about naming the group True Jiggaboo, but decided it might be too controversial of a name. I think they made a wise choice.
4 Better Or 4 Worse – This is was the 4th and final single released from Bizarre Ride, and my second favorite song on the album. Over an airy and melodic instrumental filled with good vibes, Slim Kid and Imani spit metaphorical verses, comparing their commitment to hip-hop to a marriage between a man and a woman (maybe this was the blueprint to Common’s classic “I Used To Love Her, released a few years later?). Tre and Imani’s verses are decent but Fat Lip steals the show with his psychotic third verse (“I’ll take a hammer and start to drill your skull…and then I’ll really start picking…your brain cells I will be thinking…mmm…mmm…mmm…you taste so intelligent!”). By the way, Fat Lip’s portion in the video for this song is hi-larious. This is a timeless and very underrated record.
I’m That Type Of Nigga – Over an average instrumental, Pharcyde invites their buddy Buchwheat from the Wascals to join in this cipher joint, and in my opinion he delivers the best verse on the song. This is not a bad song, but it doesn’t really have a heart.
If I Were President (Skit) – Another skit over more dope J-Swift provided keys.
Soul Flower (Remix) – The original version was on the Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience album (read my thought on it here). I prefer the original, as I never cared much for this remix.
On The DL – No, this song isn’t about married men who cheat on their wives with other men. In the nineties the acronym was used to describe a person being low-key or keeping something a secret. Slimkid 3, Imani and their buddy Buckwheat, spit verses about different scenarios that they want to keep on the down low, but decided to share them with the world through song. This is still a dope song; I love the instrumental.
Pack The Pipe (Interlude) – Interlude.
Officer – Pharcyde takes a more lighthearted approach to a serious subject. Over a solid up-tempo backdrop our hosts spit rhymes about their run ins with the boys in blue. Decent.
Ya Mama – This was the lead single released from Bizarre Ride. The fellas use this one as a mama ranking session. A few of the jokes in their raps will make you chuckle but the best ones come at the end of the song when they stop rhyming and start throwing out mama jokes at each other (“your mama was an extra on The Simpson”). You can feel the fun they had recording this record.
Passing Me By – This was the second single and easily the biggest record on Bizarre Ride. Pharcyde beautifully articulates a situation most men can relate to: crossing paths with the perfect woman, but are not able to work up the nerves to approach her, for many different reasons. J-Swift and the gang throw together samples from Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Skull Snaps, Weather Report and Eddie Russ and turn them into a brilliantly blended instrumental. This is one of the top 10 hip-hop songs of all times. Yeah, I said it! Feel free to agree or debate me in the comments.
Otha Fish – This was the third single released from the album. Slimkid 3 gets the only solo song on Bizarre Ride, as he raps and sings the blues about a lover who’s left him heart-broken. The melancholy jazz flavored instrumental compliments Tre’s rhymes perfectly.
Quinton’s On The Way (Skit) – Another dope skit. Literally and figuratively. On this one the fellas sing praises to their weed man. Side note: Quinton actually tried to capitalize on his exposure from this skit and released a single “Quinton’s On The Way” on Tommy Boy. I don’t think an album ever materialized from it, though.
Pack The Pipe – By 1992, the weed dedication song was almost a perquisite for a hip-hop album; and Bizarre Ride is no exception to this rule, although they dude approach the subject in a slightly different manner than most. The instrumental was cool but I’ve never been a fan of this one.
Return Of The B-Boy – Pharcyde closes the album with a dedication to old school hip-hop, which in 1992 was considered the mid eighties. Time is illmatic. The fellas all adopt old school flows and use the old school call and response chants of yesteryear. Just like on “Ya Mama”, you can feel the brotherhood and fun these dudes were having; and that along with a dope instrumental, makes for a solid closing record for Bizarre Ride.
Bizarre Ride lives up to its name, as this is not your typical west coast nineties hip-hop album. There is no gangster posturing, drug dealing, or murder confessions on this album (well, there is one on “On The DL”, but it was done in self-defense). Instead you’ll hear a bit of emotion and heart-break mixed with a heaping helping of quirky lighthearted rhymes from four urban everyday Joes having fun expressing themselves through their music. They kind of remind me of an animated west coast version of A Tribe Called Quest, with their content and jazz tinged backdrops.
I personally don’t consider Bizarre Ride a classic album. J-Swift’s production is pretty solid throughout, and half of the songs on the album are actually great records. Occasionally, the foursome put together rhymes that match the quality of J-Swift’s instrumentals, but none of the fellas are great lyricists, so the other half of the songs end up sounding pretty average.