The Los Angeles-based quartet, The Pharcyde released their debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in 1992 and, slowly but surely, were able to build up momentum and not only turn the album into a belated critical darling, but also a commercial success, as it would go on to earn the group a gold plaque (you can read my full thoughts on their debut album right here). Three years later, The Pharcyde would return, releasing their sophomore effort, Labcabincalifornia.
The Pharcyde (who were very involved with the debut album’s production) would be responsible for producing about a half of the songs on Labcabin, while a young up and coming kid from Detroit named Jay Dee aka J-Dilla (who would soon become one-third of the production team, The Ummah, along with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad; Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) would produce most of the other half. Labcabin would bear fruit to a couple of hit singles, but was unable to build on the commercial success of their debut, even though it received mostly positive reviews and reception from the fans. Rumor has it that there were some internal issues going on with the group during the recording of Labcabin, which was probably true, since Fatlip would leave the group soon after the album’s release.
Regardless of how you feel about Labcabin, all hip-hop heads can respect it for being the first project to introduce one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all-time to the world. Rest easy, J-Dilla.
Bullshit – The Pharcyde kick things off with a chilled Dilla produced groove, as they encourage the listener to leave all the bullshit behind and enjoy life, and the music currently playing in your ear. Curiously, Fatlip sits this one out and the rest of the team is joined by their homeboy, Suave who adds a fourth verse. Even though it would have been nice to hear all four members together to open the album, this was still dope, and Dilla’s infectious groove is guaranteed to keep your head bobbin’ while you rap/sing along with the catchy hook.
Pharcyde – All four members of The Pharcyde show up for this one to talk their shit and rep for the team over a sufficient Bootie Brown produced backdrop. The hook was trash, but overall this was decent.
Groupie Therapy – The song title is a clever play on words. Diamond D gets his only production credit of the evening, as he provides a dope semi-zany instrumental that The Pharcyde use as their therapist couch to work through their issues with female groupies. This felt like more of the vibe The Pharcyde was on for Bizarre Ride, which isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed this one.
Runnin’ – This was the lead single from Labcabin and probably the biggest hit on the album. Jay Dee slides The Cyde a masterpiece of an instrumental (the way Dilla masterfully slices, cuts and stiches together three different loops from an obscure jazzy Samba record for this backdrop is truly impressive) that they use to chop it up about manning up and facing the problems life throws at you. A great message, music and execution is the formula for making a classic record.
She Said – Slimkid’s responsible for this smooth jazzy groove that he and Fatlip use to rap about the objects of their erections. This was dope, but the creamy Dilla remix is way yummier.
Splattitorium – This works as more of an extended interlude than an actual song. On the first half of it, Imani raps and semi-sings praises to Mary Jane over a somberly smooth Dilla instrumental. The second half morphs into Imani scating about a bunch of random nothingness. So just sit back and relax for three minutes (put an L in the sky if that’s your thing) and get lost in the laidback tantalizing vibes of Dilla’s beautiful soundscape.
Somethin’ That Means Somethin’ – Imani sits this one out as the rest of the crew uses this one to spit meaningful lyrics, as the title suggest. All three emcees turn in passable verses, but Dilla’s dope instrumental (once again) is the true star of this one; his disgusting bass line is guaranteed to make you screw your face while you nod your head, heavily.
All Live – A funky little interlude that features a cameo from ODB. Wait…that’s not ODB?
Drop – This was the second single from Labcabin, and if “Runnin'” isn’t the biggest hit from the album this is; and if “Runnin'” isn’t Dilla illest beat on Labcabin, this is. Brown, Slimkid and Imani use Dilla’s brilliant backdrop (that seems to bend, reverse, pause and levitate without missing a beat) to discuss, in a nutshell, wack emcees and losing/selling your soul. This is a timeless bonafide hip-hop classic.
Hey You – I didn’t care much for Slimkid and Imani’s content, but I love Tre’s chilled-out instrumental.
Y? – Bootie Brown concocts a jazzy and somber instrumental (with a co-credit going to Jay Dee) that the group use to spit verses that rhetorically ask why certain things happen during this experience called life. It’s definitely not the strongest song on the album, but I still enjoyed it, mostly for the soothing instrumental.
It’s All Good – This short interlude finds the Pharcyde faux-crooning over some nasty funk guitar riffs and soulful black church organ chords, which makes for a delicious snack in between songs.
Moment In Time – Over a beautiful melancholic instrumental (courtesy of someone named M-Walk), Slimkid shares one quick verse dedicated to all his peeps that passed away, while he and an uncredited female vocalist sandwich his verse with some soothing singing. This one sounds as sad as I remembered it, and I still love it.
The Hustle – The Pharcyde animatedly dedicate this one to all the people out in these streets hustlin’ to make a living. Technically, it’s not The Pharcyde, since the only member of the group to take part in this record is Bootie Brown (who also produced the song), who’s joined by Schmooche, Randy Mac and Big Boy (not to be confused with Big Boi from Outkast, though his presence on this record might have worked, considering the subject matter and all). I didn’t care much for the verses, but the buttery melodic backdrop still sounds very scrumptious.
Little D – Our hosts invite Suave and his six year old son, Little D (there’s a joke in there, but I won’t touch it…and just like that, another door opens to a joke) to the studio to take part in this very uncomfortable interlude that finds The Pharcyde and Suave coaching the little whippersnapper to curse and talk like a pimp, while Slimkid talks to him about picking “up some little kindergarten bitches”. This was not only distasteful, but not funny, either.
Devil Music – Fatlip hooks up an upbeat instrumental with dark overtones, as he, Tre and Bootie Brown take turns abstractly expressing their disdain for the music industry that has them putting their “souls on 2 inch reels that they don’t even own”. It sounds like they weren’t only beefing with each other at the time, but also the label. Regardless, they turn the beef, turmoil and soul selling into a great record with a clever song title that sounds even better when played after midnight.
The E.N.D. – The Pharcyde ends Labcabin with a fitting song title and a creamy melodic groove, courtesy of M-Walk. Slimkid and Fatlip sit this one out, as Imani and Bootie Brown are joined by their homeboy, Kamau and the trio talk about the end times and preparing for it. On paper it sounds kind of bleak, but it’s actually a feel good celebratory record. I could listen to this instrumental to the, um, end of time and never get tired of it.
I’ve heard some criticize Labcabincalifornia for being too mature to the point that The Pharcyde sound boring on the album, but I actually enjoyed this mature and wiser version of the group more than the animated and whimsical feel they gave us on the Bizarre Ride. Not only did The Pharcyde’s rhymes mature since Bizarre Ride, but the instrumentals also blossomed, and though the bulk of them have a more somber and darker feel than their debut, they also sound more layered and complete, which can largely be credited to the production presence of Jay Dee. Like most albums, there are a few joints that could have been left on the cutting room floor, but the thought-provoking content coupled with the phenomenal batch of instrumentals makes Labcabincalifornia a great sophomore effort from The Pharcyde, and song for song, a stronger album that it’s predecessor.