This week’s underappreciated musicians are a rap quartet that released two refreshingly original albums in the 90’s.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of rap music. I find the lyrics mostly self-aggrandizing and tiresome, and most of the background music (or, in most cases, noise) unoriginal and repetitive. For me to like a rap artist or group, it really takes something innovative and artistic, and I just don’t see how bragging about oneself over recycled drums and samples qualifies as art. I enjoy Outkast for their (usually) thought provoking lyrics and use of a variety of instruments, I like Wu-Tang Clan for their over-the-top grittiness, and, although I’ve never bought an album, I sometimes enjoy the way Jay-Z and Eminem are able to weave together rhyming phrases in a way that actually makes sense.
I can’t remember when I first heard The Pharcyde, but I know it was their second album, 1995’s Labcabincalifornia, that I heard first. During a time when the rap scene was dominated by Snoop, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Biggie, and all of that lame-ass gangsta rap, The Pharcyde (Imani, Bootie Brown, Fatlip, and Slimkid3) emerged with a different take on things. I liked it from the get-go.
These guys talked about things to which I could actually relate. I’m sorry, but unless you were literally in a gang, the gangsta rap style that was so popular was just a fairytale. The Pharcyde told stories about their struggles with girls, about trying to stand up for yourself when you don’t quite fit in, and they weren’t too proud to show off how hilarious they were. When the did delve into boasting, it was always done tongue-in-cheek. These were they guys you wanted to hang out with. They could be serious, but never took themselves too seriously. You’d probably find Snoop, Dre, and Biggie up in the VIP room at the club, but The Pharcyde would be out on the dance floor with the rest of us, throwing back drinks and having a blast. The life of the party.
Speaking of parties, listening to the group’s 1992 debut album, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, puts you right in the middle of one. There aren’t many albums that are guaranteed to put a smile on my face, but this is one of them. The group’s chemistry is on full display here, as they constantly play off one another, cracking jokes and sharing stories, all the while keeping a masterful lyrical flow.
There might not have been a better rap group at matching the lyrical content with the mood of the instrumentation underneath the vocals. At times mellow, at times jazzy and smooth, and at times off-the-wall, the musical production reflected the quartet’s personalities perfectly. They did use some samples, but they didn’t rely on them.
The Pharcyde did have some modest success, both critically and commercially, but they were never as popular as they should have been. Chalk it up to bad timing, as their style just didn’t fit in to what was considered cool at the time. The group split up after Labcabincalifornia and released a couple of forgettable albums in the 2000’s. But their first two releases will always have a home on my playlist.
Check out the classic video for 1995’s “Drop.”