Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde - Review
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critics' view

In the early 1990s, west coast hip hop was, from the outside looking in, dominated by gangsta rap. The vibrations from N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton were still being felt; Ice-T’s O.G. Original Gangster album was huge; and 2Pac began his commercial ascent.

But Los Angeles-based foursome The Pharcyde presented a different sound, as inspired by jazz as it was characterised by crude but colourful humour. Murder is never the case – unless the slaying’s a metaphorical one, a few inspired put-downs towards someone else’s mother.

The lineage of the group’s 1992 debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, surely features A Tribe Called Quest’s jazz-flavoured second LP The Low End Theory, released in 1991 and, says ATCQ’s Q-Tip, partially inspired by N.W.A.’s …Compton masterwork. That might align The Pharcyde with gangsta rhymes on rap’s family tree. But one listen to Bizarre Ride… is all it takes for its individuality to leap out.

A respect for jazz musicians is apparent – Herbie Mann, John Coltrane and Donald Byrd are amongst the sampled artists – and J-Swift’s production encompasses classic soul sounds, too. The results are regularly well-layered, the listener enveloped in a soundworld that shifts at its own pace. Tracks are allowed to stretch, regularly breaking the five-minute barrier.

Puerile lyricism – Oh S***, Ya Mama – might drag proceedings down if it weren’t for the dazzling delivery of MCs Fatlip, Slimkid3, Imani and Bootie Brown. Sporadically there’s a palpable thread from occasionally dark themes to the graphic content of an Odd Future album. The menacing phone call of 4 Better or 4 Worse wouldn’t seem incongruous on a Tyler-and-crew cut.

Passin’ Me By was the hit – but the quality control throughout this set is remarkable. The Fatback Band-sampling Soul Flower (remix) is a sure-fire party starter; likewise the breathlessly traded lines of the James Brown-borrowing I’m That Type of N. Though rarely revered in the manner of 3 Feet High and Rising or It Takes a Nation of Millions…, the originality and bravado of Bizarre Ride… marks it as a classic of hip hop’s late-80s/early-90s period.

Mike Diver
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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