On the 25th anniversary of The Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, 33 1/3 author Andrew Barker gives us a glimpse at the greatness of this hip-hop foursome and their debut album.
Twenty five years ago today, Los Angeles’ inimitable oddballs The Pharcyde released Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, their first and unquestionably greatest album. There’s something bittersweet about watching such a touchstone of youthful exuberance and melancholy cross the quarter-century mark. Not only because the album was so pioneering that it would probably be an even bigger hit if it were released today, and not only because its members were just barely out of their teens when they recorded it. But also because by the time they hit the 25-year milestone in their own lives, the group’s original four members were in the process of fracturing. 1995’s Labcabincalifornia was the last time The Pharcyde’s classic lineup managed to record together, and while stalwarts Imani and Bootie Brown have continued to carry the torch as The Pharcyde to this day, and renegade members Fatlip and Tre have toured together doing songs from the Pharcyde catalog, the alchemy that they and brilliant producer J-Swift managed to summon together 25 years ago now feels as distant as the George H. W. Bush presidency and the Showtime-era Lakers.
Fortunately, the studio evidence of their old quicksilver magic is still just an iPhone tap or a needle drop away. But ask anyone who was there at the time, and they’ll tell you: The Pharcyde in concert was something else entirely. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering the group started off as a dance crew, and they secured the services of their first manager, Paul Stewart, by performing “Ya Mama” for him a cappella in his hotel, tearing around the room and literally bouncing off the furniture. But spend a little time studying their peculiar brand of barely contained onstage chaos – in which the lines between carefully choreographed routine and telepathic group improvisation continually blur, the group always in sync while seeming to be just one tiny miscue away from falling apart – and you’ll wonder why the Pharcyde so rarely comes up in debates over hip-hop’s greatest live performers.
As longtime group associate Quentin Howze (immortalized on Bizarre Ride’s greatest skit, “Quinton’s on the Way,” and later to become their tour manager) explained it to me: “It was through [the Pharcyde’s early] shows that I got to understand the transference of energy. Later on, they would be on tour with some of these bigger, Platinum artists at the time, and they would have a better response from the audience – not necessarily because the songs were better, but just from their energy being transmitted.”
Tre put it more simply: “You could not fuck with our show. We weren’t playing. We did not fuck around. It was serious.”
Videos of The Pharcyde at their 1992 prime are infuriatingly hard to come by, but here are three choice renditions of Bizarre Ride cuts, as well as one from Labcabin, that give a glimpse of the greatness that most of us missed out on.