Some albums become classics by transcending their time. Others becomes classics by embodying their time. In 1992, recorded hip-hop turned 13, the age at which the bizarre ride of adolescence is ushered in with the a sonic boom of hormones, adrenaline and inspiration. Coincidentally, ’92 was the year when a generation of hip-hop fans that would grow to become arguably the most passionate and devoted to ever embrace the genre turned roughly the same age. No album embodies that ride, with all it’s madcap mischief, unrequited loves, and fearless experimentation quite like the Pharcyde’s debut, which exploded into the hip-hop Zeitgeist, perfectly timed, in late 1992.
Twenty-years later, hip-hop is a grown-ass man, complete with high blood pressure, lower back pain, and a cynicism that grows increasingly bitter with each child support payment docked from its already modest paycheck. Yet, it seems a fitting, even necessary time for Delicious Vinyl to re-issue Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, re-mastered, and complete with remixes, B-Sides and instrumentals.
From the moment the frantic drums and whimsical bass line of “Oh Shit,” erupt from the speakers, it’s hard not to slip back to a time when sexcapades gone wrong were still exhilarating, and as the giddily rendered narratives of the four MCs remind us, they pretty much all went wrong. “For Better Or Worse” floats along with the innocence of puppy love, thanks to the playful story telling of SlimKid3 and Imani, along with J-Swift’s jazz tinged production, but goes hilariously dark when Fatlip closes the track with a prank phone call that turns into a trip through the id of the adolescent mind. And, of course, the all-time classic, “Passin’ Me By” still resonates just as strongly as the day it dropped, with each MC delivering vignettes of equal parts humor, heartbreak and hope, reminding us that the purest loves are often those that go unrequited. Thanks to the re-mastering, the intricacy with which the song’s three main samples are woven together is made more readily apparent, serving as a reminder that J-Swift’s work behind the boards was an underrated element of the album’s magic.
The second disc, containing an instrumental version of the album gives Swift his rightful showcase, highlighting several groundbreaking moments, including one of the first uses of a Fender Rhodes on a hip-hop track on “For Better or For Worse.” But, it’s the third disc, overflowing with rarities, that truly captures the freedom that fueled hip-hop’s creative explosion in those early teen years. From the beat jacker’s wet dream of the sample-laden “Soul Power (2 tha 3 Mix)” to the inspired lunacy of the alternate vocal takes on “Ya Mama” (J-Swift Remix), it’s clear that publishing rights and radio demographics had not yet entered the equation, and the now extinct B-Side provided the perfect canvas against which to throw the craziest shit, in hopes that some of it would stick. When it does, you get gems like the goofily jazzy “Otha Fish” (The Angel Mix). When it doesn’t quite–like on the superfluous “Soul Flower” (Dogs B*ll*cks)–it’s still hard not to get caught up in the fun the foursome seems to be having just getting their hands dirty.
Within a few years, hip-hop had come of age, fully indoctrinated into the music-industrial complex. Even as production and lyricism continued to mature, an undercurrent of world-weariness began to mute the unbridled energy that had made the ride so inspiringly bizarre. Perhaps fittingly, The Pharcyde’s own 1995 sophomore outing, LabinCabinCalifornia while musically and substantively more sophisticated than Bizarre Ride II, proved a much less enjoyable trip.
Once grown up, it’s impossible to be a kid again, though hip-hop, like many approaching middle age, has had more than a few embarrassing moments while trying. But, popping open The Pharcyde’s musical time capsule might just make that lower back pain a little more tolerable for a couple of hours. Or until that next child support payment is due.
– Jeff Harvey