There are, officially, four Pharcyde albums. But I'm going to follow in the footsteps of an old college friend of mine who liked to deny the existence of a third Godfather movie ("It would have been terrible — I mean, imagine if Winona Ryder had dropped out, forcing them to cast Sofia Coppola as Pacino's daughter?") and say there are really only two: 1995's Labcabincalifornia and its predecessor, 1992's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, the group's debut album, released 20 years ago this week. (If you heard it around that time, please take this opportunity to contemplate the alarming speed with which you're hurtling toward the grave. This is going to keep happening. Midnight Marauders and Enter the Wu-Tang both turn 20 next year; our commemoration-mad culture will not let you forget it. Deep breath.)
Bizarre Ride came out within a month of the most epoch-defining L.A. rap album of all time, Dr. Dre's solo debut The Chronic. It's convenient and tempting to view these albums, created in the same riot-torn city around the same time, as two sides of a coin — the hedonistic/nihilistic blockbuster that converted gangsta rap into a pop master-narrative and the goofball-surreal cult record whose self-deprecating sense of humor and no-joke songcraft poked holes in that narrative. The problem with that binary is that Bizarre Ride doesn't really have much to say about gangsta hegemony; when Fatlip, Imani, Bootie Brown, and Slimkid3 take satirical aim at their context, it's usually to mock the self-righteous solemnity of so-called "conscious" rap. Hence the voice insisting "We need some brothers to be, like, droppin' knowledge and writing good stuff" before "Ya Mama," a demented dozens routine ("Ya mama got snakeskin teeth!") complete with four-part barbershop harmony.