A Bizarre Ride Reflection by MC Till
I was reluctant, but I agreed. I would select and play 20 songs from Digable Planets during a Pharcyde vs Digable Planets song-for-song battle. Now I love Digable Planets and I think their sophomore album is better than The Pharcyde's sophomore effort. However, Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde is a near masterpiece exuding with synergy, creativity, and innovation. Of the four albums that were allowed during the battle (first two from both groups) I was confident that Bizarre Ride was the far superior album. Even though Digable Planets somehow won that battle, I’m still convinced that The Pharcyde’s debut is one of the greatest Hip-Hop albums of all time.
Musically it is perfect. It combines live instrumental interludes with sample heavy production for the 11 songs on the album. This combination of samples and instrumentation provides balance with just a touch of tension. It keeps us listeners on our toes. J-Swift, who did the majority of production, was amazing throughout. There is not a weak beat on this album. Musically it is filled with one high after another.
This was one reason I was reluctant to play the side of Digable Planets in that battle. A few months later I was asked to be part of a discussion around the samples found on Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde. This wasn’t a battle or anything like that. We simply found the samples via WhoSampled.com. We played the original sample and then played the Pharcyde song that utilized that sample. Oh, it was incredible as J-Swift perfectly used the technique of sampling on this album. I mean perfect.
One of my favorite samples on the album is on the opener, “Oh Sh*t.” They use an extremely short part of “Beale Street” by Donald Byrd, but did they ever make that short sample sing. Another example is how J-Swift and the crew utilized a few samples from Stanley Cowell. The first is a piano sample which sets off the album along with a lovely saxophone. Those sounds quickly transition into what sounds like a vibraphone sample which is one of my favorite sounds over a boom bap beat. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention “Passin Me By.” The bass, the organ chops, the crackle of the vinyl, the drums: perfection. Oh and then that horn sample on the hook with Fatlip darn near screaming “She keeps on passin’” while the voice changes over to a smooth crooner for the second part of the line, “me by.” The juxtaposition of that loud screaming voice and that super cool laid back voice captures the essence of this song. It is frustrating but also so beautiful. It is raw but also so smooth. It is how we live; in the tension of beauty and despair, of hope and apathy.
Cutting through the lackluster elements of our lives was their humor. The Pharcyde was fun and funny. A lot was happening in 1992 the year Bizarre Ride came out. Earlier in that year riots erupted in Los Angeles after four police officers were acquitted of violently beating Rodney King. That was no laughing matter. However, laughter can be a healing balm. The Pharcyde provided such healing. It wasn’t just in their single “Ya Mama”, an ode to playing the dozens, but also in how they formatted the album altogether. The album features a handful of ‘skits.’ Think of them less as skits and more as light hearted musical interludes. They made us feel like we were there, right there in the room jamming out to what felt like impromptu freestyles. Then of course we all were waiting and waiting on Quinton. I mean he was on the way and we were all for it. We couldn’t wait. I believe Quinton got a deal off the strength of that skit alone! That’s crazy if that’s true.
What I do know is true is that The Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is a triumph in originality. It took chances and won. Its sampling was magnificent. It was humorous and light, providing comfort to the distressed. It was all this and more. It was and is a classic album in my book featuring one of the greatest Hip-Hop songs in “Passin’ Me By.” Sure I was happy that night because I won the battle playing all Digable Planets songs. However, if I was just listening and not playing the songs, my vote would have gone to the Pharcyde off the strength of their debut album alone. This reflection is take from our book, The Boom Bap Review Vol. 4: 2022 which can be found here for purchase.