Today, in honor of its 25th anniversary, Craft Recordings is reissuing The Pharcyde's classic 1992 LP, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in deluxe vinyl and CD editions. And in a very fitting move, they asked our own Jeff Weiss — whose L.A. Weekly column is named “Bizarre Ride” in honor of The Pharcyde's game-changing debut — to write the liner notes.
In this excerpt from Jeff's notes, he traces some of the early influences — including Jim Morrison, B-boy dancing and a brilliant high school jazz teacher — that led to the formation of one of the most unique and influential groups in all of hip-hop:
If you stumbled in the vicinity of La Cienega and Hill in the dwindling summer of 1991, you might have heard wounded laryngitis symphonies screeching out of a low-slung bungalow. In those depressed flatlands slouched below the Ladera Heights foothills, the Pharcyde spent a mystical afternoon gobbling mushrooms and watching Oliver Stone’s Doors biopic.
There are no Naked Indians in South Central, but it didn’t matter that day. Soaring on psychedelic pizza accouterments, Fatlip, the chief eccentric in a clan of eccentrics, briefly become convinced that he was Jim Morrison. This malady afflicts approximately 37 percent of Southland males ages 11 to 25. No known antidotes exist.
But Fatlip flourished where a thousand leather-panted Sunset Strip clones failed. He channeled the spirit of the Lizard King with a fractured demented genius that remains indelible a quarter century later. With the psilocybin still hitting hard, the Fairfax-raised rapper wandered into the studio next door and belted out the world’s worst Jim Morrison impression.
Mr. Mojo Risin’ was famed for his velvet demon baritone, but for whatever reason, Fatlip shrieked at the highest banshee timbre of his vocal register. For a while, he kept crooning, “Break on through to the other side.” The tape kept rolling and serendipitously captured the improvised phrase, “She keeps on passing me by.” It was simultaneously awful and absolutely perfect. Fatlip never struck those identical notes again, but it didn’t matter. Those sessions ultimately yielded the group name and the hook for their biggest hit.
If this story already doesn’t really make much sense to you, it’s because the story of The Pharcyde never really conformed to linear explanation. It’s like attempting to pinpoint the vagaries of where lightning chooses to attack, where the spinner pauses during a game of Wheel of Fortune, or why it took four years for their debut masterpiece, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, to go gold. No less than Kanye West said that it was his favorite album of all time. Eminem once broke down the caprices of the record industry like this: “The truth is [a career] could end tomorrow. I’ve seen so many albums get slept on. Pharcyde’s first album should’ve been huge, that shit should’ve sold 6, 7, 8 million.”
If you’re attempting to process the genius and acrimony, the internecine brawls and weightless ascension, the lissajous curves of that bizarre ride, you need to consider how unlikely it was that The Pharcyde formed in the first place. The story opens in the late 1980s at El Camino College, when Tre “SlimKid3” Hardson, a South Central–raised recent graduate of Inglewood High, met Emandu “Imani” Wilcox, then a senior in high school.
Initially bonding over a mutual love of dancing, they did the Wop at long-defunct nightspots like Zapp in Anaheim, Hollywood Live, Guadalinda’s and the legendary Water the Bush. The idea of seriously rapping only took root after they met a 15-year-old Inglewood kid named John Martinez. Even that encounter seemed fated to serendipity, considering Martinez was the younger brother of Tre’s friend’s girlfriend.
To the world, Martinez is better known as J-Swift, the mercurial, Madrid-born prodigy of an Afro-Cuban salsa musician, who ultimately supplied the sonic backbone for The Pharcyde’s debut. A diminutive jazz piano virtuoso with a sunshine afro, Swift attended Locke High, where he had the auspicious fortune of being mentored by Reggie Andrews, the Mr. Holland of South Central.
In an imagined education Cooperstown, Andrews is a first-ballot inductee. Over the course of a 40-year career, his tutelage helped produce four of the most influential jazz musicians of this millennium: Thundercat and his brother Ronald Bruner Jr., Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington. Both Tyrese and Patrice Rushen got their start in the classroom of the educator who arranged strings for Rick James and wrote and produced for the Dazz Band (including their biggest hit, “Let It Whip.”)
Using the royalties from that funk smash, he built the SCU Compound at that immortal but nondescript crossroads of La Cienega and Hill. In a back house, Andrews set up a home recording studio filled with equipment and a mirror to practice dancing. Most crucially, the compound contained over 10,000 records — many of them jazz, funk, soul and rock classics — which J-Swift plundered for what became Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde.
Through this SCU connection, the burgeoning trio of Swift, Imani and Tre met Romye “Bootie Brown” Robinson, a Pasadena-bred dancer in the GTI Crew, widely renowned as the best in the Greater L.A. area. With the help of Andrews and Toni “Hey Mickey, you’re so fine” Basil, the group procured gigs dancing for Tone Loc, Candyman, and a short-lived stint as “The Fly Guys” on In Living Color. But nothing really gelled until they met Derrick “Fatlip” Stewart.
It was J-Swift who recruited Fatlip after seeing him at a club showcase on Crenshaw. “He was the nerdiest nigga you’ve ever seen,” J-Swift remembered in the Bizarre Ride 33?rd book. “When he came onstage he was wearing an argyle sweater, a baseball hat, glasses with lenses, and argyle socks. And he was totally pigeon-toed. He was just weird. … Then he opened his mouth and started rapping … and I’d never seen anything like it. He tore that shit up.”
The genius of Fatlip was that he was a very serious MC with the persona of the world’s least serious person. He’d spent time at the Good Life Café, the legendary Leimert Park open-mic night that cradled Freestyle Fellowship and Jurassic 5. Beyond that cracked larynx that sounded like a needle skipping on wax, Fatlip possessed the least fucks of any rapper who had ever preceded him. This is a cliché in its own right, but Fatlip was so cringingly honest that he’s closer to self-loathing comics like early Woody Allen or Mitch Hedberg than the traditional bravado of hip-hop.
The rest of the group followed similar cues:
“We're serious about certain things, but everything is basically a joke,” Tre told Rolling Stone in 1993. “We live through hard shit, but we can laugh about it.”
After a minor bidding war between Jive and Delicious Vinyl (Def Jam passed), The Pharcyde signed to the latter, a legendary independent hip-hop imprint still flush from Tone Loc and Young MC royalties. Now managed by industry power player Paul Stewart, the group’s three-song demo (“Officer,” “Ya Mama,” “Passin' Me By”) wowed Delicious Vinyl founder Mike Ross, who offered open-ended freedom, the rent on an old Victorian in West Adams dubbed Pharcyde Manor, and ample time at Hollywood Sound Studios just off Sunset Boulevard, a spot made famous by Prince, Michael Jackson and, yes, The Doors.
Hollywood Sound was where Morrison had once broken into during an acid trip when he became convinced the studio was on fire. He extinguished the imaginary flames with a real-life fire extinguisher, causing tens of thousands of dollars' worth of damage. The Pharcyde never got that weird, but they definitely passed through the other end of the looking glass.