DV Presents: Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde Live: A Retrospective
Landing from London to L.A. on May 21, 2012
Time had passed by in L.A. and it had gotten dark. The sun had set on the Strip and West Hollywood was illuminated by lurid neon signs, flashing traffic lights, and the bright, tangible feeling of promise that, for better or for worse, permeates the City of Angels.
A small group of musicians and crew were leaving the Roxy Theatre and milling in front of its iconic façade, calling it a night after a long day rehearsing and preparing for the next nights show. Expectations and energies buzzing in tune with the flickering lights and rousing sounds of the Boulevard, as modern day music history was about to be made. Above their heads the theatre bill, a vintage hip-hop beacon, read:
“5/23 DV PRESENTS: BIZARRE RIDE II THE PHARCYDE
FEATURING FATLIP SLIMKID3 J SWIFT LA JAY”
When the Pharcyde burst onto the hip-hop scene in 1992 with their hilarious pastiche of mother-slating trends “Ya Mama,” they were a breath of fresh air from West Coast gangsta rap of the time with their playful, humorous, and honest rhymes. Widely regarded as one of the most important and influential hip-hop albums of all time, their debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is a lively and infectious listening experience for its youthful spirit and vibrant sound.
Released in ’92 and certified gold in ’96, the record continues to captivate and inspire listeners to this day. And now, twenty years later, the album is garnering more due praise and recognition than ever in light of its twentieth anniversary. On record store day back in April, The Singles Collection reissue box-set hit stores – a true love project containing rare audible delights, delectable artwork, and liner notes detailing back-stories to the albums creation. The set was an inevitable sell-out, as was the Bizarre Ride Live show put on by Delicious Vinyl at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles on May 23.
Fatlip, SlimKid3, J-Sw!ft and L.A. Jay re-joined forces to bless L.A. with the landmark show. Performing the seminal album in its entirety, from start to finish with all the skits and interludes, as well as a few surprises sprinkled into the mix, satiating any bizarre yearnings of those lucky enough to bear witness in the audience.
The anniversary holds notable significance, not only for the elevated status of the album and the sheer volume of fans it has profoundly spoken to and forever touched, but, in light of the various struggles that the group have endured since their debut. Bearing in mind that Fatlip and J-Sw!ft have both struggled with, and recovered from, serious drug problems, L.A. Weekly’s assessment that they were in “fighting form” onstage is deeply poignant.
The group’s fragmentation also comes into play, as it was no secret that Imani and Bootie Brown were not going to be present at the celebration. The show was never going to be a fantasy scenario of the members, emerging just as they were twenty years previous as if from a time capsule. Things change, people grow, but one thing that remains the same is the enduring, rapturous and meaningful draw of the music. Instead of present rifts casting a negative shadow onto the event, it moreover showed an ability to overcome an imperfect situation; to celebrate the record for, and with, the fans regardless.
And whilst the members of the group are undoubtedly musical geniuses in their own right, deserving of their hero-like statuses, it can be appreciated that in ways Bizarre Ride is bigger than the Pharcyde. Many people were involved in Bizarre Ride’s creation, and of the show preparations Fatlip says “pretty much everyone that was involved with Bizarre Ride was there; even our old road managers were there.”
Announced in early April, the build-up to the show was immense. Endless interviews, reviews, and teasers amounted to copious amounts of press and hype surrounding the anniversary. Tre Hardson (SlimKid3) was even on some Rocky Balboa style tip, instagram-ing pictures of himself jogging along bridges in Portland to get in shape for the show.
Such levels of expectation can invariably raise incredibly intense amounts of pressure. But, seen through the rose-tinted gaze of a wide-eyed expat, the atmosphere behind the scenes at rehearsals was pure magic rather than tension. If anybody was buckling on the inside, it was concealed to vision.
As to be expected, an abundance of reminiscing and story-telling took place in between songs at sound-check. Fatlip was playing around offstage, recounting the story of an epic, Western-style brawl that broke out one time in New York, and as a few listeners stood entirely hooked (myself included), hanging onto every golden word of the hilarious memory, Mike Ross cuts in and teasingly groans “I hear this story every year…”
Then there was the sheer hilarity of K-Natural, who was standing in for Imani’s verses, practising and running the lines of “Oh Shit” with anyone around who would listen, like something from a Saturday Night Live sketch.
As rehearsals progressed, spirits were elevated to dizzying heights by the various elements and collective visions that were coming together. Feelings of excitement and elation blissfully crystallised the moment J-Sw!ft’s fingertips touched the keys and began to play out the “4 Better or 4 Worse” interlude that opens the album. Familiar chords set the scene and sounded so rich, so clear, and so right, sending celestial chills down spines and arousing hair follicles to stand on end and listen up.
When the evening of the performance finally came around, the excitement felt by all involved was palpable. Fatlip recalls “walking on clouds” after hearing that the show had sold out. The culmination of so many collaborative efforts and shared passions was about to be realised.
Hip-hop heads in good moods began to gather in front of the venue, snaking in line around the block as people hustled around the over-subscribed guest-list.
Inside, the party was beginning up as DJ’s Cee Brown and Numark dropped an array of nineties classic hip-hop joints to warm and transport the crowd back in time to the right era. Friends, family, and old faces had all turned out to support and enjoy the night, and spirits were rolling high.
Momentum was further gained as people ran around, co-ordinating live coverage, conducting last-minute interviews, tactilely manoeuvring an excess of VIPs, and setting everything in place, ultimately enjoying every crazy minute of it. As curtain-time neared the crowd were waiting for the show to start any moment, and, as many may have expected the music to fade and for things to start, the announcement “Can Fatlip please report backstage” was heard. Brilliantly unscripted.
In tune with the improvisational approach and spirit that went into recording the album, the various surprise elements to the show felt, and were, spontaneous. Opening with an unexpected introduction from Big Boy, the radio host and former bodyguard of the Pharcyde, was a perfect note to kick off celebrating and revisiting Bizarre Ride. Big Boy’s career has blossomed greatly since his days with the group, and so when he asserted “20 years long, 20 years strong”, the crowd concurred in rapturous applause before Fatlip, J-Sw!ft, SlimKid3, and L.A. Jay took to the stage.
And, once again just like the album, the show was playful; Jason masks whipped out for Fatlip’s notoriously deranged verse on “4 Better or 4 Worse,” bubbles floating in the air for SlimKid3’s rendition of “Otha Fish,” a renegade Momma complete with afro and chin strap roaming the stage for “Ya Mama”…
Inseparable from Bizarre Ride, and as vibrant as the colourful lyrics in the songs, is the tripped-out artwork of the albums cover. The artist behind the suggestive roller-coaster image, Slick, provided art-direction for the show, which resulted in beautiful backdrops of the cover onstage, as well as props of a cop car for “Officer” and giant spliff for “Pack the Pipe.” In keeping with the fair-ground theme there was also a cut-out photo booth by the Roxy entrance for the audience to take pictures with, before entering the main room and boarding the Ride.
Simultaneously aurally and visually stimulating, the music was offset by live visuals, courtesy of L.A.Jay. Stemming from an initial idea to juxtapose old-school Japanese Godzilla movie footage as the backdrop for “I’m That Type of Nigga” to be a “visual representation of what the song is about; boasting and telling emcees that you will crush them.” The videos, ranging from psychedelic kaleidoscopes for “Soul Flower” to Steamboat Willy style cartoons for “Officer” and sultry black and white art-reels for “Passin’ Me By,” served to stir imaginations and further enhance the sublimely sensory hip-hop experience.
Following “Pack the Pipe,” an extended play of Katt Williams on weed entertained the audience, splitting their sides and building anticipation for what could be about to happen next. The group re-emerged in matching Puma tracksuits for a spectacular “Return of the B-Boy” finale: multi-coloured balloons were released from the ceiling, the guys got down to some impressive breaking, and, were joined onstage by Breakin’ legend Boogaloo Shrimp.
The power of music is manifold and, made possible by the communal love of an album, the celebration of this one particular record went off more than one could have imagined.
Bizarre Ride is held dearly by so many, and translates to all different listeners, because it is essentially the epitome of a youthful “raw, self-expression” (Fatlip). The emotions, viewpoints and frustrations that were poured into making it can be easily extracted and related to somehow by its listeners. And, the music you discover at a young age tends to stay with you, carried through life stages as an emblem of some purer time. Just as Fatlip says that Bizarre Ride was recorded at “a time of your life where you were just open to everything,” many listeners first experienced the album at a similarly impressionable stage.
But, whatever the reasons, that one exceptional night at the Roxy Theatre serves to show that Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is a truly precious and unforgettable work of hip-hop.