November 13, 2015

The Pharcyde - Labcabincalifornia (November 14, 1995)

Tomorrow marks the twenty-year anniversary of The Pharcyde's sophomore album, Labcabincalifornia, so I figured today would be the best day to run this review.  It's a project that has already seen multiple reissues, with the extra tracks, instrumentals, and whatnot that come with, but today I'm running with the original version, the one the Los Angeles-based quartet dropped in 1995, so if you're among the few who gets upset when I don't write about after-market bonus tracks, you'll probably want to leave your thoughts in the comments below.  Just a fair warning.

It's been a while since The Pharcyde have graced the HHID blog (more than six goddamn years, yeesh), so a quick reintroduction is in order.  The group is made up of Imani, Bootie Brown, Skimkid3, and, as of this album, anyway, Fatlip, all of whom rap and handle production at various times.  Their style is as far removed from the gangsta-driven culture of L.A. as one can get without switching genres altogether: their best songs feature jazzy influences, healthy doses of humor, and a willingness to talk about feelings that most rappers are still afraid to address, even in the era of Aubrey.

Labcabincalifornia is, as I mentioned above, the group's second album, following the critically-acclaimed Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, which was released by Delicious Vinyl three years prior.  The group's debut featured "Passin' Me By", a fairly big song that your parents are probably familiar with about missed connections: to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Labcabincalifornia features more excursions into "love rap" territory, although it's not like the Pharcyde hadn't ever staked their claim in the sub-genre before.  

Labcabincalifornia came to the party with two hit singles, "Drop" and "Runnin'", each accompanied with memorable videos (one more so than the other, which we'll discuss later), but what most hip hop heads will probably remember about the project is the production, which is primarily handled by the late Dilla, also known as J. Dilla, also known as Jay Dee, which is how he's credited on the album.  Various Pharcyders drop in behind the booth at random times, as do M-Walk and Diamond D, but Dilla's stamp is all over this motherfucker, with his jazzy melodies informing many of the tracks.  It's unfortunate that this album performed poorly when compared to its predecessor, as it arguably features much better actual music than Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde.  And I say that even though I really like Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde.

I know this song has a lot of fans because of the smooth Jay Dee production (which signified a shift in The Pharcyde's sound from the jump) and the hook is catchy enough that some of you two may find it inspiring.  But I never cared for this track: the beat sounds like a dry run for Dilla's eventual work on A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes and Life (released the following year), and the fourth verse, (un)credited to Suave, who I think was the group's manager at the time (I can't find any real confirmation, though: seriously, what good is the Interweb?), changes the subject to talk about golddiggers.  Although he does announce at the very beginning of his verse that he's "chang[ing] the topic just a bit", that doesn't make it any better.  Next!

Fitting for a song titled after the very group performing it, the chorus consists mostly of the Pharcyde reciting the names of the four members of the crew.  The beat, which comes from Bootie Brown, is alright: it's spritually closer to Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in its design and in the playful manner in which the guys pass the microphone around.  I could have done without the dialogue framing the track: if these guys really intended on reintroducing themselves, they could have shifted this song to the beginning of the tracklist.  Fatlip and Slimkid3 are the standouts, the former for seemingly-tossed-off shit-talking (and the fact that he didn't appear on "Bullshit") and the latter for his sing-songy flow, which suits him.

After an overlong introductory skit, Diamond D of the Diggin' In The Crates collective gives the Pharcyde some melodic boom bap-esque styles for "Groupie Therapy", a track about the group's various encounters with women after their shows.  Or, rather, after other, more successful rappers' shows.  Fatlip's verse is by far the most interesting, as he chooses to tell a story about how his poor choices led to his girlfriend hooking up with other musicians: the tale is told rather simply, and the ending makes very little sense (unless he's admitting that he's currently in therapy because of the groupies, which, huh?), but everyone else is simply observing and parroting shit.  Not bad by any means, but "Groupie Therapy" runs for over five minutes, which is a little much.

One of the greatest songs of the group's entire fucking career, and, conveniently, the second single from Labcabincalifornia, so obviously Delicious Vinyl felt the same way as I do.  (I remember this as the first single, actually, although it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.)  Over a beautiful Dilla beat consisting of Spanish guitars and a sample from Run DMC's "Rock Box", Fatlip, Slimkid3, and Imani (Bootie Brown is conspicuous in his absence) deliver an anti-bullying anthem which, essentially, makes an argument for fighting back any way you can (the hook repeats the phrase, "Can't keep running away", which reinforces this message, and Fatlip laments the fact that his "family never taught [him] how to knock a n---a out").  Still a great goddamn song today, and if it's inspired young folks to not let asshole bullies get them down, then there's really no criticism to levy here.  It does get better, folks.  I also love this song, so.

Fatlip and Slimkid3 (who also produced) take "She Said" for themselves, performing verses about various women in their lives who want to be with them, but not necessarily in a sexual way, leaving both men in a vulnerable position.  Fatlip's verse ends with him not really getting what he was hoping for from a chick he picks up at the House of Blues, but he lets her spend the night anyway, feeling conflicted.  Skimkid3's bookending stanzas come across as more romantic, which is probably why "She Said" was released as the third single from the album, as the label undoubtedly hoped that a female audience would discover it.  (The label even commissioned a remix from Dilla, most likely for similar reasons.)  Never my favorite Pharcyde song, but I can appreciate it for what it is, especially with Tre's crooning during the third verse.

Essentially an interlude, albeit one with a melodic Dilla donut that Imani uses all by his lonesome to get high and ad-lib goofy lyrics, apparently, given how little focus is exhibited on here.  That title is misleading as fuck, by the way.

Almost as a response to that joke of a previous track, "Somethin' That Means Somethin'" finds Bootie Brown, Tre, and Fatlip all concerned with the need to write rhymes with substance.  Dilla's instrumental, once again, wouldn't have felt out of place on Beats, Rhymes and Life (not a bad thing), while the verses are waaaaaay more interesting than the entirety of "Splattitorium".  Oddly, Imani doesn't make an appearance on here to justify his performance on the previous song.  But these guys spit their single verse apiece and step away, making for a breezy, enjoyable listen, even if their actual rhymes are more about doing something than actually doing it, you know?


9.  DROP
The best song on Labcabincalifornia, one that still knocks today.  Bootie, Tre, and Imani all utilize Dilla's swooping instrumental to talk shit in the best possible way, and the result is an overall winner.  The video for "Drop" is probably even more known than the actual song, though, as director Spike Jonze (Her, Being John Malkovich, a bunch of music videos) famously had the three performers (and Fatlip, who doesn't spit on here) lip-sync their verses backwards and then played the footage in reverse, making for one of the most memorable clips in hip hop history.  Personally, I always dig it when Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys walks by in the video to recite the vocal sample of his that gives the song its title.  "Drop" meanders a bit during its final minute, but it's still fucking entertaining as shit.

10.  HEY YOU
Topping "Drop" is a tall task, so Tre doesn't even try: instead, he brings "Hey You" a beat that is quite enjoyable in its own way.  Slimkid3's opening verse describes how he's seeing the world now that he's gained a modicum of fame, and he's disgusted with how people treat one another, but he sounds more disappointed in humanity than anything else.  Imani, the only other member to appear, goes on the offensive and knocks a motherfucker out, but unfortunately, his verse is weak as shit, ruining the entire track.  And, of course, he gets the most screen time.  I know, right?  Anyway, the beat was cool, and the hook was catchy.  A shame.

11.  Y?
Bootie Brown's beat, created with an assist from Dilla, sounds like an outtake from Tribe's The Love Movement, or maybe even something from De La Soul's Stakes Is High.  That is to say, it's pretty great.  As you can tell by just reading the title, the Pharcyde spend "Y?" seeking explanation and meaning, not always succeeding and most definitely aided with an illicit substance of some type.  The mood of the song is pretty chill, the vibe is smooth, and even the unnecessary hook, performed by an uncredited female vocalist, won't disrupt your enjoyment of the track.  Throw it on and go for a walk or something.


If anyone was going to break out from The Pharcyde, it would have been Slimkid3, so it makes sense that he received a solo opportunity on "Moment In Time", a track he also co-produced (alongside M-Walk).  It's a relatively short song, running just long enough for Tre to discuss hoe "life is just a moment in time", as the hook goes, but not so long as to beat one over the head with the blatant message.  Overall, pleasant and reflective enough, if not great.

Kind of goofy, in that Bootie Brown is the only actual member of the crew to make an appearance on the generically-titled "The Hustle"; the other three slots are filled with weed carriers who, while sounding decent over the Bootie beat, are of no consequence otherwise.  Big Boy, no relation to Phantogram's BFF, utilizes a sing-songy flow that kind of made him ahead of his time, or at least it would have if (a) Slimkid3 hadn't beat him to it, and (b) it were even remotely interesting.  I will say that it was kind of The Pharcyde to build a snack break into Labcabincalifornia: not many rappers are that considerate.


Not as dark or blasphemous as one would expect from that song title.  In fact, Fatlip's beat is downright cheerful.  Slimkid 3, Bootie Brown, and Fatlip all spit shit that is only tangentially related to the Devil, but the hook is kind of dope, as they talk about "put[ting their] soul[s] on two-inch reels that I don't even own" whenever they record a song, which certainly paints their label, Delicious Vinyl, in a new light, even though they're really just talking about putting their all into everything they do.  A late-game gem, and Imani even pops up during the outro to participate, so at least all four members were present.

The finale of Labcabincalifornia is the appropriately-titled "The E.N.D.", a boring song on which Imani and guest star Ian Kamau talk about the end times, the Rapture, and eternal damnation, apparently.  Pretty heavy-handed, if you ask me, which might be why the rest of the crew are nowhere to be found.  M-Walk's instrumental is far too melodic for the subject matter, and Kamau sounds like a weaker Q-Tip.  At least Imani takes control of this song, even though it still isn't all that good.  What a strange letdown of an ending.

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Labcabincalifornia isn't quite as consistent as its predecessor, but The Pharcyde knock the big moments on here out of the goddamn park, thanks to both the production (again, Dilla's work might have sounded like a dry run for Beats, Rhymes and Life, but that still isn't a bad thing in my ears) and the confidence Imani, Fatlip, Slimkid3, and Bootie Brown display behind the microphone, each spitting their thoughts with ease.  Not every song works, but it's more difficult to pull off something cohesive unless everyone is of one mind, and the number of tracks on Labcabincalifornia that only feature one or two members make it crystal clear that everyone was operating off of their own respective agendas.  Hell, Fatlip even left the goddamn group after this project hit store shelves.  But just because the crew was forever altered by Labcabincalifornia doesn't make it a must-avoid: there's a lot on here that you'll find enjoyable.

BUY OR BURN?  Buy this shit.  Seriously.

BEST TRACKS:  "Runnin'"; "Drop"; "Somethin' That Means Somethin'"; "Devil Music"; "Y?"


The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde


  1. for your remix series you should check out J. Coles remix of "can i kick it"

  2. Yay an album review, great choice too, well played max, tis is why everyone loves the album reviews way more than your other stuff

    1. I don't know, some of that other stuff has gotten a pretty good response.

    2. No doubt Max these people just like hearing anything from you you're a good writer who knows your shit but what I said was loves MORE than that stuff, it's more substance, something I can buy

  3. I suggest that you actually give BigGrams a listen. There's some Run The Jewels on it and the beats are mostly cool. Plus there's only 6 or 7 tracks.

  4. There's some good remixes that came out of this album:

    Y? (Jay Dee Remix):

    Runnin' (Jay Dee Remix):

    Runnin' (Rae & Christian Remix):

  5. Oh, and I've been loving the remix and mixtape series, Max! Keep writing that good shit!

  6. Not a playlist choice? No remix breakdown? A review? A "buy" review? From the man himself and not from a reader? An album by a cool and underrated group? Fitting the not-really-ongoing west coast theme?

    I'm shocked. Must be Friday 13th or some shit...


  8. I went and played through this album while reading each paragraph when the respective track came on. I gotta say it's definitely greater than the sum of it's parts - I feel Bizarre had more entertaining songs, but it has little cohesion to me, which this album has in spades.

    Oh and I always thought the therapist Fatlip referred to at the end of his verse was an groupie. So it makes sense in a kind of contrived way, even though it feels like Fatlip drew the short straw deciding who needs to refer to the song title in their verse.

  9. WOW a west coast album review and its still not The Games new joints...

  10. There's a few bonus tracks found on Labcabincalifornia: Emerald Butterfly, Just Don't Matter, and Heart & Soul. The last track is a bit interesting because Buckwild produced it.

  11. Max if you want some new West Coast, please review Vince Staples already, no seriously, i'm waiting!

    - Kevin

    1. That would require adding him to the list, and I don't have plans on doing so right now. Readers can absolutely shoot me their own thoughts, though.

  12. Oh good review btw, i've been waiting ages for Labcabincalifornia review as well. One of my favorite albums of all time. I can go through it without skipping a single track.

  13. Amerigo Gazaway have made a few (pretty good) mash-up albums with two artists pr album. One of these albums is with music from Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest, including a mix of "Runnin'" and "Electric Relaxation". A quite interesting listen. You should check it out.

  14. This album was amazing it's the fact that mainstream critics shitted on this album