Do you remember in school there was always a joker in the class? A real joker, usually a guy, who just loved to make a fool? Playing pranks, clowning around, being obnoxious and immature? (They were annoying, but I know as a quiet nerd in school I was secretly quite envious of their confidence and humour) Wacky but loveable, know the type? Now, imagine getting 5 of these guys together and letting them loose in a recording studio. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it? It certainly doesn’t sound like the products of this wacky collaboration would yield one of the finest rap albums of the 90’s, but reader, it did just that.
I’ve mentioned countless times before, if not on this blog then to my friends or in my own internal ramblings, about how rap these days is a shadow of its former self. Since the mid 90’s everyone wants to be like Dr. Dre or Tupac, rapping about weed, gangs, guns, parties and bitches. Since a major lawsuit involving sample clearance, the originality of the music has greatly suffered, restricting the use of sampling and (in my opinion) greatly diminishing the quality of the music. Bizarre Ride arrived on the scene just before these issues changed the face of hip-hop music forever, thankfully. Even at that, Bizarre Ride is just that; a totally unique and perplexing journey through the minds of some seriously odd individuals, with some fantastic beats to boot.
I think this is one of those albums that completely defies stereotype. I’ve mentioned above the list of fairly clichéd topics that rappers tend to love rapping about these days. Pretty much all of these are absent or given a different slant on Bizarre Ride; instead we have a pretty twisted (and frequently hilarious) carnival ride through some depraved tales. Whether it’s suddenly realizing the woman who’s nibbling on your neck is actually a transvestite (“I got a funny feeling like something was real wrong/Looked at her shoes and her feets was real long!”) or masturbating about the woman you slept with the previous night, all the gruesome details are right here, folks. There’s a verse on 4 Better Or 4 Worse which is entirely played out as a prank call, with an oblivious female on the other end getting scared and threatening to call the police as the psychotic ramblings get progressively more disturbing. (“You thought the day was going to be dull?/I’ll make it very exciting/I took your fingers then I started biting/And then I scraped the meat off the bone of your leg”) Their debut single Ya Mama is just what you think it is; a 4-minute marathon of “your mother” jokes over a fat beat. If you can’t already tell, this album is weird. But it’s not weird for the sake of it; it’s an extension of the rapper’s strange personalities and a real attempt to keep things in the rap music scene interesting. Goodness knows it’s certainly original enough; ever heard any other artists rapping about masturbation?
At times cartoonish with its ridiculous sexual misadventures, exaggerated violence and the rappers’ hilarious voices, (especially Imani, who has the highest pitched voice for a rapper I’ve ever heard) it nevertheless remains superbly entertaining, and it does pack some half-serious moments. Officer chronicles the group’s problem with trying to drive to school in an unlicensed car while unsuccessfully avoiding the attention of the police, a commentary on racism in the police. (“Who would think we’re up to good/Four black niggas riding through the neighborhood?”) And in the album’s most successful single (and greatest song, in my opinion) Passin’ Me By, each member raps a verse about the heartbreak they’ve suffered as a result of unrequited love. The album isn’t all fun and games, but when it is it’s hilarious, and when it’s not it’s poignant. And of course, the musical backdrop is rich with some of the finest samples committed to record before this practice was largely discontinued. 3 of the most well used drum samples (Melvin Bliss – Synthetic Substitution, Skulls Snaps – It’s a New Day and James Brown – Funky Drummer) are used as the backbone of some incredibly lush beats; from the chill of Passin’ Me By to the jazzier Officer.
It’s widely been accepted that Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is a masterpiece in alternative hip-hop, but just how many people will be able to tolerate and enjoy this absolutely crazy album is beyond me. It’s pretty much the jazzy soundtrack to the inner monologue of a bunch of loons, and you know what? That’s okay with me.
Words - Adam