How The Pharcyde’s ‘Labcabincalifornia’ Exemplified Growth
Through the last four decades of hip-hop, styles have developed, cadences have varied, flows have bounced around in ranges, and multiple regions laid claim to dominance. While the East Coast served as the birthplace and the south have their current footing in mainstream appeal, the West Coast has brought some of the most eclectic and engaging music of the rap hemisphere.
One group that encompassed all the sounds of the party and the enduring hangover that came with it during the Golden Era was The Pharcyde. The foursome from Los Angeles exploded onto the scene for their sophomoric humor and nasally delivery with Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde in 1992. The witty storytelling combined with the groovy B-Boy bounce of J-Swift’s production made the record intoxicating for listeners. SlimKid3, Fatlip, Bootie Brown, and Imani all brought something refreshing to the table and with singles like “Otha Fish” and “Passin’ Me By” are timeless earworms that quickly crossed over.
Three years later, the group was a little older and wiser from seeing the other side of the wall and were willing to experiment even further with their lyricism. Labcabincalifornia released in 1995, was a coming-of-age album that transitioned the group from boys to men. It was a complete 180-degree approach from what they went with Bizarre Ride, becoming more introspective and darker in their tone. From the opening track “Bullshit,” the group explains that they’re still them- just only embarking a metamorphosis through their sound and not ‘fighting the feeling’ of being stagnant.
That sound was help anchored by a burgeoning producer and DJ from Detroit named J. Dilla better known back then as Jay Dee. Developing a name with his group Slum Village, he proceeded to handle much of the production of Labcabincalifornia. There he gave it a sonic backdrop that complemented the dexterity and songwriting of the crew, in particular, Slimkid3 and Imani. The popular single of the album, “Drop,” details metaphorically how the industry would pimp out Hip-Hop through fads and silly beefs:
Tear after tear in the puppet man’s hand
Every time you take a stance, you do the puppet man’s dance
In those three years between Bizarre Ride and Labcabin, the group witnessed how record labels and executives would influence their peers into selling-out to catch up with the sales and fads, thus falling off from their truth. Imani expressed that he knew his ground, his truth, and his "worth of his birth is a billion." The group knew they were one of a kind and that through their music alone they were going to change lives and inspire listeners.
That sense of clarity is what makes this album unique for fans that grow with the music as they proceed to get in the middle-life crisis. The bouts with addiction, relationships splintering apart, and remembering lives that were lost are all topics worth relating to as we mature into the world around us. That maturity comes full-circle in one of the most memorable rap songs of the 1990s in “Runnin'."
With Jay Dee's flip of Run DMC’s “Rock Box” and Luiz Bonfa’s “Saudade,” “Runnin’” had the members no longer fighting the feeling of succumbing to their fears. It was a testament to standing up for yourself and what you believe in, even if it leads to failure on occasion. From Fatlip’s verse about dealing with bullying in his childhood and how not having his father around to protect him led to him relying on himself as he went into adulthood:
But now in ‘95 I must survive on my own
F*ck around with Fatlip, yes, ya get blown
I’m not tryin’ to show no macho is shown
But when it’s on, if it’s on, then it’s on
Knowing right from wrong and how to adapt and survive permeates throughout Labcabincalifornia as a form of therapy for the group. It is a record that is more personal than meets the eye. The album serves as a definitive representation of what hip-hop is for artists being able to get their feelings across in the best way possible. Fickle fans were incapable of understanding early what the genre would grow into years down the line.
Unfortunately for The Pharcyde, the group as a whole wouldn’t celebrate the newfound appreciation for the album. Fatlip would leave citing creative differences and the trio of Bootie Brown, Imani, and Slimkid3 would frequently interchange to the point of each member being unable to lay claim to The Pharcyde name. Their live shows would consist of half of the four (Imani & Bootie Brown), but it would never feel complete. It is the price of growing old; some of the closest bonds can indeed run away.