What a difference three years makes.
So when we last left The Pharcyde, they were in a pretty good spot. Four goofballs coming out of Los Angeles who thumbed their noses at the city’s burgeoning gangsta rap scene to create their own brand of hilariously weird and unique music, propelled into the spotlight by an irrepressibly sincere and vulnerable single, and celebrated for their exuberance and fun displayed on their 1992 debut, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde.
Which made it all the more jarring that this record was their follow up.
It was bound to happen to the quartet of Imani, Bootie Brown, Fatlip, and SlimKid Tre. Although their debut was chock full of good times and oddities, behind the mic the group were facing difficulties. They fought constantly, unable to see eye-to-eye on their music and direction, and strong personalities led to clashes. Success didn’t help either, not by a long shot, only exacerbating tensions, and the group’s ace boon producer, J-Swift, fell under a drug habit. It took three long years for them to issue their second record, and when Labcabincalifornia dropped in November of 1995, many fans were left scratching their heads.
Right down to the album’s stern cover, Labcab was a lot more subdued, featuring the group ruminating on the trappings of success, pondering faltering relationships and friendships, lamenting the rollercoaster that was life as celebrities, and general malaise. It was slower, more melancholic, and a bit bitter. The record was a far cry from Bizarre Ride, with few moments that channeled the positivity and spontaneity of their debut. It was The Pharcyde coming out the other end of the music game, and being all the worse for it.
But it’s not all bad. In fact, it’s my favorite Pharcyde record (well, barely edging out the first), an underrated but strong work which is brilliant for reasons vastly different from their debut. This album carries a lot of sentimental value for me; it came along at the right time in my life where it became the soundtrack to my adolescent angst. Several songs found on this record accentuated my feelings on relationships which went nowhere, strained friendships, alienation, and so on. Looking back on it now I marvel at how the group took a pretty big risk with this album, especially with how downtrodden and vulnerable it can be at times. Hip-hop heads always point out Ye’s 808s and Heartbreak when it comes to dour moods, but this album was doing similar things more than a decade before.
Also notable was the record’s production. Taking the helm from J-Swift was a Detroit producer by the name of Jay Dee, or J Dilla, the legend himself, who was then just getting started in the hip-hop world. Dilla’s work here was understated and quite chill with a good knock.
“She Said” is one of my favorites from a record stacked with strong listens. Somewhat in a similar vein as “Passing Me By,” this track has the group again lamenting over women, but this time, it’s a bit more wary and subdued, featuring striking verses from Fatlip and SlimKid about love, lust, and loss. What really drives the song home is the singing from SlimKid on the latter half of the track, which is so damn doleful and crushing, which elevates the listen into something unforgettable. It’s a great song, just avoid it if you’re going through some relationship problems!