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Bizarre rides

The Pharcyde returns with some new and some old

It truly has been a bizarre ride for the Pharcyde. The influential hip-hop outfit from South Central Los Angeles formed in the late '80s/early '90s and released their gold-certified debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, on Delicious Vinyl in 1992. The group named itself the Pharcyde because, according to an interview in Rolling Stone, it "doesn't set any boundaries." But the Pharcyde have hit a few walls through the years.

Originally made up of MCs/producers Tre "Slim Kid" Hardson, Derrick "Fat Lip" Stewart, Imani Wilcox and Romye "Booty Brown" Robinson (now minus Fat Lip, who left in 1997), the Pharcyde, along with producer J-Swift, swam against the current with freewheelin' fresh-off-the-corner talent. While so much of the rap coming out in the early '90s was gangsta tales of going nowhere, the Pharcyde were all over the place, mixing melody with manic nerdiness. Like De La Soul a continent away and Digital Underground up the road in Frisco, the Pharcyde weren't afraid to go against hip-hop's male expectations. They had a wacky sense of humor, couldn't afford to fill a wading pool with champagne, didn't always get the girl (like on Bizarre Ride's "Passin' Me By"), and sometimes, sexually frustrated, they were caught red right-handed.

The Pharcyde managed to escape the trap many MCs/producers fall into, either being good on the production side or the presentation side, but not both. They had both hooks and flow, and their first two albums, Bizarre Ride and 1995's LabCabinCalifornia — both originally released on Delicious Vinyl and now reissued, along with the best of Cydeways, by Rhino — showcase their daffy defness.

The Pharcyde didn't just play it for a laugh, however, even when the music remained playful. For every "Ya Mama" (which collected "yo mama" jokes on Bizarre Ride), there was an "Officer" (also on Bizarre Ride), which cribbed from Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" to tell a timely tale (around the time of the Rodney King verdict) of police harassment.

One thing that wasn't timely was the release of LabCabinCalifornia, which took three years to appear after the success of Bizarre Ride. LabCab featured production from then-upstart Jay Dee, and while there were some great songs, including "Runnin'," the album can either be seen as more static or more tightly wound. There's a similar sense of mid-tempo jams that runs throughout the album, which helps its consistency but plays down the group's trademark short-attention-span-theater act. There's also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the industry that may have colored things.

Cydeways is a best-of album that collects some of the top songs off both Bizarre Ride and LabCab, and adds one previously unreleased track. And while there are good cuts on Cydeways, and it's perfect for someone looking for that one hit who wants to make sure they get at least one more, it's only two albums the band has distilled here. It's worth the money to just buy the Pharcyde's first two, then check out their new joint, Plain Rap (Delicious Vinyl/Edel America), which came out last year.

It's obvious the Pharcyde, primarily Imani and Booty Brown, have grown in the 10 years since the group started. The tone on Plain Rap is more serious and mellow, questioning why people are always foolishly "In a Rush" and jumping unwisely into things. The group holds its own against groups like Black Eyed Peas and Jurassic 5, acts that have picked up on the sing-song ensemble the Pharcyde helped popularize. Time to hitch another ride.

The Pharcyde perform at the Masquerade Thurs., April 26. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 404-577-8178.??