To celebrate the 44th anniversary of the illustrious hip-hop genre, let’s take a look back at the classic ‘Lacabincalifornia’, by The Pharcyde. As the follow up to their then-cult-album ‘Bizzare Ride II the Pharcyde’, the record had some big shoes to fill. Founding member Bootie Brown has actually admitted in an interview with Bonafide Magazine that “of course, what the record label (Delicious Vinyl) wanted was a grander Bizarre Ride; Bizarre Ride III”, suggesting that there was an awful lot riding on the style and sound of The Pharcyde’s new record.
‘Lacabincalifornia’ is a very different animal; it addressed some much darker themes, became more experimental in its production and even bore one of the most (arguably) genius yet simple Spike Jonze directed music videos of the 90s. However, many of the same jazz soaked sample grooves are still present in the late J Dilla’s production, and the group continue to bounce off each other in a Tribe Called Quest-esque fashion throughout ‘Lacabincalifornia’.
The album captures a mid-ninetees period that procured a particular type of squared out, solid rap flow. ‘Groupie Therapy’ for example lets loose with a tag team match of rhyming that continues as structural basis for the rest of the album.
In terms of it’s thematic approaches, ‘Lacabincalifornia’ attacks life from a different, perhaps more grown up point of view. Behind the 808s and new-found wealth, there are some interesting perspectives on mental health and human purpose in The Pharcyde’s easily digestible lyrics. ‘Drop’, which was arguably the most well received and now famous track on ‘Lacabincalifornia’ talks about “puppetmasters” and the control of hierarchical entities on society:
Controlling is a swollen way to wreck a proud mind
You hold it in your hands and watch a man start crying
Tear after tear in the puppet man’s hands
Every time you take a stance you do the puppet man’s dance
And the world’s at a stand-still, deep in broken-man’s-ville
Trapped in the moat with an anvil, still
Killing yourself, and dogging ya health
You ain’t amphibious, so grab a hold of yourself
This is ground that the group hadn’t really ventured into before; graduating from the swooning, nerdy heatbreak of ‘Passin’ Me By’ towards something that unpicked and questioned their environment thoroughly. When creating the music video for ‘Drop’, The Pharcyde actually learnt how to rap phonetically backwards from a linguistics expert. The video has a surreal quality to it, as the group seem to move backwards whilst rapping forwards. Directed by Spike Jonze, the video appears beautifully simple in it’s formation, but obviously took a tremendous amount of preparation to achieve in it’s final form. Spike Jonze was apparently inspired by J Dilla’s backwards, looping sample that features throughout ‘Drop’ to create the surreal cityscape in which The Pharcyde interact.
‘The E.N.D’, the suitably final track on the album is much more in the style of ‘Bizzare Ride…’, with much more of a focus on brassy samples and a smooth electro-piano flow. The track is melancholy; as the end of the album looms, the end of life, fortune and the re-emergence of the theme of slavery all come into the fore.
‘Lacabincalifornia’ is a step away from the teenage angst years of ‘Bizzare Ride’. J Dilla’s produciton is magical, existing in a strange hip-hop twilight that arists like The Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest occupied heavily in the early to mid ninetees. The album has a groove to it, and places the voices of it’s four founding members right at the front of it’s production.