18. The Pharcyde, Labcabincalifornia (1995)
Again, if Labcabincalifornia came out today, boasting production by J Dilla on seven out of 17 tracks would be a big deal, but in 1995 no one cared, and The Pharcyde was even more SOL than De La in its efforts to grow up. Three years earlier, the four rappers in The Pharcyde had emerged out of nowhere with a perfectly realized debut—Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde—that was undeniably Californian yet completely out of step with the giant G-funk trend gripping its West Coast surroundings.
The Pharcyde sounded more like a transcontinental chapter of NYC’s Native Tongues collective, yet one that outdid its stylistic antecedents’ bizarre humor, irresistibly playful lyrics, and earthy jazz and funk-mining beats. Coming off such a perfect debut, it was difficult to accept something different. Writing in Rolling Stone over a decade later, Chris Rock summed it up best; “Only in rap do you get one-album-wonders...I don’t know what happened afterward, but the first Pharcyde album is incredible.”
America’s premier black stand-up comic refusing to acknowledge its existence speaks volumes about the reception that greeted The Pharcyde’s second album, Labcabincalifornia. It didn’t sell much, and The Los Angeles Times gave it two stars, describing it as slight: “The pleasures aren’t so immediate nor the ride so bizarre. And on first listen the casually delivered, low-key narratives nearly vanish into the background.”
That was the problem; sonically, the album sounded nothing like its predecessor, and the rappers, adopting new rhyme styles, cadences, and tones of voice didn’t sound the same anymore either. But this effectively new rap group was still a great one, particularly on highlights like “Runnin’,” which Mya appropriated and scored a hit with eight years later, and “Drop,” which was promoted with a Spike Jonze-directed video that had the group performing the song backwards.