The Pharcyde’s sophomore album Labcabincalifornia is one my very favourite records. It was a real pleasure to work on this 20th anniversary feature for Wax Poetics, and to assist my homie Chris Read on the anniversary mixtape. Peep the feature below or find it on Wax Poetics here. Enjoy!
On November 14, 1995, West Coast rap group the Pharcyde released the sublime LP Labcabincalifornia. It was the follow-up to their kaleidoscopic, gold-selling first album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, which had won over audiences with a refreshingly upbeat sound and cartoon-ish aesthetic on tracks like “Ya Mama,” “Passin’ Me By,” and “Otha Fish.” While equally beloved by devout fans and released only three years after their debut, the band’s second album, however, is a much more mature and soulfully sombre work.
“Every-time I step to the microphone I put my soul on two-inch reels that I don’t even own” is the haunting refrain that loops round and round over the hypnotic beat of Labcabin’s sobering and self-aware track “Devil Music.” From a band who initially won over the hip-hop scene in the early ’90s with their open and light-hearted music, what had prompted such profound meditations on the nature of being a recording artist?
The tremendous critical and commercial acclaim that Bizarre Ride received led the group to embark upon extensive touring (note: prior to the Pharcyde’s success Fatlip had never set foot on a plane before) and experience the inevitable pressures of success. Consequently, their follow-up Labcabin is in part a collection of deep reflections from a young band catapulted into stardom. Intimate musings on love, morality, music, relationships, conflict, life, and death feature throughout and resonate through the record’s rich melodies.
The tone of the Pharcyde’s music altered as their careers advanced and awareness of their surroundings became nuanced; after starting out sharing tales of teenage angst and mischief the band began talking about the pressures of the music industry and seedy experiences of earning a living through music. From the standard tales of high school crushes in Bizarre Ride’s “Passin Me By”—the classic hip-hop joint of adolescent unrequited love—uglier dynamics of romance were introduced and played out in Labcabin’s “Groupie Therapy.” The band had experienced how popularity-boosting success can attract opportunistic crowds and distort one’s real-life grounding. Even seemingly light-hearted songs about getting high reflect a marked change in the band’s outlook. Bizarre Ride’s “Soul Flower” overflows with infectious energy and enthusiasm for the rap game they are breaking into: “Michael Ross is the genie and he’s giving us our wishes,” whereas “Splattorium” on Labcabin has a much more mellowed tone and disillusioned stance: “Rollin’ herbals for the verbals. Extractions and distractions,” showing getting high as a distraction from the troubles of the industry.
The Pharcyde’s frustration with, and deviance against, the music industry and mainstream West Coast hip-hop of the time is visualised in Spike Jonze’s video for “Drop” as the group deftly defy gravity—dancing forwards whilst the masses surrounding them play in backwards motion. The video’s aesthetic and innovative directorial style are perfectly in tune with the song’s musical context and warped aural composition, courtesy of the late, great, J Dilla (back when he was still Jay Dee).
Labcabin did not initially receive the same level of reception that it’s predecessor did upon it’s release, but is a work that has steadily gained recognition. Widely upheld as one of the most influential hip-hop producers and cited as a favourite by many, J Dilla’s fan-base has been solidly growing since his tragic death in 2006—a classic case of posthumous praise of artistic talent. Dilla’s notorious innovation in sampling and his absorbing production style can be heard in the singles “Runnin’” and “Drop,” working his magic on the Stan Getz Jazz Samba Encore and The Beastie Boys, respectively.
Much of the album’s composition holds a strikingly intimate quality, heightened by the sense that the songs chosen to be woven into Labcabin’s rich tapestry are the intensely personal and dear music tastes of the band. Straight from the soul of SlimKid3 comes the production of “She Said”—could there be a more magnetic and broodily compelling use of sampling than the presence of Buddy Miles’s electric guitar from his rendition of Neil Young’s “Down by the River?” You can imagine listening to “Down by the River” over on repeat at night, and just feel the longing and desire rising in the chest of the song’s protagonist.
And for Fatlip, incorporating “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” into “Devil Music” stems from his personal admiration and adoration of the Wu-Tang Clan. When talking of realising the level of dedication from hard-core Pharcyde fans he has said in interviews: “Well, I can fathom it. Because I know how much I love Wu-Tang…” The placement of the verse, his own inspiration, “my hip-hop will rock and shock the nation” within such a mellow and disillusioned track is a very bittersweet poetry.
Essentially, Labcabin is a record that has endless depths and layers to experience and delve into—not only with regards to the music’s composition, but the stories and tensions behind it’s creation. Referring to the various arguments and fallings out that occurred during the recording process, J Dilla even said: “The making of the Pharcyde’s Labcabin album was hilarious. It was just all the way. It got me prepared for what was ahead in this rap game.” SlimKid3 also concludes that certain songs would have been different “all together on a spiritual level” had certain fights not broken out and been resolved as they were. While unfortunate that conflict was such a feature of Labcabin’s creation, both verbal and physical conflicts between members as well as inner conflicts within themselves, it is an undeniable component that contributes to the album holding such intensity and honesty.
Stemming from such turbulent times, Labcabin rose like a phoenix from the flames—transforming all of the Pharcyde’s energies into a sonically stunning and cohesive listening experience, one that flows like some beautifully haunting dream. Even with six different producers (including Diamond D and M-Walk) and varying emcees on each track, there is a consistent spirit and a shared mood that permeates the record.
To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Labcabincalifornia, our friend Chris Read has crafted a fly-as-pie mix of album tracks, remixes, and original sample material. Tune in and enjoy!
1. Les McCann – ‘What’s Going On (Live)’ (sampled in ‘Bullshit’)
2. The Pharcyde – ‘Bullshit’ (Instrumental)
3. Chris Read – ‘Theme #3’ (Scratchapella)
4. Bob Marley – ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ (Loop) (sampled in ‘Bullshit’)
5. Gary Burton – ‘Sing Me Softly of the Blues’ (sampled in ‘Bullshit’)
6. Rodney Cee & Kevie Kev Rockwell – ‘Stoop Rap’ (sampled in ‘Pharcyde’)
7. The Pharcyde – ‘Pharcyde’
8. Cal Tjader – ‘The Bilbao Song’ (sampled in ‘Groupie Therapy’)
9. The Pharcyde – ‘Groupie Therapy’
10. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Lyrics to Go’ (Loop) (sampled in ‘Groupie Therapy’)
11. Minnie Riperton – ‘Inside My Love’ (sampled in ‘Groupie Therapy’)
12. Stan Getz & Luis Bonfa – ‘Suadade Vem Correndo’ (sampled in ‘Runnin’)
13. Run D.M.C – ‘Rock Box’ (Extract) (sampled in ‘Runnin’)
14. The Pharcyde – ‘Runnin’ (Acapella)
15. The Pharcyde – ‘Somethin’ That Means Somethin’
16. The Beastie Boys – ‘The New Style’ (Extract) (sampled in ‘Drop’)
17. The Pharcyde – ‘Drop’
18. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Check The Rhime’ (Loop) (sampled in ‘Drop (Beatminerz Remix)’)
19. The Pharcyde – ‘Drop’ (Beatminerz Remix Instrumental)
20. The Pharcyde – ‘Y?’
21. Mass Production – ‘Keep My Heart Together’ (sampled in ‘Moment in Time’)
22. The Pharcyde – ‘Moment in Time’
23. The Pharcyde – ‘Devil Music’
24. Wu-Tang Clan – ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ (Loop) (sampled in ‘Devil Music’)
25. Roy Ayers and Carla Vaughn – ‘You Send Me’ (sampled in ‘The Hustle’)
26. The Pharcyde – ‘The Hustle’
27. Vince Guaraldi Trio – ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ (sampled in ‘Splattitorium’)
28. The Pharcyde – ‘Splattitorium’
29. Cannonball Adderley – Walk Tall / Mercy Mercy Mercy (sampled in ‘She Said’)
30. The Pharcyde – ‘Passin Me By’ (Extract) (sampled in ‘She Said’)
31. The Pharcyde – ‘She Said’
32. The Pharcyde – ‘The E.N.D’
33. [Bonus Track] The Pharcyde feat Lizzy Parks & Giles Barratt – ‘Runnin’ (Chris Read Rap Renaissance Remix)