In the hip-hop world, where popular artists often find themselves under fire for lack of originality and pandering to the industry to make that ever-important dollar, “Cydeways: the Best of Pharcyde” is a pleasant reminder of the creative possibilities of the genre.
The Pharcyde originally gained popularity in the early nineties in the West Coast rap Mecca of Los Angeles. In contrast to artists such as NWA, Ice Cube and Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde stayed away from topics of violence and gang life. Instead, they injected their music with a lighthearted creativity stemming from a willingness to experiment with new beats, sounds, and styles of rapping.
“Cydeways” provides the finest examples of The Pharcyde’s explorations into singing, rapping, and sampling. While the group may not spin such intense themes as gang life and clashes with the police, neither does The Pharcyde rely on the simpering, polite stylings utilized by some early rappers. Instead, their music is infused with a creative maturity that comes out in their lyrics, while the artists — Slim Kid, Booty Brown, Fat Lip and Imani — maintain a certain level of levity that applied, and still applies, to a wide audience.
The selection of songs on “Cydeways” provides a penetrating view into the body of music created by The Pharcyde. There is humor and seriousness and an overriding sense of the musicality of the group.
“Yo Mama” starts off with a strong beat, and then drops straight into a series of mama cracks, each topping the previous one. It may begin with the lyrics, “Yo mama’s so fat,” but this track is not a joke. It’s a damn good song with a solid beat and a playful atmosphere laid on top.
“Oh S—” continues this theme of a bunch of guys sitting around a studio having a good time. There is a classic old-school feel to this track, as a certain looseness develops out of the laughing tone of the rappers.
One track that this compilation wouldn’t be complete without is “Passing Me By,” the song many would consider The Pharcyde’s break-through single. This song, with it’s soft horn and hypnotic bass line, brought the group to many people who never would have never heard of them otherwise. It also represents something of the more serious side of the group. It is in this song that they deal with the disappointment of failed loves while also demonstrating the diversity of expressive styles among the four artists.
An even more serious theme is explored in “Drop,” where the group samples the Beastie Boys and attacks other artists who work within the corrupt music industry simply to gain fame and fortune instead of being true artists. They claim a “state of emergency,” since so many artists have sold their souls to the industry. In contrast to this gravity is the irrepressibly danceable sound over which the serious lyrics are placed.
Furthering their attack on the music industry is the track “Devil Music.” The chorus pounds in The Pharcyde’s message, “Every time I step to the microphone, I put my soul on two-inch reels that I don’t even own”
What makes this CD so good is that it demonstrates the full range of effects achieved by a truly great hip-hop group. On each track is a different exploration into the possibilities of a musical art form.
In this greatest-hits disc are the early happy-go-lucky tunes that originally brought the boys of The Pharcyde popularity, but they transition into the later, darker, more cynical tracks that came out of their disillusionment towards the industry in which they were trying to make their stand for creativity and artistic control.
The variety within the group also changes as the four members of the group alter and modify their individual styles of delivery, rather than trying to sound like a single unified unit. It also becomes clear from the first track that the music of The Pharcyde is timeless. The beats still feel fresh. The themes are still relevant. And their experimentation is still impressive. Even if their music just came out today, it would still sound new and intelligent. The mark of great artists is that their music transcends time periods. In “Cydeways: the Best of the Pharcyde,” it is clear that these four rappers have created music that does just that.