MUSIC / The phat of the land: The Pharcyde - Jazz Cafe, London

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The Independent Culture
THE PHARCYDE are four freaky guys from LA who see the world through a haze of reefer smoke and strut their stuff, without instruments, over a hail of jazz samples and 'phat' beats. There's nothing especially new about their contribution to afro-American orthography - people have been using 'II' for 'to' for a few years now. But for such a young group, the Pharcyde have got the laid back quartet style down to a T, and have hit upon a rich vein of kooky black humour.

They kicked off with the first of the three skits on their CD Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, 'It's Jiggaboo Time'. This wasn't quite the thing to get the large white contingent into appreciative Nodding Dog mode, as the j'accuse lyrics list the ways in which black musicians might sell out ('Nigga when there's pork in your bowl, it's jiggaboo time') and how white video crews might exploit them ('could you bug your eyes out a little bit . . . real ghetto?'). Luckily it quickly segued into 'Ya Mama', a hilarious example of the 'dis' genre. 'Ya mama's got a glass eye, with a fish in it,' they yelled at each other, 'Ya mama's got an afro, wit' a chin strap,' along with other remarks pertaining to her putative weight problem. This style of teasing, the street corner call directed specifically at your opponent's mother, goes back way before rap. Which in popular music terms, makes it part of the Great Tradition.

Meanwhile, in the great tradition of rap hangers-on, the crew squeezed themselves onto the Jazz Cafe's tiny stage: Big Boy, ('security'), Paul the manager, and their tour manager, Suave, who sang along and dished out towels and orders to his charges all night. The four lads - who met at the producer Reggie Andrews' South Central Unit - had just enough space to give a taste of their dancing skills. Like any of the apparently overmanned rap crews that attain mainstream success, they threw the lead vocal around with great dexterity, with single syllables flying from every quarter.

While all of the Pharcyde sing as well as rap, their greatest asset has to be the voice of Romye, stage name Booty Brown. It's a high and reedy sound with a hysterical edge, giving the perfect start to the lovely single 'Passing Me By', in which the boys detail their unrequited loves. The backing track bears the same haunting clanking noise, like something from a foundry, that runs through several tracks, and the chorus features a trumpet sample which none of the band can name. They might not know all their references, but the Pharcyde aren't too bothered. They have that giggling, careless cool that comes with so much 'puffing on the bud'.

'Quinton's On The Way' was a daft skit, originally improvised with just drums and piano, about the impending arrival of their 'chronic' (a type of strong weed) dealer. If it makes them seem like a bunch of frat boys sometimes, it's worth bearing in mind that their South Central LA is not the hell popularly imagined. 'We don't have nothing to do with crack smokers,' said Fat Lip.

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