Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 8: The Pharcyde, "Passing Me By"

Artist: The Pharcyde
Song: "Passing Me By"
Album: Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
Year: 1992

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Though it may not seem as important as the sounds that emerged at the end of the 1960's, one cannot deny the fact that the first four years of the 1990's stand as one of, if not the most creative point in all of music history.  Due to a number of factors, music splintered off like never before, and countless genres were being mixed together, creating genres that were impossible to define.  While one can easily see how much the more traditional rock-based genres were changing, the same was true in hip-hop, yet it was far harder to see due to the massive dominance of the "gangsta rap" sound.  It was because of this reality that the idea of "conscious hip-hop" was almost "forced" to develop, yet at the same time, there were other crossover styles that went far beyond these two in a number of different ways.  Though there were a great deal of new sounds at the time, few were as creative or refreshing as the oddly unique blend of funk, psychedelic, and soul tha tone finds in the music of The Pharcyde, and their 1992 debut record, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, remains today one of the most impressive and influential albums in the history of hip-hop.  Combining absolutely amazing musical arrangements with some of the most honest, often lighthearted rhymes, the group offered a clear alternative to the sound of "gangsta rap," and one can experience all of their brilliance in The Pharcyde's 1992 single, "Passing Me By."

Almost from the moment that "Passing Me By" begins, there is a deep, yet fun groove established, and the overall complexity of the samples being used was a far cry from the more predictable sounds of the time.  Largely based around samples from Quincy Jones' "Summer In The City" and Weather Report's "125th Street Congress," it is instantly clear that producer J-Swift has an uncharacteristically wide range in musical taste, and he is able to weave together sounds that seem unlike to pair well together.  The smooth, funky mood that he sets is highlighted by other samples, like Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" and Skull Snaps' "It's A New Day," and even with a number of sounds being used simultaneously, the song never seems congested or over-done.  It is J-Swift's brilliant crafting here that makes the song absolutely unforgettable, and his rearrangement of these songs has itself been sampled in recent years, further solidifying its overall significance.  The way in which he changes the sound from the verses is absolutely fantastic, and it is during the chorus sections that one can more clearly hear the groups' connection to blues and jazz.  In many ways, the overall musical creativity shown here is akin to the psychedelic experimentation that occurred as the 1960's transitioned into the 1970's, and it was sounds such as these that birthed what many now call the "alternative rap" movement.

Providing an exceptional mirror to the style of the music, the fact that all four emcees are able to drop a verse on this song, without it seeming crowded is a testament to the talents of each member.  Though each of the emcees has their own, distinctive style, they share a common theme here, and it is on "Passing Me By" that it becomes clear that these performers have far more than just humor in their rhymes.  Each of the four delivers with a measured, sincere style, and each verse could easily have stood on its own.  It is perhaps this diversity in sound that helped the song to rise above others at the time, but there is no overlooking the fact that Bootie Brown, SlimKid3, Imani, and Fatlip stand today as some of the most talented and creative emcees in history.  Furthermore, in an era of "gangsta rap," it was songs like "Passing Me By" that were without question far easier to relate to, as this song recounts a school-age crush of each member.  This almost lighter, yet strangely heartbreaking set of rhymes makes it so there is some part to the song that anyone can make a direction connection with, and even nearly twenty years later, this fact remains true.  While this enables every listener to cite their own "favorite" rhyme from the song, one can make the case that it is the songs' opening lines of, " in my younger days I used to sport a shag, when I went to school I carried lunch in a bag..." that has proved to be truly unforgettable.

Taking all this into account, one can easily make the case that there was just as good a chance of the entire Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde completely flopping commercially due to being so drastically different form a majority of the hip-hop being made at the time.  Perhaps the only links between this and the "gangsta rap" sounds are the level of rhyming talent and the base in funk samples, yet even with this reality, "Passing Me By" found its way all the way to the top spot on the rap charts.  In many ways, the success of this song proved that even so early in the "gangsta rap era," there were already hordes of people looking for an alternative to the sound.  While many groups have presented such an alternative, none have been able to duplicate the sound and mood found on The Pharcyde's debut record, and it retains its fresh and enjoyable personality to this day.  Whether it is due to the wide range of samples and flavors that each song brings or it is the fact that all four emcees deliver top-notch rhymes with their own style, there is simply no denying the overall quality and lasting influence that the record has had.  On "Passing Me By," the music seems to bounce and flow in a way that has never been duplicated, and it helps to reinforce the almost freeform feel of the record as a whole.  Setting itself far apart from everything else at the time, as well as proving that there was just as much diversity in hip-hop as any other genre, few songs have retained their feel and impact as well as one finds in The Pharcyde's 1992 single, "Passing Me By."

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