Dennis the Menace didn’t die in that go-cart crack-up, he went underground and spent the next few years in South Central Los Angeles, recuperating in Pharcyde Manor, listening to P-Funk records with his breakdancing homies Imani Wilcox, Booty Brown (Romye Robinson), Slim Kid (Tre Hardson) and Fat Lip (Derrick Stewart) — ka the Pharcyde. D to the M eventually got himself straightened out and went into Republican politics; his pals, meanwhile, took what they had learned from the mega-brat and rode their boards down to the studio to make a loopy and extraordinarily entertaining alternate-reality debut album. Inhibitions get dropped faster than the warm’n’funky soul-jazz grooves on Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, a record cut with live musicians and samples of Jimi Hendrix, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Donovan, Herbie Mann and Slick Rick. While these sophomoric jokesters aren’t as crude or simple as Biz Markie, the clever, verbally agile rhymers don’t mind talking about masturbation (“On the DL”), busting on moms (“Ya Mama”), making a major gender miscalculation (“Oh Shit”), getting into a painful sexual jam (“4 Better or 4 Worse”) or copping to romantic ineptitude (“Passing Me By”). The group is obviously having a ball horsing around, and the record conveys that with infectious delight.
Having relocated to a middle-class section of the city, the older-wiser quartet moves past comedy for sober adult intelligence on its second album. The Pharcyde summarizes its newfound ambition in song as “I gotta kick somethin’ that means somethin’,” but LabCabinCalifornia merely recasts the group as love men who croon (“Runnin’,” “She Said,” “Hey You,” “Y?”) as well as they rap. The music is smoothed out, tightened up and generally cooled off into a cushioned, darkened living room, where relationships and other topics can be discussed quietly over a spliff and a glass of wine. Maturity hasn’t cost the group its inveigling hip intimacy, but there’s far less colorful business to connect with. Songs like “Groupie Therapy” (upstanding, despite the title) and “Devil Music” (an autobiographical complaint about the alienation of labor) are easy enough on the ears, but — outside of the wacked-out nostalgia trip of “The Hustle” — the low-key album lacks the energy, imagination and memorability of a truly bizarre ride.