The Music Behind…The Pharcyde on Black-ish


Black-ish is a show about stereotypes, and on Wednesday’s episode, the Johnson Family dealt with preconceived notions about swimming in its own inimitable manner. Dre fumes about being snubbed by their white neighbor for her pool party because he believes she assumes he cannot swim because he is African-American (of course, Dre can’t, but that’s far from the point). The greatest moment of “Sink or Swim” comes near the beginning when Anthony Anderson narrates a montage of the history of segregation in pools — including a hotel draining theirs to prevent movie star Dorothy Dandridge from “dipping her feet.” It’s a righteously angry rant which is backed by perfect soundtrack — a song by off one of hip-hop’s most surprisingly brilliant albums by a group whose glory days were sadly brief and who get short shrift these days when examining the greats of the game  — “Runnin'” by The Pharcyde.

In 1993, The Pharcyde scored a minor pop hit (and a #1 rap hit) with “Passin’ Me By,” from its debut album Bizarre Ride II Tha Pharcyde. The engaging classic featured an anthology of acrobatic rhymes about getting rejected by women — all told with a brave-for-rap vulnerability and self-deprecation. The entirety of the foursome’s debut record was a playful collection of thoughtful rhymes and silly skits.

While it was a clever, critically-well-received record, it would be hard to predict that the former dancers’ next record would be the remarkable Labcabincalifornia — a stunning collection of introspective but fierce songs about self empowerment, struggling relationships, racial stereotypes, and, essentially, being human. The second single, “Runnin'” — a slowly unveiled thesis on standing up for one’s self without allowing fame to blow up the ego, lain over a laid-back guitar-and-sax groove produced by the late J Dilla — was a minor crossover hit with a provocative video clothing the members of Pharcyde in seersucker suits overseeing a plantation of caucasian slaves. It’s a breathtaking single that perfectly backs up the Black-ish episode’s themes of subverting racism and building an unflappable sense of self which cannot be fazed by others’ perceptions.

Unfortunately, The Pharcyde never had another moment like that as inner strife split the band apart and they would not release their next album for five years, by then the band and Plain Rap and its follow-up, Humboldt Beginnings, were mostly overlooked by fans and critics alike, despite the overwhelming popularity of intellectual rappers like Outkast. However, in 1995, they achieved a classic moment, perfectly recalled and used by the producers of Black-ish. Enjoy the video below.


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