Packin’ styrofoam plates … to the Pharcyde

phar Back in, as it were, the day (summer of ’93), I worked in a Mobil factory in upstate New York packing styrofoam plates into plastic bags so they could be shipped to stores and cafeterias. It was a hot, boring job.

My coworkers were a very eclectic bunch. One of them had been a nuclear physicist in the Soviet Union but emigrated for political reasons and was now operating a plate-making machine because his English wasn’t great and his professional experience wasn’t recognized here. There were also some college kids like me, and a bunch of blue-collar folks from around the area.

One of the college kids was a young African-American woman. Up until that point in my life, I’d known maybe four or five African-Americans in my entire life. Three were family, two were classmates in high school. Our area was very, very white.

I can’t remember this woman’s name, but I do remember giving her a ride home one night from the factory. On the way home, she played me a cassette of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, the 1992 debut of the alternative hip hop group The Pharcyde. At that point in my life, I’d never listened to hip hop and knew next to nothing about it. Bizarre Ride was my first conscious experience of hip hop, and it was an eye opener. Funny, funky, jazzy (something I knew about), and fun.

It took me seven more years to really get into hip hop (via Black Star, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul), but I’ve never forgotten my first time.

Tonight, for the first time in about 20 years, I listened to Bizarre Ride all the way through. It still holds up. In fact, it might sound even stronger now. It’s a smart and adventurous record that has more infectious hooks and punchlines than you can believe.

The factory job sucked, but it gave me this record. So thanks, styrofoam.

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