I'VE FORGIVEN THE Pharcyde for a lot of things. When you find a group that makes a first album as brilliant as Bizarreride II, you find ways to justify their future mistakes. It began four years ago, when I forgave them for making me drop 20 bucks in order to stand around waiting for three hours. When they finally did come on, they were so stoned they could hardly open their eyes, let alone rap.

Then I forgave them again for a mediocre second album. Hell, I even defended them. ("Listen, they're just finding themselves, you know, trying new stuff. Wait till the next album.") So, I was braced and ready to begin forgiving for the five long years that they made me wait for this album. But I can't. Not for this.

The Pharycyde have officially sold out. I know, you're skeptical, I was too--Even after I heard the new album, Plain Rap, I thought maybe they hadn't. It's not that the album is horrible--it just isn't going anywhere. The word "light," keeps rolling back into my mind with each new song. They're only three now (and only two, live) and without Fatlip and Slimkid, there isn't nearly as much contrast in sound. There's just nothing distinct about it; it's the Pharcyde on a diet. It's a few light rhymes, light beats--stripped down enough to do a little showcasing of their rhyming abilities, but not much else.

Bizarreride II broke new ground in hip hop. West coast, funny, and so fucking fun, they had an energy that made their music truly inspirational, yet they were also wacky, willing to try anything new. The intense rhyming ability coupled with innovation was brilliantly unique.

So where was that energy in this new album? Maybe I just didn't understand how the album worked, I thought. Maybe it was so far ahead of its time, that I would only be able to appreciate it 20 years from now. Finally, it took Booty Brown to tell me himself.

"You know, everyone hates what's goin' on today, MCs, people in the business--everyone is complaining," he told me when I asked him what he thought of Jay-Z. "But I kind of admire them. Look at their work ethic. Look at how many albums Tupac has out. All those guys do is music, all the time."

Yes, I agreed, but aren't they able to turn out so much because it's a load of crap? "Maybe, but " he began to rationalize, and that's when he said it: the worst. "The masses are simple," he said. "I'm not sayin it's a big bank or we tried to make the super hits or whatever, I just tried to keep this album basic." Translation: We wanted an album a more numb, less ballsy, more radio. "I mean everyone is saying, 'you gotta make that Bizarreride stuff,' but that shit took like three years to catch on. So I just wanna make something palatable."

Desperate for at least some ideology, I asked a question that always makes artists talk themselves up, even if it's all bullshit: "How did this album challenge you? What are you doing that's new?"

"Well, you know, I just want to tell people that I'm still workin'. I just want to make music," he told me.

I wish I could tell you that he said something to me--anything, that could convince you that The Pharcyde are still pushing themselves, still able to make the same stuff they were a decade ago. But here's all I can say: Don't see the show. You won't be able to forgive them, not this time.