Q&A with The Pharcyde (i.e. Small-town white girl schooled by straight-outta-Compton rapper)
When I interviewed 90’s hip hop vets The Pharcyde for today’s 24 hours Toronto piece, I expected a tight-lipped convo judging from this tense 2008 reunion interview. After all, there are legalities making their re-assembly somewhat of a miracle. Luckily I got original member Uncle Imani on the phone alone in L.A. After we worked through his distain for scumbag journalists, Imani lectured this “young whippersnapper” on real hip hop (MC Hammer included). He also let me in on why Fatlip is now out of the group, why things went sour in ‘98, and why Kanye West is ‘Joe Blow’ for all The Pharcyde cares. Here is our hour-long convo that didn’t make it in the paper.
I see you are playing Toronto’s NXNE fest this Sunday as a three-piece, without Fatlip. What happened to him?
Fatlip has taken a leave of absence by his own accord which has nothing to do with the group. We were all together (as a four piece) to do some things (reunite in 2008), and Fatlip had an epiphany – he wanted to DJ.
Is this the first time he’s done that?
Having epiphanies, or DJing? (laughs)
He’d always dabbled in it, but now the whole DJing thing is a real scene – it’s really changed in L.A. Hip hop started with the DJ and then it morphed into the MCing, then under everybody’s noses it morphed back into DJing.
So he doesn’t MC at all anymore?
Well he’s not a part of the Pharcyde anymore so I’m not sure exactly what he does. I mean, my priority lays with The Pharcyde. And I say that because people say we kicked him out of the group, but the scenario was that he stood up in a group meeting and said he didn’t want to be a part of this situation anymore.
Who backs today’s Pharcyde on the decks?
DJ Ice Water (of Oakland, now from Brooklyn). Ice Water’s my man. One of the dopest Dj’s you’ve never heard of.
Will The Pharcyde consider creating a new album in the future?
(Pause.) Well, It’s like this: With the advent of the internet, the music game has taken a different course. Releasing schedules – everything’s different. So to tell you a date I couldn’t tell you but yes we’ll make music. We hope while people are waiting they’ll catch up on the old releases they’re not even aware of.
Like the Souls of Mischef/The Pharcyde unreleased albums worth of songs? There’s a petition for that.
We recorded a lot of music in the midst of everything changing in cyberspace – Myspace, people putting out their own records, bandcamp, soundcloud, you know what i’m saying, YouTube – all that shit was just in its infant stages. We’re trying to keep game and get with the times instead of continuing our 20th century formula.
What makes good hip hop in the 21st century?
Dope motherfuckers are motherfuckers who do themselves. Wack motherfuckers and those who try to do somebody else.
Do you think there’s more wack motherfuckers out there today?
Nope. I’ve been around this since 1992. Back then it was ‘the end of hip hop’, ‘sell-out rap’, ‘white people are going to destroy hip hop’ – I’ve heard all that bullshit. It’s the media looking for a story. The writers, the bloggers, the fans are looking for a story, instead of just listening. Most of the time, people just love to hate (laughs) you know? I don’t think there’s more (whak mofos), it’s just there’s more people doing it. At one point there were 100 rappers, now there’s 100, 000, but the ratio (good:bad) is probably the same.
What is your response to Wiz Khalifa’s rapping over your hit Runnin’?
He didn’t rap, you see, there’s a thing called mixtapes and they’re for promotional use only. Most people weren’t even selling them, they were just rapping over your shit and just doing ‘my version of your song’ type shit. Kind of like Karaoke, but changing up the words. I look at it as dope when you got the Wiz Khalifas of the world paying homage to The Pharcyde rapping on their beats. That’s just ‘hey I recognize, this is where I came from’ or, ‘this is what I think is dope.’
And how do you feel about Kanye West saying your debut album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is his favourite album of all time?
I knew this was going to be asked!
Well I kind of have to ask it
… I look at Kanye West as Joe Blow as far as I’m concerned. Just because Kanye West says he likes my shit … This is the flipside – Am I supposed to go jump off a cliff because Kanye West says he don’t like my record?
So am I supposed to be jumping through the roof because he says he likes it? … Like, that’s cool. Kanye West, he could have woke up on the good side of the bed that morning, heard Pass Me By on the radio and somebody stuck a mic in his face and said ‘you know what, Pharcyde’s my favourite’. (ed. note: in 24 Hours is Imani’s quote stating the main reason is Kanye West did not ask The Pharcyde to work together).
You started off as a b-boy in the 80’s. Now that you’re 40, Is it tougher to dance?
Well I practice yoga. Age is only a state of mind. You get old because you allow yourself to get old. Your body will last as long as you treat it right. And a lot of people put the wrong things into their body. I try to look at it like this is the only body I have…
Do you still party?
Now when you say party what do you mean? Don’t speak in code language with me! I wanna know what for real you’ sayin’!
OK, do you still drink and smoke weed?
I smoke weed because I live in California and it allows me to sleep better and helps me when I don’t have a good appetite, so I do medicate when I feel it’s necessary. Too much of anything makes you an addict – that’s whether you’re watching TV, whether you’re a Jesus freak, whether you’re going to the strip club. If the time calls where I feel like having a drink, I’ll have a drink. But I don’t do it where ‘Oh my God, I can’t do what I need to do the next day’. I can’t party like a teenager at 40. But I ain’t no party pooper!
Speaking of addiction, what happened to J.Swift, producer of your seminal album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde?
You’re asking me this because you saw his DVD called One More Hit. Well what you have to know about J. Swift is he is a unique individual, we had a lot of experiences together… and if you know J. Swift, you know you just have to let him be. And I just hope for the best.
Fair enough. Also online is a lot of conflicting stuff about Fatlip.
Just to be honest, I was born in 1971. This is 2011, I have a son going into the 12th grade and one going into the 9th grade. My days are not spent worrying about any grown man besides my two sons. I don’t have hard feelings against anybody, but its difficult being a black man and raising two black sons, that I don’t really have time to be worrying about J.Swift, Fatlip, any of that. I wish them the best, and I hope it works out for anything they want to accomplish.
I understand that.
And can you make sure that gets printed exactly the way I said it? Because I mean that whole-heartedly.
I try to write people’s story as accurately as possible. It sounds like you’ve had some trouble with journalists in the past.
Well people take sides, and they don’t ask the story, and they fill in the blanks. I always feel offended because I feel like I’m opening up, that I can be asked anything, but people go into interviews with how they already see things, based on the music. But if you don’t really know me, or Fatlip, or the situation, it’s difficult to just read a couple of blogs and make sense out of it.
It’s tough because writers often only have 500 words to summarize what you’ve talked about
OK then lets talk about a couple of things where you really feel you can get what you want to get out of me. Because asking me what my influences are – that’s not gonna get shit out of me, those types of questions. That’s why I wanted to let you in on the fact I’m a parent. Hip hop is my culture going back into the 80s when I was a B-Boy, you know what I’m saying I used to pop-lock. I’m from Compton. I grew up listening to Ice Cube, NWA, King T, Ice T, going to the rodeum and getting mixtapes from CIA (Ice Cube before NWA). I call myself Uncle because I’m an original, old school B-Boy from L.A., and I’ve seen a lot of shit. So I feel like when I’m talking to some people i’m like ‘come here young whippersnapper, listen to Uncle Imani teach some real shit to you.’ I’ve been in (?) with Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Consequence, and Black Thought, Souls of Mischief, Funky Homosapians, and Cashrule from the Hieroglyphics, so it’s like, dude, this hip hop shit runs deep, and you can’t put your finger on it in 500 words.
When people ask me about the state of hip hop – that pulls my fucking (?). I’ve been in the game since 1991 and we’re here in 2011 talking about me. I’m not 50 cent i’m not Snoop Dogg, I’m an MC from Compton. Hip hop is in a beautiful situation. For people to say bad things, people are full of shit. It’s created so many jobs. They teach classes about it in universtiy. It’s not just a black thing, not just a hispanic thing. C’mon hip hop? Jay-Z is one of the coolest CEOs on the planet. Puff Daddy is one of the coolest CEOs on the planet. The story’s been told a million times: Kid’s born in the ghetto, has no way out of the ghetto, and then finds a way to make things work for him. People still talk about Tu-Pac like he’s f—ing Elvis. And Biggie, like he’s Elvis. People don’t realize how young these guys were when they died – the shit they were saying was so deep. And that’s why hip hop was so great – they have a problem with authority and they challenge the status quo. When it’s no longer doing that – that’s when I think it’s wack… As long as we got the Odd Futures of the world coming up and scaring everybody. I don’t agree with the words they’re saying – but I agree with their state of mind and how they challenge the status quo.
Speaking of the status quo, have you heard of Snoop Dogg’s attempt to start Hip Hop Idol, similar to American Idol but a reality based on finding the best rappers? Do you think it’s possible to find real hip hop this way?
What do you really mean when you say real hip hop? Someone grabbing the mic and expressing themselves, or someone who tries to fit the mold of what has always been? I have this argument with people every day. You can’t tell me what hip hop is, because it’s an expression of the individual. So when people were dissing MC Hammer for being MC Hammer, they forgot he was MC Hammer and not them. He was from a place they’re not from. If you don’t understand something, you automaticall tend to hate it. When we first came out, people were telling us we weren’t hip hop because we were singing and dancing. (laughs) And we were like, ‘how we not hip hop, niggaz?’ This is how we do it where we from, niggaz’. Then you get groups coming out like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. People are like – that ain’t hip hop. and it’s like dude, you’re not from Cleveland!’ That’s how they get down in Cleveland. I don’t know, I just see it different. That’s why I’m from the Pharcyde.
It’s like that for every genre, the constant bickering of labels and what is real. Especially in metal, like ‘that’s not black metal – this is black metal’.
I goes back to the arguement what is art? Art is what you say it is.
Well, you have a lot of wisdom when it comes to music. I don’t understand why you don’t like my questions.
I didn’t say I didn’t like your questions! I was just saying like the average interviewer questions, like ‘the state of hip hop’, ‘What are you’re influences’, ‘where’s The Pharcyde’. See my whole thing is growth… thinking about the future.
Speaking of which, how goes your solo stuff as Uncle Imani?
I just do that for myself
But you must not mind selling a couple albums, I mean you still have to make a living
My favourite MC’s ever: Ice Cube, KRS One, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, and Busta Rhymes. That’s my dream team of five. But KRS One, the best thing he said about hip hop is that you should find another way to make money. Because then you can make the music you really want to make. When you depend on your craft to make money, you tend to make songs a certain way so you can make money. Your thinking in order to make money it has to fit a certain profile. This is why I’m into the yoga shit. I just want to stay open, just connect with the universe, noticing what’s happening with my whole inside and the outside, you know innerspace, outerspace, and try to understand this world. Because it’s bigger than hip hop.
Well thanks for being so honest. This interview was supposed to be with Slim Kid but I can’t work the 3-way on this phone. Do you he’ll be upset?
This is the honest truth. When we first came to Pharcyde, we all agreed we would do three records together as The Pharcyde. So we did the first record, it took us two years to release the second record, and by that time our world was so crazy that it was almost impossible to complete what we’d agreed on. Fatlip, after the second record, was like I really just want to do a solo record. There was a lot of detachment because he didnt like travelllin, or flying, or something about going to shows. So at some point we were like ‘you don’t even have to go to the shows. You can just stay at the house and work on beats. Maybe he had something about travelling - I’m not putting words in his mouth. To make a long story short we , all parties involved, came to the conclusion he needed to be a solo MC. He was making it hard for us to function as a four-man group because he was not into compromise. You know, we were young and all kinds of stuff. Him and Tre were going at it a lot. Fights in the studio, Jay Dee (J Dilla) was just like ‘these guys are crazy.’ We would go crazy over stupid shit like drum machine or what the bassline sounds like . We were just that passionate about what we were doing. Right around the same time Tre was like I can’t work with Fatlip, he got a solo deal … He caught us off guard because our how thing was we were going to work as a trio and bang that last record out the box, to get all the energy right. And all the energy went wrong. To make a long story short, Tre basically left me and Romye (Booty Brown) as The Pharcyde, and that’s why a lot of negative things happened around that era because from ‘98 to 2008 it was me and Romye… Me and Romye own the name The Pharcyde. When they left the group we had to change things legally because it is a business. So to answer your question would Tre be mad, he really owns no weight to get mad, because in reality there’s only two members of the Pharcyde, and I’m 50% of it.
I’m surprised the three of you are still doing shows together
Ever heard of the movie called The Five Heartbeats? Or the Temptations? Just because it looks a certain way, doesn’t mean it always is. At this point we’re trying to patch up a relationship. And we all are aware of where we stand. So it’s like look, we’re going to try to make it work. We all have input, but (me and Romye) have been handling things how we see fit. We put so much out there on the line, in terms of money spent, time put in, and things of that nature. That’s why you don’t mix business with family. Music and business it’s not really a natural combination. Our story isn’t really unique, it’s the classic story: Unknown band gains noteriety and fame, then there’s internal conflct, there’s substance abuse. We have all the elements of a Hollywood fairytale.
If you want to call it a fairy tale. With all that’s happened, do you look back and say the Pharcyde got the credit it deserved?
I know because you’re a fan you get mad when they say ‘The Roots, the Black Eyed Peas, Tribe Called Quest, and they never say the Pharcyde. You know how I know? Because my mother says the same thing, she thinks her son is the greatest rapper ever. But I understand things. Tribe Called Quest had a few platinum records, they were involved with a lot of artists, and they were in New York and a lot worked out in terms of timing. But they also brought us into their fold. Before anybody knew the Pharcyde, Q-Tip called our house and was like ‘Yo, this it Tribe. We love ya’ll’ and we were like whose playing with our phone? and they were like No this is Q-Tip, and this is Phife Dawg and we would have it on speaker phone saying ‘This is not Tribe Called Quest!’. Hip hop has taken me places man, introduced me to all types of people. Who can’t say they want more money in this time we’re living in, but as far as the love and things of that nature, I feel so blessed.
- Marsha Casselman