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Imani (The Pharcyde) - conducted by Todd E. Jones  

Imani: The Pharcyde Rollercoaster Ride

August 2005

Can members of a hip-hop group maintain a balance of individuality and universal appeal? Some artists possess a universal appeal so strong that they lose their individuality. Other artists remain strong individualists who cannot gain universal appeal. This rare but delicate balance is one of the many beautiful elements of hip-hop. When every member of a group is an individualist, the group, as a whole, proves their inimitability. Sometimes, every human being can relate to a group that wears the moniker of “different” or “unique”. Just like the legends in the industry, groups can maintain this unique presence in the culture by their universal love for the music. One of these legendary groups, The Pharcyde proved their distinctiveness through their sound, image, content, flow, and vibe. The Pharcyde’s career has had multitude of peaks and valleys. Always on the side of mainstream hip-hop, The Pharcyde’s consistent metamorphosis surprised and excited listeners. Due to the variety of universal themes, The Pharcyde’s music still remains relatable to any type of listener. Their hip-hop rollercoaster is a ride that everyone can enjoy if they buy a ticket.

A magnificent but soft musical renaissance occurred during the 1990’s. Just as alternative / post-modern independent rock was budding, eccentricity in hip-hop experienced a parallel growth. A myriad of distinctive hip-hop artists reformed the culture’s creativity. Organized Konfusion, The Roots, Beastie Boys, Hieroglyphics, Artifacts, and Redman made priceless contributions to hip-hop culture. Without being mainstream, The Pharcyde earned the same strong respect and exposure.

Straight from California, The Pharcyde made a historical and indelible mark in hip-hop. The quartet pushed the boundaries of psychedelic hip-hop with shocking lyrics, colorful beats, and an adrenaline-filled fun seeking vibe. Some critics actually consider The Pharcyde to be the godfathers of trip-hop. Imani, Bootie Brown, Fat Lip, and Slim Kid Tre shared a musical chemistry that ignited a fire which set torched everyone’s definition of hip-hop music. They also sparked a green flame of envy within other groups. Even though each member was completely different, the members of The Pharcyde formed something larger than just the sum of their parts. Another bud in the branch of classic hip-hop bloomed. Fans watched their career as if they were watching the group on a wild ride.

The Pharcyde’s classic debut LP, “Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde” (on Delicious Vinyl) was a smoke filled sonic rollercoaster ride. The album featured songs about having sex with a friend’s mother, being fooled by transvestites, dealing with relationship troubles, getting pulled over by cops, masturbating, getting married, making crank calls, and snapping “Ya Mama” jokes. The unforgettable single, “Passing Me By” sampled Jimi Hendrix’s timeless “Are You Experienced?” The successful song maintained a hip-hop edge with a mainstream appeal. The soulful singing and humorous vulnerability added to the group’s incomparable image. The weed smoking anthem, “Pack The Pipe” was a masterpiece of stoned-out euphoria. The album’s finale, “Return Of The B-Boy” was an exceptional old school epic with sharp flows and energetic lyrics. The landmark LP crossed genres, but remained rooted in hip-hop. “Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde” launched The Pharcyde into celebrity heights and inspired unconventional behavior within countless future artists.

The maturity of “Labcabincalifornia” LP was odd but refreshing. The innovative sophomore album displayed their growth by showcasing a new sound and approaching various adult topics. While their love of smoking weed was evident, serious themes displayed the group’s growth. Topics ranged from dealing with the death, relationships, industry troubles, groupie conflicts, deterioration of friendships, urban survival, spirituality, and just getting your act together. They were the first group to employ legendary producer, Jay Dee for the production of some tracks. The single and video, “Drop” was a hip-hop masterpiece of for the true b-boy. Through the years, fans grew up along with the group. “Labcabincalifornia” was the first winding curve in their ever-changing career.

The Pharcyde began to experience internal problems that changed them forever. Fat Lip and Slim Kid Tre were constantly arguing. Both seeking solo projects, they began to travel very different paths. Fat Lip was eventually released from the group. Slim Kid Tre released a solo EP with a new name, Phoenix. The Pharcyde was reduced to a trio, which consisted of just Imani, Bootie Brown, and Slim Kid Tre. Their “Testing The Waters” EP was virtually unnoticed except for serious fans. Their third album, “Plain Rap” was a stripped down collection of tracks. The album possessed the same maturity of “Labcabincalifornia”, but lacked the much loved craziness of their debut LP. Eventually, Slim Kid Tre completely quit. “Liberation”, was his solo album released under his real name Tre Hardson. Fat Lip released the funny, “What’s Up Fat Lip?” single (with a video directed by Spike Jonze), but his solo album is still yet to be released.

From a quartet to a duo, The Pharcyde refused to throw in the towel and quit the fight for dope hip-hop. With only Imani and Bootie Brown in the group, they released the “Humboldt Beginnings” LP on their own label, Chapter One Records. Production was handled by SpaceboyboogieX, 88-Keys, and Bootie Brown. The album has the same wisdom of their recent works, but attempts to keep the smoked-out fun that fans have depended on.

In the middle of August 2005, Imani and I had an in-depth conversation about the trials and tribulations of The Pharcyde. As an emcee, Imani has come full circle. He rode the wild ride from start to finish. He is getting back on the rollercoaster to ride it again.

The Pharcyde went from being unknown, to being a celebrities, to experiencing a little less limelight, and to finally finding peace. They are still going strong with their own albums and a solid fan base. After a plethora of harsh disagreements, all 4 members appear to be mending old wounds, taking steps to act civil, and attempting to reignite their friendship. A complete Pharcyde reunion is not planned, but fans remain hopeful. Will reconciliation ever take place between Imani, Bootie Brown, Fat Lip, and Slim Kid Tre? Will all 4 members ever record an album together again? Stay tuned….

With or without all 4 members, The Pharcyde will maintain their career, their following, their individuality, and their love of hip-hop. Throughout their career, they have experienced peaks, valleys, unexpected turns, loops, and even breakdowns. After a little maintenance, they bizarre ride continues. Unlike any other ride in the amusement park of hip-hop, the bizarre ride of The Pharcyde will thrill every kind of human being. Step right up and buy a ticket!

(Phone rings…. Imani answers)

Imani: Ahhh, rrrrrrahhhhh!

MVRemix: Yahhhhhhhhhh!

Imani: Hello?

MVRemix: What goes on?

Imani: Todd? What’s happening? I just put on my bill collector’s voice. That’s why I went, ‘Rahhh!’ What’s going on with you? I was just about to get ready to get a Jamba Juice. They throw something in that wheat grass. What’s the word?

MVRemix: I’ve been listening to The Pharcyde since ‘Soul Flower’ version recorded with The Brand New Heavies.

Imani: Ah! You took it back! I heard that! That’s nice.

MVRemix: What’s going on with The Pharcyde now? How do you think people view the changes?

Imani: A lot of people say, ‘What’s up with the group? Is the group still active?’ We’ve changed so much, but The Pharcyde is like a name brand. You may not like every shoe that Nike puts out, but you know it is a name brand that you can trust, if you are willing to take a chance on it. That’s where we are trying to put our name to. We are a name brand. Maybe we ain’t for everybody, but people who know what time it is, know what time it is.

MVRemix: Every single Pharcyde album is unique. Was it the group’s intention to make every album different from the next?

Imani: We do that consciously. We never wanted to repeat ourselves. If we do something, we do not want to do it again. That’s our whole mentality. People who are really down with the group do know about ‘The Heavy Rhyme Experience’. Those are the ones who listen to use closely. Originally, as a group, we were only going to do three records as a quartet. Imani, Bootie Brown, Fat Lip, and Slim Kid Tre only planned to do three records together. We were hanging out, making demos, smoking stress, and dealing with bullsh*t. We peeped the game in the whole hip-hop world. For us, three records would have us make our mark. We could say what we had to say with three records and give the fans a pretty good time. It wasn’t like one record this year and then one more, we’re done. We figured that we would take a couple of years to live life and then, do a record, wait a while, hang out, and then, make another record. That was our whole mentality. People come up to us and ask, ‘How are you dealing with this?’, and yada, yada. We ain’t tripping. I don’t know how people feel about us but it’s really not a big deal. Some people think, ‘We would never listen to The Pharcyde the same way if Fat Lip is not in the group. So, I’m not going to listen to them anymore. I’m not going to give them a chance.’ We put ourselves in front of the listener. But, what if De La Soul did not have Posdanoos anymore? What if there was no Q-Tip on a Tribe record? Our group, The Pharcyde was kind of different.

>>> continued...

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"A lot of people say, ‘What’s up with the group? Is the group still active?’ We’ve changed so much, but The Pharcyde is like a name brand. You may not like every shoe that Nike puts out, but you know it is a name brand that you can trust..."