The Pharcyde: A Bizarre Ride
Its hot. Unbearably hot. Way too be in the desert, a heavy backpack stuffed with a tape recorder, notepad, camera and Gatorades that were swiped from the VIP section draped across your back like a superhero cape, your face protected from the harmful rays streaming down from the fireball in the sky with only an old towel and an even older New Era fitted, smack dab in the front of huge, blaring speakers bellowing out the familiar sounds of hip-hop's greatest treasures.
Its only been a few hours into the Southern California leg of Rock The Bells festival, and fans are already feeling the effects of the San Bernardino heat. Some are stretched out across the lawn, stripped down to the barest of clothing. Others have loaded up on ridiculously expensive, multi-hued alcoholic beverages. Those that were foolish to pay extra money for VIP passes arent as lucky however; hundreds of them packed together tightly like sardines in the pit area near the front of the stage, antsy and agitated from the disgustingly thick mix of body heat and humidity. The energy is far beyond containable, and when Rakim [click to read] emerges to perform his medley of classics all hell breaks loose. Fans rush toward the front of the pit, anxious to get a closer shot of the original God emcee, crushing those unlucky to be in the front against the unrelenting metal guard rail. A brawl breaks out between two of them. One woman passes out from the pressure; she wouldnt be the only one of the day.
Im on site patiently waiting for a chance to interview The Pharcyde, the Los Angeles quadruplet that recently reunited after splitting up over a decade prior, and Im slowly starting to feel the effects of the desert heat. Constance, their bubbly manager has been in contact with me all day; Were really excited to be doing the interview, she tells me. I am as well; too bad my legs, chest and empty stomach are saying otherwise.
As I make my way backstage, I try not to be too awed in the legendary star power enveloping me: Method Man signing autographs, 9th Wonder [click to read] and Murs doing radio drops, even Michael Rappaport, whos on hand doing a documentary on the momentous occasion. My admiration slowly transposes into agitation, my belly fighting wit itself, my quads pleading for a break from the stress. While the special guests Black Eyed Peas run through their earlier catalog, I notice Fatlip silently watching. Slim Kid Tre stands off in the distance silently preparing for their long-awaited performance, eyes closed while bobbing his head to a random song streaming into his ears from his iPod.
Finally, its show time. Bootie Brown and Imani join with the others, and all four vibrantly clash on stage while running through their legendary score. The packed house grows wilder with each song: Ya Mama, She Said, Drop, Runnin, a cover of Bobby Browns My Prerogative. Finally the coup de grace: Passin Me By. The crowd roars in approval, animatedly reciting the lyrics. As The Pharcyde exit the stage, leaving a standing ovation, I slowly drag myself to the interview room, anxious for the meeting to take place.
I meet up with Constance backstage, where she tells me to wait in the food court while The Pharcyde run through the press rounds, as theyre particularly excited for my interview. My ribs feel as if I went a few rounds with a heavyweight boxer; my lungs can only inhale fire at this point. I try to shift around, hoping my turn comes soon. Fifteen minutes pass, then another, then another. The sounds of Mos Def are in the background while the food court slowly empties. Eventually my legs give out from the waiting; so does my patience. Frustrated and tired, I eventually join my friends to enjoy the rest of the show.
Attempt #2: August 23, 2008
After a few weeks of emails and persuasion, I manage to secure another chance for the interview, this time at the Denver incarnation of the festival. Amidst the blazing heat, subsequent thunderstorms and the madness that is the Democratic National Convention Im holding it down at the DX booth, breaking to catch sets by Jay Electronica and Wale [click to read]. Eventually my chance arrives again, and I meet with Constance backstage again. This time were not losing sight of you, she jokes as she introduces me to each member individually.
Thirty minutes pass by and its finally my turn to speak with The Pharcyde, and much to my surprise legendary Hip Hop journalist Davey D is also in the room recording my sit-down. Two weeks, over a thousand miles and a different time zone later I finish what I started in Los Angeles.
Ya Mama, (Produced by J-Swift) [click to read]
Bootie Brown: That was Fatlips idea.
Fatlip: All of the songs that were sampled on the record came from one mans record collection. I originally tried to make a beat out of one sample, but J-Swift chopped it up and turned it into the beat that it is now.
Imani: The concepts for the song came from back in the day when we used to all kick it and we just used to bag on each other. But the song wasnt supposed to be our whole shtick, yet after we did the song people would be like, Kick some mama jokes like it was. Thats why we only made one song like that. In the beginning people either hated it or loved it.
Fatlip: It was our first single, and it got us a lot of attention from the industry, but it didnt do so well commercially.
Tre: I didnt think it was a good first single, but whatever.
Passin Me By, (Produced by J-Swift) [click to read]
Imani: My verse came from when I was jocking a chick and she tried to play me to the side.
Tre: Word. [Laughs]
Imani: J-Swift and 'Lip were trying to make beats back then. We werent producing, but we were learning how to become producers. Swift would come to 'Lip with and idea, and 'Lip would go to Swift with ideas, and they were building off of each other.
Bootie Brown: Ill tell you: J-Swift would lock me out of the studio because hed say I didnt need to be in the studio. [Laughs] So thered be times where I had to sleep on a shelf at the top of the equipment closet to stay in the studio. I just came down during the nighttime and worked on the track.
Fatlip: Around the time that song was made, thats when we first decided to be a group. It was weird because a lot of stuff was in sync. After we found all those records, J-Swift who never smoked weed starting smoking and grew creatively.
Bootie Brown: The person who pushed it through was Swifts brother Pedro. He knew how to do stuff to the tracks, and he was a big helping hand throughout everything. Swift could understand it, but he wasnt on top of things like that, so Pedro came in and helped get it together.
Fatlip: Js background was different, too. Back then, he was doing more "New Jack Swing" beats, whereas we wanted Hip Hop beats. So it was a combination between our flavor, his musical skills and his brother helping out. His brother was always willing to show us how to use the MPC.
It was incredible because we would always have access to this one spot, and all we did there was hang out, listen to records, smoke weed, freestyle and makes beats out of the records we listened to. And then we went to Quick N Split. [Laughs]
Imani: am/pm and Quick N Split. [Laughs]
Runnin, (Produced by Jay Dee) [click to read]
Imani: Nobody knew us when we were working with J-Swift, so the entire dynamic of how we worked was completely different. At the time, Jay Dee was a nobody, and here we are coming off of the first album [Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde], so we had some fans now. We went from working with J-Swift and having no fans to working with a nobody with fans, and some of our homies would ask, Why are you working with this dude? We wanted something totally different than the first time around.
Bootie Brown: People were running with the Bizarre Ride album like, You have to be a clown. I didnt want to be anybodys clown, but every time somebody wanted to do an interview its like, Tell a joke! Be funny! What we put out there was coming back to us tenfold, and I just felt different this time around.
We went out to New York, and we had the opportunity to be working with a lot of big name producers at that time, like [DJ Premier] and Diamond D and all these people. We were trying to work with Q-Tip [click to read], but he was busy working on [Mobb Deeps] The Infamous. We went to his house, and he was playing some beats and told us, Ill be honest; Im really not on it right now because Im working on so much other stuff. But I got this tape of these tracks that I got from someone at Lollapalooza; just take this and listen to it. And it was a wrap after that.
Nobody was coming with what Dilla had. The harps, the strings, just the whole sound of it was different from we were hearing other people were doing at that time. The only way I can explain it is that Jay Dee was a musician that was fucking with Hip Hop. He was a drummer, so you can feel that whole vibe in the music. And at that time I just felt like it was something new. He came to L.A. and was only supposed to do maybe one or two tracks, and he ended up doing half the album.
Tre: He was pretty incredible. As a beat maker, when we brought him ideas he would flip it in a crazy way. I was intrigued by his beat patterns. He was definitely someone we were supposed to meet. He had his own style, and you couldnt deny it.
Imani: We were lucky and blessed, man.
Fatlip: Jay Dee, at that time he wasnt well known at all. So we got a chance to see his career grow, and to see him become a legend.
Drop, (Produced by Jay Dee)
Imani: We were doing an interview with [Beastie Boys member] Mike D for a magazine, and Spike Jonze was there doing photography. We had the album running in the background, and when the song came on, he said, You guys want to do a video for this? I have an idea for this song.
We wanted to release Drop first, but Runnin had a radio-friendly vibe that the label thought they could work with.
Bootie Brown: The label president at that time just didnt like what was going on, and thought we should have went in a different direction. Once he saw the video, saw what was going on and saw the Beasties involved, he changed his tone. With the music video, Spike knew what he wanted to do from day one.
Before we even did the video he brought in a linguist, and we had to sit down for a week or so and learn our verses backwards. Then the shoot itself was two days in Downtown Los Angeles. He knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do. With some directors theyre like, Well lets try this, kind of like they run out of ideas. But when Spike said, Lets try it, he did it to try to add some flavor to something we had already done.
Tre: It was a cold morning, getting all that water splashed on you and going through outfits after outfits. But it was the most fun I ever had making a music video.
Fatlip: It was a good video.
She Said, (Produced by Slimkid3 (Remix produced by Jay Dee) [click to read]
Tre: I really thought that She Said was a good song, but it wasnt gonna be on the album. I fought tooth and nail mixed and done, and the record label was fucking with me wondering when it was gonna be finished, because they hadnt heard it yet. They were stressing me the fuck out, but when I turned that shit in the next thing I know I get this call like, We apologize. We didnt know.
Bootie Brown: The label was going through some stuff, too. The single was released through Interscope, but at the time, we were on EastWest. We had went through three distribution switches at that time when the album was out. So there were a lot of things label-wise that were messed up at the time.
Tre: When we did the video, we flew to the Caribbean to shoot it. We had a great time, but that was like the story of our life: something wacky always happening with the distribution, and us not having a stable situation.
With Jay Dee, he had sent a bunch of different versions of the song, and we picked that one that was out. It was a no-brainer. And we were in Amsterdam and did another video for it.