The Pharcyde represented a major shift in the West Coast hip hop paradigm, with their quirky and funky jazz influenced sounds amidst the hard gangsta rap sound dominated by NWA and 2Pac. It is that innovation that made Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde a cult album among hip hop heads. 23 yearsafter its initial release, its cult status is reinforced by the sold out show in July at the Jazz Café, London, proving their sound is not just a Cali thing, but internationally revered.
Despite the splits which marred the group and broke Pharcyde into two, alongside original producer J-Swift’s highly publicised battle with drug addiction. London were treated to the product of all these struggles- a group named Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde consisting of original members- Slimkid3 and Fatlip, the latter who couldn’t make it to the show due to visa issues. However we were more than compensated by the appearance of their old and new producers- J-Swift and LA Jay, and of course their ‘little brother’ the MC- K-Natural. The result- a dope show which transported us all back to the early 90’s and the family feel of hip hop. I caught up with Bizzare Ride II The Pharcyde backstage after the show.
Q. So it’s your first time back in London for years, what did you think of the London crowd & the London hip hop scene?
Slimkid3: I thought the London crowd was pretty fuckin’ amazing, and I’m not just saying that because I’m sitting here in front of you and you’re reppin London.
J-Swift: Yeah just because you’re from London doesn’t mean you’re a “dum-dum”, you guys here know and appreciate real hip hop.
S.K: Jazz Café was a much better show than our last London show
Q. It’s been over 20 years since Bizarre Ride II Pharcyde dropped, and arguably flipped the West Coast hip hop scene on its head. Your show here today at the Jazz Café sold out, do you think hip hop albums of today have the ability to be timeless?
Slimkid3: I don’t know. I think Kendrick Lamar has a classic on his hands with Section 88. To Pimp A Butterfly seemed to me like it was His album, an art album. It was innovative and he came up with some dope concepts. It sounded like he collaborated with Parliament. I really enjoyed the video for “Alright’. For me, Kendrick has timeless qualities.
Q. At Jazz Café tonight, when you guys aired out your more current songs, the crowd didn’t seem as hype compared to when you performed tracks off of Bizarre Ride. Do you think hip hop heads are over nostalgic? Do you feel you are boxed in the past and have no real support for your own artist development?
S.K: I think there are reasons why people hold onto the past in regards to hip hop. Hip Hop in its inception set the bar high, hip hop was doper than dope. So people still go crazy for the De La Soul’s Beastie Boys, Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes and the Brand Nubian’s. They were really dope and they had some cool messages too.
K-Natural: There was a lot more variety for hip hop listeners back in the day. There was NWA who were gangsta and had these dirty drum breaks- but it was still hip hop. Then there was De La Soul who were on some trippy shit, all these groups had individuality. It’s not like nowadays where hip hop artists drop a generic trap beat and use lyrics ‘yeah I went to the club and see my nigga Jody’. I’m not dissing the kids who are doing that, but it feels like the kids say to themselves I have to make a record like this or I’m not popular.
Slimkid3: That’s what happens when you’re making music for money. I’m not talking about individual artists per se, but the industry as a whole.
K-Natural: I think in a way we were blessed that we grew up in the era of records. So you had to be really creative to produce music, you had to use all types of crazy machine’s to produce a dope sound. Now you have one programme which does everything. Producers these days can go onto YouTube and snatch any kind of sample.
Q. Okay, so do you think technology is the death of hip hop?
J-Swift: No there is no death of hip hop!
K-Natural: You got dudes like Flying Lotus, Logic, Knowledge. The biggest tool in hip hop is your brain, it all starts there. Technology just made it so that in every house there is a rapper and a producer, that’s it really. Before it was a big deal if you got the opportunity to go to a studio, now anybody can get some studio time.
Q. Do you think that hip hop artists are missing the whole family mentality of hip hop? Are hip hop artists only in the industry now because of the potential capital they can make?
J-Swift: Never in my life have I ever said, I wanna make some money. I never made it my goal to make music to get rich. I was rich in spirit- I was with my homies, we had opportunities to create, we had the opportunity to collab with other creative minds and we got the opportunity to express ourselves. To me, money would spoil the creative environment. If you love what you do, the money will come.
K-Natural: A lot of people aren’t in it for the money. Some people are seeking popularity and approval, so they say to themselves I have to make a song like Drake or a club song or a street song. The first thing DJ’s say these days is ‘what’s the BPM?’ Real DJ’s can switch a BPM, of course you have to keep a steady flow but they should be able to speed it up or slow it down if needs be. I think in hip hop these days we dealing with very robotic and linear people.
J-Swift: Look we made Passin Me By, that’s slow but it still ended up in the club. After that though our label were expecting faster songs from us, but we just had the courage to stick with whatever we wanted to do. I was just having fun, so niggas better run, my beats gonna slay you.
Q. Lyrically, Bizarre II was a very playful, yet endearing where listeners felt they connected with your day to day life and funny anecdotes which deviated from talking about wider societal issues. Do you think there is a pressure on hip hop artists, in particular black hip hop artists to address societal issues?
Simkid3: We definitely need more consciousness in our music as black people, but not everyone’s got it like that. It’s not everyone’s calling, some people wanna get off work and just have fun. So just tell me that dumb shit. On the other hand there are times where there is serious shit happening so we do have to rise up and actively address it in our music. To be honest, black hip hop artists across the board do have it covered. Those that don’t have the quality stick to their dumb shit, but there are artists today who are versatile like Kendrick.
K-Natural: Killer Mike represents he’s political, he’s about witty lyricism and he’s real to himself. There’s a difference between being real and being real to yourself. Being real is being real to whatever everybody thinks the standard of hip hop is. The real being real is being yourself. Like Tyler the Creator and OFWGKTA when they come out they’re assholes, total dipshits, but it translates in the music because they really don’t care what anyone thinks. They definitely broke a threshold. Even Drake is being real to himself by being on his fly guy shit, it would be awkward if he just came out super gangsta. When you find out who you really are then you’re real.
Slimkid3: I like J Cole he can kick both ways fly guy shit and political, but either way he goes he’s passionate. Of course there are lots of guys who can’t do both ways, but I ain’t even trippin about them!
Q. Also I noticed and loved that the lyrics of Bizarre Ride are very self-depreciating and humorous which is far from the hyper masculine bravado lyricism which dominates hip hop. Do you think your approach helped break some stereotypes around black males?
K-Natural: Definitely! I’m not tough at all, my wife’s right here and she will woop my ass. This goes back to being real. Real hip hop fans can tell if you’re being fake. Trust me, I’ve tried it before. I went to the South and when I performed I was all about gun shots and this fake gangsta vibe. Now I look back and think why did I do that? That’s not me at all.
J-Swift: Some people may argue with me, but thinking derails you. All you know is how you feel about the music. I can’t tell you how many people thought we were from the East Coast because of our music, and we was like nah we West Coast, Inglewood & LA home of gangsta rap. We weren’t concerned that NWA and Dr Dre and The Chronic was killing it at the time. We did what we wanted to do, we had no idea that 20 years on we would still be talking about it. All I knew at the time was that I loved this and I wanted to create a sound that the people that I love could respect.
Slimkid3: I was really surprised that our album did what it did, we were really in our own lane. Let’s take Soul Flower up against Heavy Rhyme Experience. Soul Flower was a very quirky song, but people did take to it compared to the more standard hip hop sound of the time.
Q. Bizarre Ride II is heavily influenced by jazz. How do you think the hip hop world and jazz worlds intertwine?
K-Natural: Jazz was hip hop before hip hop was hip hop. Jazz was freestyling before hip hop but on instruments. Freestyle fellowship were taking it to another level where they were using their voice as instruments. As a hip hop head jazz was one of my first influences when I was young I would sit on the corner and listen to jazz.
LA Jay: Our parents were the jazz generation, subconsciously we didn’t even know how deep it is. I did the Other Fish beat, and my dad’s first paid gig was with Herbie Mann whose beat I sampled on that same beat. The remix for that song was another song that my dad played on- a Marvin Gaye song. So you can see the connections between hip hop and jazz are there and they are beyond us.
Q. The original group The Pharcyde has undergone some splits, with Imani and Bootie Brown sueing you and taking the name ‘The Pharcyde’.
Slimkid3: Split? Oh you mean the hijacking
Q. How did the split affect you guys personally?
J-Swift: Personally I only work with people who are enjoying themselves and who are positive and who love the collective spirit. I understand money, fame, drugs and girls. I’m not made of steel, I’m human. I do love them other cats, but I have fun with my boys. We have fun in the studio and we will continue to grow in that fashion, and that’s all we care about.
Slimkid3: Here’s the truth. You have an opportunity to get together with the original fam, everybody, but you turned it down. So you weren’t thinking about the music or the fans, you were just thinking about yourselves, because everybody was asking when we are gonna have another sound or album like Bizarre Ride II. We have no animosity towards them but they are still unwilling to work with us. It’s just mass resistance. There are still opportunities for us to join forces with them to make another dope ass record. The others are dope ass creative individuals and when we get together we can create sick. That’s why we have to continue performing as Bizarre Ride II Pharcyde so the fans can see Slimkid and Fatlip- whenever that nigga shows up. The fans can also see the original producers J-Swift and LA Jay and also us performing has given our little brother K-Nat more of a platform. What we give you out there on stage is more important than what those motherfuckers try to keep away.
J-Swift: Like you said earlier some fans do hold on and are like where are the other members?
SK: We came with a loving energy, what’s in mass resistance- it must be greed or hate.
Q. Finally, can you sum up what hip hop means to you in 3 or 4 words?
K-Natural: We need it!
Slimkid3: The voice of the cultures!
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