Exclusive Interview With The Pharcyde

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

the_pharcydeQ. 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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Maya Elese

Maya Elese

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Mul­ti­lin­gual Lon­don born, bred & based print & broad­cast journ­al­ist, presenter, DJ & cul­tur­al pro­du­cer with a par­tic­u­lar love for glob­al afro-dia­spor­ic cul­tures. @mayaelese on everyth­ang.

About Maya Elese

Maya Elese
Multilingual London born, bred & based print & broadcast journalist, presenter, DJ & cultural producer with a particular love for global afro-diasporic cultures. @mayaelese on everythang.

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