The Pharcyde Talk Defying Nostalgia Despite 'Bizarre Ride II' Anniversary Reissue
In 1992, the hip-hop group The Pharcyde released their debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. The album is now widely acknowledged as an indelible document of golden age hip-hop, so much so that Craft Recordings released a deluxe reissue of the record this month. But Imani (real name Emandu Wilcox) and Bootie Brown (Romye Robinson), who co-founded the group, find all the fuss hilarious.
"It's hard to have these conversations when people tell us how great the record is," Imani tells Billboard. "It's laughable to me. I could go smoke a blunt right now and just laugh my fucking self to sleep."
Why so? "I was there when people were saying we was wack," he explains. "We was getting hated on from the beginning. Motherfuckers was saying we wasn't shit from the beginning. Motherfuckers was sayin' we were wastin' money, we was from the west coast so we can't make no hip-hop. People were saying what we could be, what we should be, what we ain't, all that shit. Then after the second album came out, everyone told us how great the first one was. It was hard to digest -- wait a minute, y'all said we wasn't hip-hop, the album was wack, now the new album comes out, and it's, oh man, where's the old shit?"
This experience has left Imani with a healthy distrust of both the fickle listener -- "You can't be tryin' to please the fans; they don't know what they want!" -- and fly-by-night media hype. "The media, they always make it weird," he says. "They press you, make you feel like you're not doing something right. 'You should be like other people because your career's not like how people say a career should be.' 'How do you feel about people that sound like you?' Shit I don't give a fuck about. I've gotta create a fake-ass image like I care."
"How we feel about our music and how we see ourselves and all that shit, we're blind to that," Imani continues. Then he reconsiders. "Blind is the wrong word. We just don't give a fuck. It's meaningless."
A reissue is sure to bring these questions, of course. "We had nothing to do with it because we don't own everything that we created and sometimes they make decisions that we had nothing to do with," Imani says. "You know how that is -- Michael Jackson is still releasing records right now, Tupac is still releasing records right now, Prince is still releasing records right now."
The Pharcyde haven't released a new album in over a decade, but they put out four records between 1992 and 2004, gradually shedding original members as they went; now only Imani and Brown remain. Their first LP simmered for long enough to sell 500,000 copies; it also earned praise from none other than Kanye West, who called the record his "favorite album of all time."
Imani holds fans who found his group via West's recommendation at arm's length: "Just cause Kanye came out and said, 'Pharcyde is my favorite record,' people heard that like, 'shit, I like Kanye, he said Pharcyde is his favorite shit, I must like 'em too!' They're not experiencing the Pharcyde thing for themselves."
On Pharcyde's second album, Labcabincalifornia, the group worked extensively with the producer J Dilla, who subsequently became one of the most name-checked beat-makers of the last decade. (J-Swift, who was responsible for most of the production on the Pharcyde's first LP, left the fold before it came out.) These were Dilla's first mainstream credits; he went on to produce for A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, Janet Jackson, The Roots, Common and Erykah Badu, among others. Without what Imani describes as the group's "always focused on the future, never go backwards" attitude, he says, "it would've been very difficult to find Dilla."
Not that members of the Pharcyde are interested in plaudits for working with him early on. "That's a thing nowadays -- everybody's like, 'we were the first to do this, the first to do that!'" Brown says. "It's like, you're not the first to do shit. I'm not trying to get my jollies off like that."
The group released two more albums, the last in 2004, but in keeping with their forward focus, the pair now prefers to discuss what's next rather than rehash the past. "Let's talk about how we still here grindin', how these dudes have been out of the group longer than they've been in the group," Imani says. "I want to talk about how Brown's about to go with the Gorillaz on tour. How can we go to the future if we always stuck in the past?"
The latest iteration of the Pharcyde is working on new music and planning to build up their multimedia presence through a site called pharcydetv.com. (Brown's periodic tours with the Gorillaz -- he rapped on the 2005 U.K. hit "Dirty Harry" -- don't distract from this mission.) "We cookin'; it takes a minute," Imani explains. "It ain't fast food. I can't just go get some GMO shit. Pharcyde ain't GMO. It takes time, and that's what people don't have in this microwave age of information. Everyone wants it yesterday. And once you got it yesterday, they want some more shit."
Is he worried about the group's ability to survive by swimming upstream? "Everybody was tellin' us 25 years ago, 'y'all don't know what you're doing,'" Imani says. "Twenty five years later, they're sayin', 'man, you're the greatest, how did you do it?' By not listenin' to what the fuck people are sayin'."