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The Pharcyde

The Pharcyde

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 13th August, 2012 9:06AM

The early to mid nineties was a particularly fertile time for creativity and originality within hip-hop in America. Following on from the hardcore gangsta rap of the late eighties, the form shifted into a focus on musicality, depth and diversity. In a lot of ways, this was brought to the general public by the efforts of the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief, Pete Rock & CL Smooth and over in South Central, Los Angeles, a group of dancers turned rappers called The Pharcyde.

In 1992, The Pharcyde released a classic record amongst classic records, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde. Twenty so years on, despite shifts in line-up and focus within the group, The Pharcyde's founders and longstanding torch bearers Imani and Bootie Brown can still be found performing music off that record. While these days they're also focused on their own individual projects, they haven't forgotten the legacy of their music and continue to bring it to crowds around the globe. And between the 16th and 19th of August, with assistance from DJ Vick One and Computer Jay (on visuals), they will bring The Pharcyde experience to New Zealand for the first time.

At the start of the month, I spoke with Imani and Bootie Brown to talk about both their far flung past and their passionate hopes for the future.

Considering how long you guys have been doing this, how would you compare hip-hop fans from twenty years ago to the hip-hop fans of today?

Imani: Hip-Hop fans nowadays got the internet. Hip-hop fans twenty years ago didn't. They didn't have facebook. They didn't have twitter. The technology there alone, it's a whole different game. It's night and day. They didn't have YouTube back then! [Laughs]

Bootie Brown: It's like going to school with a typewriter and they got computers. [Laughs]

Imani: You can't even compare it. The fans, you can't even compare [them] because of the methods through which they can get music. That is night and day man, night and day. When I was coming up we had video jukebox! We had videos! That was the big deal! The Cold Crush brothers and that [in the generation before us], they would have loved to have videos on YO MTV Raps and all that. So hell, with the advent of YouTube, you can just make your own rap career and you never have to put out a record. [Laughs]

Bootie Brown: It is completely different. I mean, it has it's good, it has it's bad. For the most part though, I would say the difference is the technology. Even just to make the music, it is just completely different. Steroids personified at one thousand percent is where we are at! [Laughs]

Now, a lot of people out here don't know seem to know that you were dancers before you were rappers. I was wondering if you could talk about what the hip-hop dance scene was like back in the day for you guys?

Bootie Brown: In LA we called it the Trendy scene. That was what it was. It was sped up electro, hip-hop, Afrika Bambaataa, rock, Cybotron, Kraftwerk. It was just really that electro type of music. We would play it at 45 [not 33 on the record player] sometimes. It wasn't like a big thing, but if you met someone, you could tell if they were doing the dancing, just by the way they dressed. It was a complete style, a complete whole thing that was going on.

Imani: It was loose man. It was nothing official, there was no president, no vice president. It was just cats that liked music, and it was like a scene. You know what I mean? It was just a scene. You knew these people were connected to the scene because of their hairstyles or the way they talked.

Bootie Brown: I would say that was kinda like the start. That was where I met Imani. It was like a little stage where hip-hop was coming in. The whole thing was changing over and we had this contribution.

How were you guys dressing in that scene?

Bootie Brown: Doc Martins. Creepers, I don't know if you guys had Creepers out there? We were like mods. In a Mad House mod type of way. It would have its own twist sometimes. Some people would wear tuxedos and suits. Depending on what groups you were in, you had a certain kind of style in the group.

Imani: Imagine if The Warriors didn't have chains and knives! [Laugh] You know the movie The Warriors?

Bootie Brown: Exactly! It was like that! That was the style. People knew what was going on. Like Imani said, it was exactly like the movie. [Laughs]

Imani: A lot of cats from that scene, they morphed into DJs, producers. A lot of the dancers morphed into singers and MCs and just all kinda shit.

Bootie Brown: Like Rosie Perez, she was a dancer on Soul Train and then she was an actress. There was just a lot of things going on where people were going from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Imani: In the dancing scene, a lot of people were just dancers for dancing's sake. But as a scene, we kind of parlayed it. We were making money. We were doing a lot of videos. We started meeting a lot of people. We started going to other parts of the city. We got to dance on [the classic sketch comedy show] In Living Color a couple of times.

Bootie Brown: Basically we had dance classes. Anybody could be there, Christina Arnold, Maori Lopez. There could be anybody who was into dance at the dance class, at that time. They were young and they were going to auditions, doing that kind of stuff. They're actors and actresses now, and you would just meet these people. Then when the [dance] groups started coming along it was like a big whirlwind, because everything just happened. Oh, we know this person? We met this person? It all started to click together from the dancing and the people we were meeting. Everybody was just taking it up to the next level. They became record executives or started working at TV stations, radio, DJs. It was just a lot going on.

Whoa! Now on the other end of the spectrum, people out here don't really know about your new projects you're working on yet. Could you each tell me about your new projects? Imani, why don't you start off with what you doing with your Uncle Imani project and the Problaccmajik album?

Imani: Like I said, we always making music. And the type of music we putting out now, it's not so much about putting out music like, here is this record, it is more about putting out tunes. It just want to make a fresh mark so that people can say, okay, there is something else going on aside from what he did with The Pharcyde. That is my thing, and it's not about saying look, forget about that Pharcyde stuff, it's more about saying, this is what else I got going on too.

To make it stick takes a minute. You got to be on a whole new shit, you know what I mean? without the whole marketing machine, without the whole video MTV stuff. So it's baby steps, and it is continuous. You got to stay on it, you got to stay on it, and you got to be persistent. You gotta be patient. You got to practice your craft. That is where I am at with it. I'm just sitting here practicing my craft, getting my shit right.

What about you Bootie? You got a new mixtape with DJ Icewater right? And you been making productions under an alias?

Bootie Brown: Yeah. I'd say for my, my project is called the BirdTalk mixtape. I feel like for me, at this point in the game, I'm just trying to master my craft. I'm trying to master certain elements of writing and the way I deliver it; the way I do it. It's all just a process of mastering the craft to the upmost, more than just saying, I'm a rapper, or I'm an entertainer, or I'm a performer. It's more or less a combination of everything. The ultimate b-boy story if you will.

The total package. All four corners?

Bootie Brown: Yeah. Exactly. I feel like there are people out there who can do it. But honestly, I feel like there is nobody who can do everything. Who can jump on the stage, rock the stage, get behind the beats rock the beats, get behind the mic, rock the mic. Just an all-round type of thing. That is my level. That is what I am going for.

Tell me a bit more about your Frank Friction production alias?

Bootie Brown: We had a project with the Souls of Mischief where we all gave each other aliases. I gave myself a producer alias and that is kind of where it started. When we were doing certain projects I would kind of throw that name out there. Now I feel like it gives me a freedom. I can do different things that people wouldn't expect from Bootie Brown. That was kind of like what I wanted to do. You know, if I want to do some electro songs or do a new wave song, I feel like I can do that with Frank Friction. With Bootie Brown people have certain expectations. It has to be hip-hop! It has to be this! You have to talk about this. I understand, and I don't want to say Beyonce / Sasha Fierce [to describe what I mean here], but it's kinda in that way. You know what I mean? [Laughs] I'm going to do something different! You know what I'm saying!

For sure, you don't want to be slave to an idea of you twenty years old.

Bootie Brown: Exactly! Like the child actor where you can't see anything else apart from that part they did on TV. That is what you're always going to imagine. You can't see nothing else.

Why do you think this happens? Why do you think people can be so determined to frame an artist under work they did in the past? And beyond that, why is there this obsession with earlier works?

Bootie Brown: Most of the time from an artist perspective, it is a money thing. Also, sometimes an artist isn't getting the shine that they once were and they think that this is going to be their time when they can get to shine.

It is hard to pick why people want it, but then and again some people just want to see it. I can say that their aren't fans who just want to see the actual thing, you know, experience it for the first time. They just want to see it live. I guess there are people who just get into it like that.

Wrapping things up, do you guys have a message you'd like to extend to the New Zealand audiences who will be coming to your shows?

Imani: This ain't for the sitting around at home types. Just get on down there and have fun!

Bootie Brown: I would just say this. Just come on down and have fun! We try to not have an uptight vibe where you gotta feel all tense and look over your shoulder all the show. Just come on down and if you feel like dancing, start dancing! People will have a good time and that helps us out on stage. Once the vibe is there, I think that helps for positive energy.

See below for their NZ dates.