The silence has been broken.
The two remaining members of the collective that took us on our first Bizarre Ride in November 1992 have kept their high-pitched voices mostly quiet over the past several years, all the while being portrayed as what they describe as “the bad guys.” After two plus years of refusing to participate together in any interviews, they finally decided the air required some overdue clarity, and chose Okayplayer as the venue to clean up the muck. This is the story of the Pharcyde, as told by Uncle Imani and Bootie Brown.
“We hate saying that to the fans,” says Brown in response to how they’re received when the pair appears on stage at Pharcyde shows. “They be like, ‘Why is it only y’all two?’ and it’s like, ‘Man, we just doing the duo-thing right now,’ and just try to rock the show.”
As far as they’re concerned, however, the current state of the group being a duo is not due to lack of attempts on their part.
“We tried to get wit’ ‘em,” says Imani. “That shit didn’t work. So, we gotta keep it pushin’, but we did try.” He goes on: “People always say, ‘You guys should put aside your differences,’ and yadda, yadda, yadda. We tried to get together with them niggas, and you always get reminded of why you ain’t with somebody in the first place. And that’s what happened. Like, we just kept getting reminded, like, man, there’s a reason why we ain’t together. It’s just like—the time passed.”
The time he’s referring to is the almost two decades since the then-quartet’s debut single, “Ya Mama,” began the journey. This part of the journey was preceded with Brown, Imani, Slimkid3, and another member forming the dance crew called 242 (pronounced Two Four Two). When the other member decided against them changing the focus to rapping and split, an emcee named Fatlip from a neighboring crew became the replacement, 242 morphed into the Pharcyde, and the Ride as we know it began. Though, Imani says, the critical acclaim now bestowed on the group was not always received.
“It took us doing ‘Ya Mama’ and ‘Passin’ Me By,’ and two years on Lollapalooza—and that was a tour that wasn’t really open to Hip Hop. We helped shatter some misconceptions about rappers and Hip Hop at that time. People didn’t really know what to expect when we got on the stage. And by the time we got off the stage, they couldn’t wait for us to get back on.”
No, says Uncle Imani, it wasn’t all giggling and winks when they appeared on the scene… well, not on the first gander.
“Hindsight changes everything. When you look at hindsight, it’s like, ‘Oh, you guys are great. You guys have one of the greatest albums!’ But, it wasn’t the greatest album when we first put it out.”
Regardless, the four literally-starving artists-turned-roommates had a ball collaborating on album concepts, as they gigged as dancers to survive.
“At that time, I mean, we were all broke,” says Brown. “If one person had money, it wasn’t no big thing. One person takes care of the other person, you know? It was all good.”
Imani adds: “We was doing videos at the time, and videos was how we was gettin’ paid. And, how we would do it, we would go to one of them no-ID [required] check-cashin’ spots,” they laugh, “and we would cash the check, and we would get some herb, and some food, and we would chill. If one of us had money, we all had money. But, most of the time, it was at least two of us in the videos, so we had at least two checks to feed, you know, four of us or so.”
While the vibe on Bizarre was playful and fun, the beginnings of the tensions that eventually broke the group in two displayed itself way before the LP’s release.
“That was the time when we were gathering, I would say, all the material for making the album,” explains Brown, “cuz it was just fun, you know? We were chillin’, we were all at the same level.” He continues: “Then, man…! Once the biz got in, it just kicked into a different level! Like, it just, I just… I don’t even know—[laughs]—it’s hard to say, like, what it does, but it changed a lot of stuff… it changed a lot of stuff.”
Some of the stuff began to change shortly after the Ride began, with turmoil from this newly-formed group’s direction.
“Fatlip was already rappin’ before everybody,” says Imani. “So, he kinda had his whole thing how he wanted to do it. And that’s why he was weird [being] in a group as we became the Pharcyde, because we was so used to being in a group, meaning, knowing how to compromise and sacrifice certain things. And he was more of a solo eMCee, meaning he was basically, ‘Fend for yourself, and don’t worry about what other people have to say.’ When you in a group, that’s not really the dynamic, and, eventually, we knew that was gonna rear its head.”
And, rear it did, but more about that later. First, Bootie Brown wanted to make something known.
“J-Sw!ft did not produce ‘Passin’ Me By!’”
The group’s flagship tune from their debut took the longest to record, partially due to what Brown and Imani say was Fatlip’s months of delaying to put his verse down, but also partly due to the dude who ran the studio.
J-Sw!ft was the musician and producer who is credited with producing the entire Bizarre Ride album. Though, that may not be exactly the case.
“We all contributed to the album’s production,” says Brown.
He says Sw!ft was “stingy” with the equipment, and used to lock it up in the room so no one could use it without him being there. But, Brown would hide in a crawlspace to get locked in the room along with the equipment, just so he could get a crack at producing. Trial and error was his instructor, but he picked up a few things from Fatlip and even Sw!ft himself. Though, someone else in the family really helped him connect the dots.
“[J-Sw!ft’s brother] Pedro was the one that sat down and put everything together; this is how you loop, this is how you program the beats. He was the one that explained it all to me. He put the puzzle together and showed me, this is how you construct the situation.”
Brown used those skills, along with his stealth-like prowess to get at the production equipment, to put the beginnings of “Passin’ Me By” together, a track that Sw!ft told him would never work with the samples being used.
“I put the beat down,” says Brown, “and laid my verse, and played it for Fatlip.” At the time, the tune’s hook was “Time keeps on passin’ me by.” It was the suggestion of Fatlip to flip it to “She keeps on,” and Brown deferred to him to sing it.
So, when did the Ride begin to turn from better to the worse?
“It’s so much!” says Brown. “I mean, you’re talking like 20 years of gathered information! [laughs] There’s so many situations, I mean, the story could go on forever.”
Since we don’t have that kind of time, we’ll just delve in with a summation of the forever-long story; again, as told by Uncle Imani and Bootie Brown.
Once the group’s popularity grew and the shows and tours began to pick up, one group member tried to play more of the Diana Ross role as the quartet’s front man. (“He wanted it to be Fatlip and the Pharcyde,” says Brown.) Fatlip was also somewhat of a wildcard, with the remaining members of the group not knowing whether he would appear for a show, or steal from other acts they were overseas on tour with, both of which took place on more than one occasion.
Some time after the mostly Jay Dee-produced Labcabincalifornia became the dream sophomore follow-up, tensions between Fatlip and the group caused Tré to urge Brown and Imani to push ‘Lip out. Due to his solo career aspirations, however, the excommunication proved to be less than difficult, as Fatlip left willingly.
With Fatlip’s departure came Tré’s turn to take the superstar route. (“He got on some, ‘Man, I ain’t really got time to deal with this shit, you can talk to my manager,’” says Imani.) Tré would be absent from rehearsals, late for show dates, etc.
Fatlip was also heavy on taking the “proper” amount of time to record his verses, whether six days or six months, as this was apparently key in his killer verse on “Passin’.”
Around this time, Tré was working production on an album for actor-turned-attempted-rapper Brian Austin Green. Tré’s attention was focused on this and other projects, and less and less on the Pharcyde. Though, he did contribute a limited amount of time to the group’s third studio full-length, Plain Rap, which dropped in 2000. As the album was being released, Tré informed Imani and Brown he was leaving the group to pursue his solo career.
The remaining two members say there was a substantial financial burden left in their laps when Tré and ‘Lip departed from the group. There were managers, engineers, studios, etc. that had to be paid. They were finding it increasingly more difficult to book shows with the Pharcyde’s new dynamic of only two members. And, at the time over a decade later, they had still not been receiving proper compensation from a certain Tasty Records label they released their first two albums on. However, they continued making Pharcyde moves to eventually be able to use that vehicle for departure on future Rides.
Their next trip came a few years later, when they began work on their fourth release, Humboldt Beginnings. According to them, Tré had been back in touch to work with them on it, as his solo project hadn’t been as well received as he’d hoped. He was apparently upset Imani and Bootie Brown were working on a Pharcyde project without him being involved, taking them to court for rights to the name. Brown and Imani are victorious, and were legally provided exclusive rights to the name the Pharcyde.
Read Part 2 at Okayplayer
Words by by jaythreeoh
Photographs by Scott Stewart