The Pharcyde biography
Occupation: Rap group
Personal Information Members include rappers Tre "Slimkid" Hardson (born c. 1970 in Los Angeles, CA); Romye "Booty Brown" Robinson (born c. 1970 in Altadena, CA); Derrick "Fatlip" Stewart (born in Fairfax, CA); and Imani Wilcox (born in Compton, CA).
"We call ourselves the Pharcyde 'cause it's a name that doesn't set any boundaries," said Tre "Slimkid" Hardson in Rolling Stone. Tre, one fourth of the eclectic Los Angeles group, added that he and his crew were "nuts when it comes to music. We dig the crazy shit." At the same time, the Pharcyde have distanced themselves from the high-spirited silliness of their smash 1992 debut; taking three years to produce a follow-up album, the foursome poured all their frustrations with the music business and life in general into the more mature but sonically ambitious LabCabinCalifornia. Despite a soberer image, however, they distinguished themselves from their stoic "G-rap" peers, tempering introspection with their familiar daffiness. And though they frequently disagreed about the details, the Pharcyde stayed focused in part because of their powerful esprit de corps. "It's definitely good to have four people to share ideas with," member Imani Wilcox told True magazine. "You can have four perspectives and four different reality-checks. With solo acts it's so much easier to get caught up in so much shit. We are each other's reality-check."
Tre, Imani, and Romye "Booty Brown" Robinson began their show business careers as dancers and choreographers, first at club shows and talent contests and later on the Fox network's successful comedy-variety series In Living Color. They met aspiring MC Derrick "Fatlip" Stewart at the apartment of music teacher Reggie Andrews, who taught the quartet about the record business. Andrews's crib was eventually dubbed the South Central Unit (S.C.U.), a kind of vocational center for hip-hop hopefuls that received funding from A&M Records. It was at S.C.U. that they also met producer J-Swift, who helped them assemble a demo tape that inspired a bidding war among record labels. The winner was Delicious Vinyl, which released their debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Prior to this album, however, the group attracted a buzz with their contribution to Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol. 1, which paired the U.K. funk-jazz band Brand New Heavies with a panoply of rappers.
Bizarre Ride appealed to rap and alternative fans alike with its eclectic samples and wide variety of themes. "Hilarious skits, stoned observations, clownish antics and bitter ironies, coupled with multilayered production, made for an adventurous listening experience," noted 4080 magazine. "If the Pharcyde didn't remind you of people you knew from high school," ventured writer Eric K. Arnold, "they reminded you people you wished you went to high school with." The Source deemed Bizarre Ride "a stellar album that stood apart from the deluge of glock-blunt-bitch rhetoric that plunged hip-hop into full-fledged meanness." Thanks to singles like "Ya Mama" and "Passin' Me By"--not to mention nearly two years of continuous touring--they were able to break the stranglehold of "hard" L.A. rappers and emerge on the scene "like an atomic party favor," as Pulse! correspondent Carter Harris put it. "The group writes 'skits' instead of songs, drops references to everything from ?singing cartoon rodents? The Chipmunks to ?jazz visionary? Thelonious Monk, and spices the mix with lounge-style piano breaks and chants," observed Neil Strauss in Spin.
Even so, the album's sales didn't match the expectations of fans. "Everybody was thinkin' we was platinum," Imani recalled to Harris, "but we didn't even go gold." Tre told The Source that around the time of Bizarre Ride the group experienced a "lot of stress, all kind of shit going down over time. There was a point when I was hating life.... 'Cause I was really trying to figure out where the f-- our money was." He and his bandmates claimed that they were lied to by record company staff about how many copies of their album had actually been sold. "They'll make promises that are invisible. Same old empty shit. If you say something, your word is your bond. But in the music business your word ain't shit. You gotta have that shit on paper."
Apart from their disillusionment with the industry, the Pharcyde was experiencing such rapid creative growth that the record that had established their reputation began to look like child's play. Tre expressed to Strauss his wish that they had made the album "dirtier," to which Booty Brown replied, "It's time to move on." Stewart agreed: "It's cool for what it was," he declared, suggesting that their next project would dig a lot deeper.
Perhaps it was this creative digging that inspired the Pharcyde to change their actual digs: they moved from the celebrated "Pharcyde Manor," a clubhouse that had been ground zero for raucous house parties and a locus of the cartoonish vibe that defined Bizarre Ride, to a house in the hip Los Feliz/Silverlake section of L.A. They referred to their new home base as the LabCabin. Vibe's Juliana Bolden visited the foursome there and detailed each member's personalized space; she noted that the interior resembled any suburban home but for its lack of furnishings. "Some people need lots of furniture to feel at home," Booty Brown told her, "but we really just like having space to dance." Fat Lip noted that they planned to build a recording studio there.
Though it would be some time before the album they began there would appear, the Pharcyde did contribute to the soundtrack of the film Street Fighter and participated in the jazz-rap compilation Red Hot and Cool. "My Soul," which appeared on an anthology disc called State of Emergency, was re-worked as "Devil Music" for LabCabinCalifornia; it contains perhaps the most quoted Pharcyde lyric of all, one that reflects the damage that the music industry can do to the spirit: "Every time I step to the microphone / I put my soul on two-inch reels that I don't even own." Such insights color much of LabCabin, which was released late in 1995.
"It's like we're growing," Tre mused to Lorraine Ali of Rolling Stone. "We started out doing the dance thing, and then we allowed ourselves more freedom and did Bizarre Ride. There's something about freedom that's just hard to describe." Thus, despite apprehension among some fans about their newfound seriousness, Tre and his bandmates expressed confidence. "You start out with real strict boundaries, then you discover how cool it is not to have boundaries. When you get a little taste of freedom, you never wanna go back." Bootie Brown described the sophomore effort to Harris in Pulse! as "cleaner and more straightforward" than the debut, "something you could dance to or just chill with your girl and listen to all the way through, without having to fast-forward past any annoying shit." Imani, meanwhile, identified pot and psychedelic mushrooms as the source of many of their ideas: "A lot of the concepts for the album were put together when we were on 'shrooms."
Working with a different set of producers--and handling much of the production work themselves--the Pharcyde came up with a leaner, jazzier sound than they'd had on the debut. The first single, "Runnin'," looped a Brazilian-jazz guitar pattern and sported evocative vocal harmonies in its chorus. The overall critical response to the album acknowledged the group's maturation. Musician lauded the disc as "clever, funny, sometimes downright gorgeous." The Source declared that although "some might still think of them as the jokers of Bizarre Ride ... they've transcended that image." Sia Michael of Spin, however, saw "a calculated progression, one designed to reposit themselves as serious artists, and get LabCabin as much play on the streets as their debut did on college radio."
For the Pharcyde, however, LabCabin's content had less to do with maneuvering for markets than with describing their emotional and creative state. "This time we let you in a little more and give you a little more of our soul," Imani told True. Fat Lip, quoted in a Delicious Vinyl biography, added: "Over the last three years, we saw a lot, experienced a lot, and learned a lot. That's obviously gonna come out in our music."