Still on a Bizarre Ride

The Pharcyde celebrates 20 years with a tour that stops at the Pyramid Cabaret on Saturday, Feb. 23. Imani Brown

If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ve heard of The Pharcyde - the West Coast quartet from L.A. whose seminal 1992 record, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde is consistently ranked among the best rap albums ever, celebrated for its offbeat, funky eclecticism that separated it from the flock of such G-funk acts as Ice Cube, Spice 1 and Dr. Dre.

Today, four has become two, and The Pharcyde has parted ways with former members Slimkid3 and Fatlip, leaving Uncle Imani and Bootie Brown to carry the torch.

Speaking with The Uniter over the phone from Pasadena, Calif., Imani, 41, and Bootie, 43, offered their perspective on the industry and what it takes to stay relevant in a transformed world of music.

“The game is very different,” confirms Imani in a reflective tone. “When people are online every day, an hour is like an eternity; ... the shelf life of old albums isn’t what it used to be.”

“Back in the day we put out an album every two or three years,” Bootie adds. “But now you just can’t do that. If you ain’t putting out music consistently, you’re a dinosaur. ... That’s the level everything’s at right now.”

Having reached middle age, Imani and Bootie still fondly recall the success of Bizarre Ride and its 1995 follow-up, Labcabincalifornia, which was completed with legendary producer J Dilla (then, Jay Dee) and critically acclaimed despite not achieving gold status in the U.S.

“Everybody has a different version of it, but at that stage in our lives we were at a crossroads,” Bootie recalls. “We had a fun vibe and we knew we loved hip hop, so we concentrated on the music and, luckily, it was a dream come true.”

Since Pharcyde’s golden age-era success, deteriorating relationships between its members has resulted in a relatively turbulent decade.
From dumbfounded fans expecting four emcees at live shows, to difficulties marketing new projects, Bootie and Imani admit the business is rarely easy.

“Everything is always changing and you just gotta grow,” Imani says. “We were a quartet, and now we’re a duo. It took awhile to feel how that dynamic changed, and it was really difficult.

“I was always learning to play my position in the two-man game. ... To be honest, it’s weird because people see the group and it’s only us, but the time splitting up was also time spent growing.”

Since the group’s last effort as a quartet - 2000’s Plain Rap - Bootie and Imani released Humboldt Beginnings as The Pharcyde in 2004 and were reticent to discuss any impending releases.

In the interim, Bootie stays busy under his alter-ego Frank Friction, self-producing a steady flow of mixtapes, while Imani has worked on collaborations with Danger Mouse and debuted two records exclusively in Japan.

Ahead of their Feb. 23 show in Winnipeg at the Pyramid Cabaret, Bootie was quick to remind fans that, despite the altered makeup of the group, the message hasn’t changed.

“Regardless of the confusion that’s out there, we’re still The Pharcyde. Whatever you thought about the group, it’s not that. It’s about having fun.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)

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