There’s something sad about watching a once-great group sing old songs because nobody wants to hear the new ones. Except The Pharcyde don’t have new ones, even though they’ve been “reunited” since last year’s Rock the Bells–which means that their performance at at the Santa Monica Pier last Friday was solely to cash a check. How do I know? Because it was for an event called The Coors Light Cold Front Jam–the only other option is that they were paid in kegs.
Still, I could listen to “Passing Me By,” “Ya Mama,” “Runnin,” “What’s up Fatlip?” “Drop” et. al, performed until I have a glass eye with a fish in it–even though the quartet was rapping next a stand that sold mackerel bait. I spoke with Imani and Slimkid3 for the Times, about everything from the inspiration for “Passing Me By,” to their love of Korn (?), to the amount of hallucinogenics they ingested in the early Clinton years. As usual, the B-Sides are after the jump.
Do you guys all still live in Los Angeles?
Slimkid3/Tre: I live in Portland. I like it up there, it’s a change for me. My family’s still down here, but I’m just re-building, I’m got a DJ night up there, and I’m just falling back in love with music again.
Had you fallen out of music?
Tre: You never stop loving music, but you grow to hate the business. It jades you. From the dumbass promoters, to the label executives. It’s like a regular love affair, sometimes you’re in love, sometimes you’re out of it. But you always have those mash-out moments, when you need to express what’s inside of you through song.
Imani: When I look at Tre moving up north, I think it like a dude taking his religion and spreading the word. He’s taking a fertile new ground and assimilating them to his background, which is 56th and Central, Gardena, South Central Los Angeles. He’s spreading the thing. love with the
Music is a beautiful thing, you never fall out of love with music. There’s always another love song to write, the perfect party song. Music allows you to take any angle, from a political mindstate, to just chillin’ riding on suckers, to music to make babies to.
Was it extremely frustrating for you guys to drop an album like Labcabincalifornia, only to see it get mixed reviews and limited commercial success?
Imani: Well, that’s just how it was. When Bizarre Ride hit, it was so layered that it took a while to sink in, and people were upset that they didn’t jump jump on it sooner. The delay was hard for us to swallow. But we had success with “Drop” and “Runnin.” At the time, the stigma was that we were a one-hit wonder, and it solidified us as there to stay. It solidified our legacy, even if people weren’t onto it at the time.
How many of the beats for Illa J’s album were ones that you guys passed on back in the day?
Imani: I don’t remember us passing on any of them. Dilla would just give us hundreds of beats. I have so many of them that have never been heard before.
Tre: There was actually one beat on there that we wanted to fuck with, but on the Illa J album it was really slowed down. I think I’d heard some of them before, but they were revamped and sounded different from the initial version. He had some ill shit though, but there were so many more tracks. He was just a beat rats making beats and beats and beats.
Imani: One thing I remember him always talking about was what a huge D’Angelo fan he was. All he would talk about was D’Angelo and this group that he had called Slum Village, and how dope they were going to be. We’d ask him to play the music and he’d say he didn’t have any. Finally, one day we heard it and were blown away, like, ‘damn, this is the Slum Village he’d been talking about.’
Tre: That albu was so crazy, the cadence over those beats, the way he’d express himself. It was bananas. That shit was way of its time.
What do you think it was about LA in the early 90s that was such a place of creative ferment for rappers?
Tre: We had a lot of creative freedom back then. We were deeply seated in our groove and just living life in our capacity, practicing, and trying to lock down the business stuff as best as we could. So we weren’t really focusing on what else was going on. You’d hear shit and either like it or not. But yeah, Born Jamericans and Masta Ace was always around. Folks was just busy.
We did a lot of stuff with Cypress Hill. B-Real is like a big brother. Them and Korn. We we’d always pay attention to how those guys were doing, and what kinds of business stuff they were being.
You guys also toured around the country on the Lollapalooza 93 tour. Are there any memories that stand out from that trek?
Tre: Green Day. We was around when they were small, and they blew the fuck up. We saw them in their little Winnebago shit, they were doing it punk style, one Winnebago, one hotel room. The next thing you know, they’re the biggest band around. They stayed consistent and focused. Beyond the sparkles and the glitter, there’s a lot of work involved. People think you do it from the top down, but you do it from the bottom up.
Any other memories that stand out?
Tre: I dunno, there were a lot of mushrooms. So much stuff got lost–I remember going from one stage to the next stage.
How influential were shrooms to the recording of Bizarre Ride?
I don’t want to speak for the rest of the group, and not to say that it was anybody’s crutch or anything like that, but it opening up a way of thinking. It gave a different perspective on life and opened me up to new ideas. I don’t really encourage it, because its not for everyone, not everyone pulls out of those situations, but it definitely was influential for me.
When did you stop tripping?
In those days, I’d always try to wean myself off them to see if I could get the same results by stopping. I wanted to collect the energy and one day, I don’t remember when, I was just able to do the same things naturally. I realized I needed to be grounded, to be connected with all things. I finally stopped drinking and smoking for good around 1999. But those days were a good time. Some people were doing drugs for recreationm, but I did it for the journey. It was definitely a spiritual experience.
You guys were sort of tangentially linked with the Good Life scene. What was the relationship there. Were you guys performing at those shows a lot? Well, we hung out with Freestyle Fellowship a lot. Fatlip actually went to the Good Life a lot. I was doing a lot of other things, so I couldn’t really speak on that, but Fatlip was the dude you shoudl talk to. But our two camps were always intertwined. When we were living at The Manor, Mark Luv, who was our DJ, was always at the spot and at the Good Life. Part of us was always there. It was the same culture and mix, dancing with the Black Eyed Peas, or just grooving. It was all-encompassing.
Where was the Manor located?
At Adams and Budlong. We were all staying in the same house. It was a really cool time. As we grew up, the houses turned into more spots to do our work. Our main spots were usually The Manor, and then the Labcabin, but we’d always have a girlfriend’s house to crash in, because you just can’t have your girls walking around in the morning in their panties in front of your boys. That’s just out of respect.
What was the real inspiration for “Passing Me By”
That was a beautiful situation. Well at the time our manager/mentor Reggie Andrews owned a place in South Central where we were recording, and it was right at the middle of a really busy intersection where there was tons of traffic. So during the peak hours we’d just take our breaks and stand outside watching the hot chicks get off work. It was like Crenshaw on a Sunday, letting go by, and always, things would be passing you by. It was a true statement–there was always that girl that you wanted to hang out or kick it with, but never know how to pull up the right words or to talk to them really sincerely. I love that song, it will last as long as there’s high schoolers. You know…and there she was passin me by again, but you can never muster up the courage.