Every now and then, a show will be announced that will stop you in your tracks, sending a lightning bolt of excitement up your spine like a toddler who’s just found out they’re going to Disneyland.
It’s a feeling hip hop fans are becoming increasingly used to. After years of envious glances towards Manchester (not to mention the sprint for the last train home), the last 18 months has seen a plethora of legends land on our doorstep. Following in the footsteps of Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang’s Gza and Big Daddy Kane, Californian quartet THE PHARCYDE mark the 20th anniversary of their seminal debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde by bringing it in its entirety to East Village Arts Club on 1st July.
Playing a well-loved album front to back has become a slightly cynical trademark of the reformed-band circuit, but this time it’s a more than justified celebration. A 16-track opus jam-packed with funny, inventive rhymes backed by fresh jazzy samples, Bizarre Ride… laid down the template for the likes of Jurassic 5, Eminem, and Dilated Peoples. The tales of lost love, bad sex and bad jokes, evidenced by singles Ya Mama, 4 Better or 4 Worse and particularly the often-sampled Passin’ Me By, have grown in reputation with every passing year, delighting generation after generation of hip hop fans as they discover it for the first time.
Bido Lito! caught up with Trevant ‘Slimkid3’ Hardson to ask him how it all came about. “J Swift [Bizarre Ride… producer], Mike Ross and Rick Ross [of Delicious Vinyl Records] decided to throw a 20-year anniversary party that went VERY WELL, and we all decided to keep this shit going. It was so much fun, and the fans took to it like it was the best thing in the world. We had to follow the call of the energy.”
Back in November ’92, Slim, Derrick ‘Fatlip’ Stewart, Romye ‘Bootie Brown’ Robinson and Emandu ‘Imani’ Wilcox were finding their voices as rappers, having only recently given up on careers as dancers. Their ease of movement is reflected in their hyperactive flow, intertwining verses with the rhythm and dexterity of a ballet troupe. Hip hop itself was finding its feet at the same time, as people slowly began to accept it as more than a passing craze.
The Native Tongues collective – featuring amongst others A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah and the Jungle Brothers – had just exploded in New York, eschewing the aggressive gangster tales that made stars of Public Enemy and NWA to accentuate hip hop’s sunnier side. The Pharcyde were the first artists exploring similar musical themes to come from the West Coast. In the era of The Chronic and Doggystyle, these guys were going against the G-funk grain to head to the jazz section for their nuggets of inspiration.
Although Slim denies their methods were born out of rebellion: “I just think funk and jazz are two different things and we gravitated to the jazz style. Think about it though…jazz loops are fresh as fuck. So much colour to them. Funk is super dope – One Nation Under A Groove is one of the greatest songs ever created, to me – but how many more times are you going to loop it?”
Slim has many great memories (and I’m sure some cracking stories) about the time spent constructing their debut: “My memories of us recording at Hollywood Sound are the best. We were always surrounded by family and friends, particularly other MCs in the game. The pool table room was the best because that’s where a lot of the Momma Jokes and pool competitions took place. The Pharcyde crew never had any mercy for you, or Ya Momma, when it came to telling jokes!”
While the playground battles of Ya Mama gave them local recognition, it was Passin’ Me By that made the world listen. Unrequited childhood love has been the most popular theme since people started putting words to music, and undoubtedly the most universal. What makes Passin’ Me By so special is how it describes those raw feelings of confusion and frustration in painful detail without sounding clinical, illustrated perfectly by Sanji Senaka’s wistful black and white video.
As a letter to lost love, it’s very powerful, as is that killer organ riff sampled from Quincy Jones’ Summer in the City. Slim was aware very early on they had a hit on their hands: “I always felt like Passin’ Me By was going to do big from the very beginning. We would sit and listen to the loops for hours, with no words coming to mind, just vibin’. That song always gave us chills. Then when Sanji came with the video, it was a guaranteed hit. Everything fell into place with that song. I feel blessed that J-swift chose to give it to us. Just the music alone was uplifting.”
Follow-up album Labcabincalifornia built on their initial success, spawning classic singles Runnin’, She Said and Drop (augmented by director Spike Jonze’s, and arguably hip hop’s, best video), but the band’s fortunes began to take a turn for the worse, with both J-Swift and Fatlip falling into much-publicised drug problems. By the time of their final album, 2004’s Humboldt Beginnings, only two original members remained.
As is often the case, time – not to mention a healthy financial boost – heals all wounds, and Slim is excited to get back on stage: “I used to get bored singing our songs, because I wanted new material, but after a long break from them I feel like they are super fun. Makes me wanna slam dance.”
That energy will certainly be reciprocated by an eager Liverpool crowd, as the wave of excitement that has spread across social media since the show’s announcement reaches a crescendo. The European leg of the anniversary tour began late last year, and Slim admits he’s amazed that so many people have connected so strongly with something the band made in their 20s: “I’m so grateful that our magic vibes are still spreading around the world – so many new fans and supporters. There is definitely something I love about Europe. The crowds are super receptive and true to us. I appreciate that; it makes me wanna give more.”