The Pharcyde: An Interview with the Hip-Hop Luminaries


*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bringing together reggae, rap, hip-hop, and a little bit of ska is Cali Vibes Music Festival, held every Valentine’s Day weekend on the Downtown Long Beach Waterfront. The GoldenVoice-run soiree has cherry picked the most significant cultural phenoms of Cali Reggae and neatly packed the biggest names, a few OG’s, a headlining weed sponsor and cannabis village, as well as a hidden tattoo speakeasy into a one-stop shop for stoners everywhere. Cali Vibes is more than a music festival, it’s a living, breathing testament to everything and everyone that’s influenced the Cali Reggae scene over the past twenty years, including underground hip-hop pioneers, The Pharcyde.

Standing side-stage at the Greens Stage, I can feel the sun beating down on my neck. I’m eagerly waiting for The Pharcyde to begin their set, wondering if they’ll play my favorite song, the widely-sampled “Passin’ Me By”.

They do. And as I walk with members Imani, Tre (Slimkid3), and Fatlip towards their green room post-show, we chat about the blossoming underground rap scene of the 90’s, an era then-dominated by West Coast gangster rappers like Tupac, Dr. Dre, and fellow Cali Vibes artist, Ice Cube. 

High Times: Bizarre Ride and The Chronic came out within weeks of one another in ’92. What was that dynamic between gangster rap and underground hip-hop back then?

Imani: Gangster rap was well-established and poppin’ way before The Chronic came out. It was so predominant. It wasn’t even a competition, gangster rap was dominating the landscape. 

Tre: In LA, in general, the dynamic of hip-hop was that you were either a gangster or the artistic, creative type.

Imani: But [the underground] wasn’t bubbling big enough back then. Gangster rap was everywhere you went. So, either you’re doing that and becoming part of that landscape, or you go where everybody’s not that. In every part of the city there were little pockets—Long Beach, Inglewood—pockets of us who used to dance or who were DJ’s, producing, emcee-ing, a lot of that which wasn’t affiliated with gangster rap. 

Fatlip: It was gangsters versus artist types. That’s really what it was.

HT: How did you guys make that distinction for yourselves?

Fatlip: You don’t choose that. That started before the music. That started when we were young in the city of Los Angeles.

Imani: We know the trappings and we all knew people who died in the streets, was in gangs, selling drugs, all that. 

Tre: The people that were gangbanging, it chose them. Especially in my hood, it was so close like I could’ve been a gangbanger with my best friend, we all used to play football in the street and I remember the day when they just turned to whatever gang the street was. I was born on a street that was predominantly Bloods, but also I had folks that were Crips so it’s like I’m in the middle, I’m neutral I can’t be on this side or that side. And it’s as simple as if I would’ve stayed with my dad instead of my mom, I would’ve definitely been gangbanging that is for sure. 

Courtesy Allie Adams

Fatlip: You know what’s crazy? LA is the gangster capital and the entertainment capital. So you’ve got these artist guys who are saying “I wanna be dancing, I wanna be on TV with Bobbi Brown and Michael Jackson, I wanna make beats,” and that was entertainment, that was show business. For a long time, gangster culture didn’t pay a lot of attention to opportunities in show business.

HT: And that’s the path that you guys took.

Fatlip: Yeah, and again, those were the two paths in LA back then. 

Imani: Ice Cube made a comment back in the day, “Leave that to the n***as with the funny haircuts” and he was talking about us. Not us specifically, but people like us, doing what we were doing. 

Tre: Here’s the other thing too: LA was definitely a dangerous place. It wasn’t no shit to be fuckin’ around with. 

Fatlip: You get in where you fit in and I think both sides were happy where they fit in. Gangbangers were happy doing that and I was happy being who I was. 

HT: What do you think the girls preferred?

Fatlip: With girls it was an even playing field, between the dope dealers and the artistic entertainer kinda guys, if you could make girls’ laugh… You know what I’m saying? Again, it was the artsy type versus the hustler, or the gangbanger or the pimp. LA shit. 

HT: Going back to the beginning, what did you guys grow up listening to?

Tre: I used to breakdance so Egyptian Lover, Rodney-O, Joe Cooley, NWA, Too $hort.

Imani: Blues, gospel, church music, R&B, soul.

Tre: George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic, and the gangsters used to listen to that stuff too. That was the common denominator between us. 

HT: “Passin’ Me By” is one of your most widely-known songs, and also widely-sampled. How do you guys feel about all these other artists sampling the song?

Tre: I love it and I’m glad you said something about it. I just love creativity. We sampled somebody and somebody sampled us, it’s so dope. It’s giving it life and extra legs. I love beat flips—Maya when she did “Fallin’” was so dope, and then Drake did it, and then Tory Lanez and that shit is so dope. I love it honestly, let the folks run with it. 

HT: A lot of people say that gangster rap fits into a box and has very specific criteria and is hyper-masculine, and all that. Do you agree?

Imani: I gotta give my two cents here, being from Compton and being a big fan of Ice Cube. He is the example of a lyricist, so you listen to gangster rap, but this dude is so lyrical on some other shit and I can’t agree that he fits into a box. He takes it to levels beyond the box of gangster rap. Ice Cube is a great storyteller, to the point where he can take it to the movies. 

Fatlip: I thought we were going to talk about weed, man.

HT: We’re getting there I promise. You’re rolling one up right now. What is your relationship with weed like?

Imani: I have OCD with shit so I had to find out what happens from the seeds to me smoking it and everything in between. I used to smoke wax, I had to learn how to make it. I smoke weed, I have to learn how it was grown. I had to figure it out myself. I’m a learner. I’m a student and a teacher, so when I learn I bring it to other people. 

Tre: If I ever wanna try something I go to him first to find out what’s up.

Imani: I don’t know everything, but certain things are my shit and I wanna know everything about it. 

HT: What’s your favorite strain? 

Imani: Bubba. I like indica-dominant stuff, I like stoney, I like aromatic shit. There could be some dirt weed that gets you fucked up, I’m cool on that. It don’t have to look pretty, but it has to smell good. 

Courtesy Allie Adams

Tre: I always had issues with weed, I get paranoid. 

Fatlip: Tell ‘em about that one time

HT: Storytime?

Tre: Alright, so there was this one time at band camp [laughs]. There was this one time, years ago, I had smoked weed with them in the van and got a little too high. I went over to my girlfriend’s house and we were laying in bed, and I started to trip out. I just started laughing, I couldn’t stop laughing. I was trying to stop, so I put my face in the pillow but felt like my body was leaving my head. And I was like “Oh, I’m trippin bad.” So long story short, I go outside and I’m trippin’ outside and my homeboy, Mike, came and he was trying to get me to snap out of it. So the fuckin’ ambulance came and they were like, “Ok, what do you want to do?” We were young, my mom and grandma didn’t know I smoked weed…

HT: How old were you!?

Tre: 18, 19 something like that. The ambulance guy goes, “Listen, we’re going to have to take you to the hospital and contact your mom.” And I was like no, fuck that, I’ll just stay here and finish trippin’. So they left. 

HT: And you’re sure there wasn’t anything else in it?

Fatlip: No, cause we all smoked it!

Tre: Another story is we got high in the van again and we went to the movies. So, I’m in the movies and I’ve got a baseball cap on and I took it off, but then felt like I was floating outside of my head and I had to keep my baseball cap on so I wouldn’t float out of the theater [laughs]. That shit had me trippin’. So my verse on “Pack The Pipe” is about how I’m panicking… I’m not really a smoker. But shrooms, that’s a whole different thing. That’s my thing. What I learned about drugs is you’ve gotta know which one is for you. 

HT: What’s your favorite place to eat in LA?

Fatlip: Cafe Gratitude and Sage. Hipster vegan shit.

Tre: I’ll say Delicious Pizza and In-N-Out Burger.

HT: In the spirit of One Love, the new Bob Marley movie, if you could choose an actor to play you in a documentary about The Pharcyde, who would you choose?

Tre: I don’t even know, that’s a good question! My friend Dawn, her son looks exactly what I looked like when I was younger. 

Fatlip: Earl Sweatshirt!





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