Choosing Cydes: The Pharcyde
by Dove
~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~

Email Dove

The Pharcyde may very well be one of the most resilient groups in the history of Hip Hop music. If you would have told Imani Wilcox 10 years ago that his future would be clouded with stormy relationships between him and his partners, you would have had a fight on your hands. No one could have anticipated the growth of insurmountable tension that would inevitably send The Pharcyde on a truly bizarre ride.

Boyhood friends Imani, Romye, and Tre along with friend Robert Vincent started the B-boy dance group ‘242’ during the pinnacle of Hip Hop’s rise to mainstream credibility in the late 80’s. Robert eventually left the group to pursue dance on his own, but the teenage trio were not hindered. They later appeared as featured fly-boys on In Living Color, and then fired up Herb Alpert’s video with their technique. They put so much heart into their dancing that they yearned to make music as well, since they knew they could contribute beats that other dancers could appreciate.

Around the time they were gaining credibility on the dance circuit, Fatlip was inducted into the group and the foursome worked with J-Swift to produce a demo as The Pharcyde. They made their debut as emcees on the Brand New Heavies’ album with a delightful performance on "Soul Flower". They retreated to the studio to create their own exquisite herb-induced explosion of Hip Hop satire and spellbinding rhythms. Bizarre Ride II was a unique approach to Hip Hop, and is now considered a classic amongst headz worldwide. The Pharcyde became an overnight success upon release of the sob-story comedy hit "Passin Me By".

Their sophomoric effort, Labcabincalifornia, was released in 1995 after a three year hiatus. Labcabin received a decent amount of critical acclaim, but fans were not as receptive to the album as they had been to Bizarre Ride. The group had relieved J-Swift of his duties prior to recording Labcabin in favor of producing on their own, mainly due to his inability to get along with the members of the group. The sounds on the album were definitely affected by the change in production, but it could have been the beginning of problems in the group that brought about the different vibe. Fistfights and arguments between Tre and Fatlip convoluted the creativity somewhat, but the group still managed to deliver a solid work of art. Jay Dee’s masterful skills brought forth the hit "Runnin", and Labcabin was deemed a credible keeper for the Hip Hop audience. Performances with notable bands such as The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and the Jazzyfatnastees didn’t hurt their networking either.

No matter the terms of their success, The Pharcyde had begun to experience their woes. Fatlip was let go from the group in 1997 after he began refusing to do shows in favor of spending time alone in the studio. There have been numerous interviews and articles reporting various instances of his drug use, erratic behavior and inability to get along with the other members of the group, however Fatlip has said very little on his own behalf. The group’s third EP, Karma, stagnated when Delicious Vinyl didn’t have the funds available to distribute it. Tensions mounted as Tre vacillated between staying in the group or pursuing his solo career, even though their contract with Delicious Vinyl did allow them the leeway to do solo projects while still being a part of the group.

The Pharcyde went on to produce song after song without Fatlip’s vocals, and eventually Delicious Vinyl released Plain Rap in 2000. Before recording for the album was complete, and before there was a release date set, Tre left the group with little warning. There have been speculations and a spackling of interviews since the breakup, but the media seems hesitant to delve into the reasons behind the separation. Imani is adamant that little has been done by the media to report the ‘un-pc’ side of the story. "The press tries to make us out to be the bad guys and Tre to be the good guy. The only people who are really suffering are the fans – because they give a fuck. The least he could do is give them the real."

With that said, we proceed with the intense honesty of the Pharcyde’s evolution. Imani’s pleasant demeanor alters quickly upon the first mention of The Pharcyde’s breakup. Even with the invocation that this article was to be about the ‘new and improved’ Pharcyde, Imani states candidly "It’s hard for me to talk about the future of the Pharcyde or go in depth with out talking about Tre".

He recants the events surrounding Tres departure. "We’re always in the studio, Plain Rap was just difficult – we weren’t even going to put the record out, but the label had promised another label they would put it out. They were making deals trying to put a record out they didn’t even know that they were gonna get. We were in Germany and people were comin’ up to us telling us they were with our label – and we’re like ‘what the fuck?’ Tre got frustrated with all of it, but instead of sayin’ how he really felt he just rubbed us the right way – but as time went on we found out more and more shit. He couldn’t even come see us. He’d call us on the phone and tell us things. We recorded Karma and he surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men. We said ‘it’s cool but we need to make some more songs’, but he had changed and his people were treating him like the rapping Dalai Lama."

Imani realized that Tre had been undergoing some self-awareness, but had no idea how far he would take it. "He came to the studio with a fuckin’ robe on and was bowin’ to us & shit. We were like you need to stand up straight – you need to be right before you start actin’ like you right. He’s on some ‘peace be with you’ type shit but all the shit Tre comes with is a front. He’s out in the streets pretending like things are all good and they’re not. He comes off like he’s so cool."

One can sense sadness in Imani’s passionate recollection of the breakup. They had been, after all, friends since childhood. Imani admits that his heart was broken upon Tres departure. "Tre is a real sucka. I can’t stop talking about it, it’s so confusing. I never got an answer – I didn’t do nothin’! We never felt like we were holding him back – yet his whole excuse was that he needed to be free, that he needed his space, and I just didn’t understand. We tried to talk to him – but when we did I was like ‘ you should just leave’. He’s the Godfather of my children and he hasn’t even seen them, and they are 7 and 4 now. It’s like losing a piece of me – we were friends before the music."

Memories of Fatlip’s separation from the Pharcyde do not appear to be as harshly engrained in Imani’s mind. "Everyone thinks we hate Fatlip, but we have more respect for him than we do for Tre. {Fatlip} is just crazy. Tre acted like he had it all together but he was the real crazy person. Fatlip is cool, at least he’s trying to do his thing – it’s not so easy for a crazy man."

Imani further explains the reasoning behind their decision to let Fatlip go his own way. "Tre was the driving force behind Fatlip not being in the group. He made it clear that he couldn’t be creative with Fatlip there. Fatlip was more accomplished as far as lyrics and beats and we knew he could handle things on his own – so for Tre, we let him go to do his solo thing. He led us to believe that once Fatlip was out the group we’d become more connected. Me and Romye became closer because we were in the studio every day waiting for Tre to come around." With regard to Fatlip’s solo career, Imani says "Be careful what you ask for, you might get it. As an emcee he’s inspiring, I never front on his talent. He’s just got other problems."

The aftershock of Tres sudden announcement that he was leaving the group, coupled with Delicious Vinyl’s announcement that they would release the 13-track LP Plain Rap regardless of the group’s difficulties, left Imani and Romye with a temporary feeling of disdain. They do, however, realize that they show must go on if The Pharcyde is to stay alive. "Tre was just a setback – we just had to go through a period of readjustment. People ask us how we’re gonna do it, and I’m like ‘what the fuck are you talking about ? You can’t be a two man group?’. I’d love to do a show and have Fatlip and Tre open for us with their own music – so people can see who’s really holdin it down."

The Pharcyde is moving on with heads held high and dignity in tact. They do not fear the critics’ opinions of Plain Rap in the slightest, nor are they hesitant to explore new territories in the rap game. "We’re building on the sound we’ve created," Imani explains, "Our music is innovative and creative. When we did Bizarre the label reps would come in and tell us we were wasting time. This so called ‘classic’ album… people were dissin us from day one. After Labcabin came out they were telling us how dope Bizarre was. After the EP, people were telling us how dope Labcabin was. The same people who are dissin’ Plain Rap will come back later and tell us how dope it is."

Imani is taking the setbacks and struggles of success in stride. "I don’t get too high with a win, don’t get too low with a loss. I go with what I feel. Personally I feel that Labcabin was a great album. Bizarre wasn’t that dope to me. Maybe if I was livin’ in a big fancy house driving a big fancy car off of Bizarre I’d be more inclined to say it was dope. I dunno."

Personal growth has been immanent for Imani and Romye. Imani refuses to allow the industry’s cruelty keep him down. He has made his living in dancing and music for so many years now that it is second nature to him. "I came into the game a 19 year old B-boy, now I’m a 31 year old father. I’ve changed. I’m not a kid now, I’m a full grown man. I look at things a lot differently now. Just because someone makes more money than you doesn’t mean they know more about the game. For the last 10 years my job has been to make music. I have a son who’s 4 and a son who’s 10, and they haven’t had to worry about anything. We always want more, but I’m not unhappy. I’m gonna take this music thing as far as I can take it."

Recently BET asked Imani and Romye to appear on the show The Basement in a reunion type setting with Tre to discuss Plain Rap. "I told them if they put me on the show with him I was gonna come out with everything. If it can’t be real I ain’t goin" Imani laughs. The episode never transpired. There is a reunion of sorts in the Cyde’s new video for the single "Truth". "The director of the video found a way to put Fatlip and Tre in the video even after we asked them not to …to make it look like we dissed {Fatlip}. It was bullshit. They made him a clown in the video. His label wanted him to have the exposure. In Tres part they made him a phoenix and he flies off. People are asking us why we did that to Tre – but {the director} presented it the way he wanted to." Imani wants to get past his anger about everything and does what he can to maintain his mindset. "I smoke bud to keep myself calm – to keep from choking the fuck outta some of these muthafuckas – people want you to be all docile, and when you come out angry they can’t handle it."

Shrugging off the emotional recourse of remembrance, Imani looks to the future with ambition and conviction. "We’re working on an album with the Souls of Mischief . The album doesn’t have a title yet, but the name of the group is AMP - the All Mighty Pythons. As long as I’m in the music business, I know if I want to do a solo the public will LET me do it because I’m part of The Pharcyde. The Pharcyde opens doors."
Imani relates deeply to rhythm and blues and wouldn’t mind dabbling in some collaborative efforts with his idols. "If I could work with anybody I’d work with Sly Stone. He’s a fuckin’ genius. He is to music like Einstein is to math. My perfect band would be Bob Marley, James Brown, Rick James and Prince. My roots are in soul – I was born & raised in the 70’s," he says with a smile.

Although he doesn’t foresee a Pharcyde reunion with the former members, he doesn’t rule it out either. He recognizes that there are bridges that would have to be rebuilt, and the difficulties would be tremendous. "I can’t see a reunion record happening because Tre is really stubborn. He has a lot to do before he could even think about coming back. I’d rather have less talented people involved, who will give their honest everything, than to have a muthafucka that don’t wanna be there - that’s just gonna hinder the process. I have respect for all parties musically. Personally there are some conflicts. I don’t question their musical ability – I question their loyalty and their judgment.

The Pharcyde has what it takes to continue successfully, and anyone who has witnessed performances on their current tour will concur. The Pharcyde as a duo is strong and still on track, keeping a direct line of transportation to their mission of success. No need to question their future, Imani and Romye know that there are two cydes to every coin, and their talent is mint.

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