[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Beverly Hills was ostensibly inhospitable to boom bap. In the mid-'90s pop culture pantheon, 90210 was renowned for Dylan McKay and Cher Horowitz. The imagination conjured palm trees, Porsches and digital wardrobe selectors. The reality, however, was way less reductive. There was no Peach Pit, but there was Larry Parker's on Beverly Drive, the 24-hour hip-hop diner serving burgers and shakes to Little League teams by day and A Tribe Called Quest and Shaquille O'Neal at night. It also doubled as one of the sets (and a sponsor) of Funkee Phlavaz, the greatest hip-hop video show that no one saw.
"I have no idea if anyone ever watched it. No one ever came up to me at school and said that they did," says Adam Weissman, who produced the show alongside Beverly Hills High classmate Harlan Toplitzky.
Weissman recently excavated and digitized all 17 of the episodes that aired during 1993 and 1994 on KBEV, a student-run cable television station, which can still be seen on Time Warner, channel 6. He's currently rolling them out, one a week, on FunkeePhlavaz.Com.
Its reach never exceeded Beverly Hills' city limits, but the producers recruited a Hall of Fame roster of golden-age rappers. Guest hosts included Guru, KRS-One, The Pharcyde, Hieroglyphics and Masta Ace. The principal master of ceremonies was sophomore Alan Maman, who later became legendary as the producer Alchemist.
In later episodes, Maman hosted as Mudfoot, his alias in the then - Tommy Boy - signed duo The Whooliganz. (His partner was Scott Caan, son of James Caan and current star of CBS series Hawaii Five-0.)
Each hourlong broadcast offers a time capsule of a bygone era, as well as a historical amendment, recasting Beverly Hills students as being about more than luxury cars.
No one ever mistook Rodeo Drive for Compton. But your best chance to regularly watch videos from the group Compton's Most Wanted was if you lived in the Rodeo Drive vicinity. And despite the grotesque excess of E!'s Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, the L.A. Times reported this year that the city has the largest income disparity in the state, with nearly a fifth of the 30,000-plus renting apartments.
Funkee Phlavaz freeze-frames a generation raised on hip-hop culture and aesthetics - not just the local g-funk but early Common and grimy New York rap that never cracked radio playlists here. The curation and guest list were impeccable. This should be no surprise, however, considering the mind squad included Alchemist, associate producer Mike Caren (now a producer and president of A&R for Warner Music Group), and Weissman, founder of the criminally underrated band Pollyn and art director for Stussy, where he has directed documentaries on J Dilla and Yo! MTV Raps.
Like all artifacts of the era, the videos contain dated slang, fashion and spelling, which adds to their charm. There's also a litany of "what if's." Weissman tells stories about how a young Biggie Smalls was scheduled to perform his first single, "Party & Bullshit," in the BHHS studios but stood everyone up.
Wu-Tang were booked but, when the Funkee Phlavaz crew ditched school and showed up at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, they discovered only Inspectah Deck and a label representative. The other clan members had disappeared with the tour van to an undisclosed location. Then there was Snoop Dogg, who became a fan while watching the show one night at Larry Parker's and passed his number to Weissman.
"He wanted to be a guest. When I called him, he told me he'd be done with Doggystyle in a month and to hit him up then," Weissman remembers. "When I called a month later, his number was disconnected."
The last episode aired in late 1994 and featured guest host O.C., famous for the fittingly titled song "Time's Up." Larry Parker's is now a Chin Chin. Guru and Apache are no longer in the land of the living. Boom bap is now fossil fuel. But Funkee Phlavaz can live forever.
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