While weed doesn’t define South Central alt-hip-hop veterans The Pharcyde — Imani and Bootie Brown — it is inarguably in their make-up, one component of many that forms their culture and informs their work.
“I think weed is one of the common denominators that groups had in common,” Brown says. “There are things that go on within the weed culture that people can identify with. So when you say certain things or have a story about it, people will say that they do that, too. It’s not necessarily definitive — it doesn’t define Pharcyde — but it has been a part of what we are.”
In 2018, The Pharcyde are still trying to figure out exactly who they are. Fellow original members Slimkid3 and Fatlip were gone by the early 2000s, certainly by 2004’s Humboldt Beginnings album. The fact that their fourth album is still their most recent is telling; the duo are desperately trying to navigate and negotiate a modern music industry that seems entirely alien.
“Things don’t stick like they used to,” Imani says. “People’s attention spans are shorter and there are so many more options. At one time, we only had five television channels, and we were all on the same wavelength. Now we have 9,000 channels on top of the internet so you can do your own programming, and we’re not all on the same wavelength. There are so many pockets of people who have little cliques of what’s going on. You may ask one person, ‘Oh, what’s poppin’,’ and they’ll give you a totally different answer than if you ask five other people. Music you’ve never heard, genres you’re not really familiar with, and artists that have been doing it for so long but you’re not aware of it because that’s not your thing.”
He’s right, of course. We’re living in a world of infinite options but ever-decreasing attention spans. Today’s jam is forgotten tomorrow. But the Pharcyde guys also know there’s no point complaining — it’s detrimental to sound like the stereotypical “get off my lawn” geezers. This is the modern world, and they’re determined to thrive in it. They just need to figure out how.
“You want to put your heart into everything you do, but then at the same time, you have to get over it,” Brown says. “If it doesn’t work out and stay as long in people’s minds or whatever, you’ve got to brush it off and realize that’s just a sign of the times. Coming from the generation doing music that we did, it’s just hard to get over that. You want to put everything into it, because you want to show the people where you are and where you’re at, but it can just all be a flash. It can go so fast. People have got it and then they’re over it, because there’s a multitude of other artists out there that can just drown your situation out.”
Perhaps the biggest mental hurdle the guys are having to overcome is the simple concept that they essentially have to give away music in this age of streaming and downloading. As is the case for many groups with a long history, that very idea takes a lot of getting used to.
“We used to have budgets, and a big drawn-out campaign,” Imani says. “Now, kids are in their houses making music and giving it away for free. We’re not used to giving away music. Putting your heart, your sweat and tears into something, and then just giving it away. It’s not like you’re getting it free. You’re paying for studio time, getting plug-ins and programs, updating your computer, getting hard drives, wires, studio time, engineers — you’re paying for that, and then you’re giving it away for free. Now, basically you have to fund your own situation.”
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This all essentially explains why there hasn’t been a Pharcyde album in 14 years. The plan is to occasionally drop tracks, stay creative and productive, while they figure out their next move.
“It’s figuring out how to navigate and still be creative at the same time,” Brown says. “Right now, we’ve just been basically putting out a couple of singles — we have another single that’s going to come soon. You just don’t want to waste money. At the end of the day, you don’t want to go out and put your heart and soul into something, put a lot of money into a project, and then basically get nothing out of it. There are things coming out, but we’re just trying to figure out what is the best way to do it. What way winds up being, not necessarily the most profitable way but the creative way that people can understand and say, ‘OK, that’s some Pharcyde stuff and they’re on something that’s creative, new and different.’”
Back to the original point though: Marijuana doesn’t define The Pharcyde, but it remains a part of what they are.
“We’re about music and being ourselves,” Imani says. “We’re not on the frontline. We were always doing what we were doing but not telling people what they needed to do. A big part of our lifestyle is being true to yourself, being honest, and just challenging the status quo.”