“Just think of how much time goes by and how fast things change. Just think how technology looked 20 years ago. That’s how much hip-hop has changed and everything has changed. I’m talking to you on a cellphone, we didn’t have no cellphone 20 years ago. What is going on in rap, it’s that same progression. Hip-hop is always evolving and moving and changing. That’s why you’ve got gay rappers now, and white rappers from Australia and white rappers talking about gay shit. That’s just what it is, it’s all good!”
Returning to Sydney in 2014 to headline arguably the best curated festival this side of Laneway, OutsideIn, The Pharcyde is showing no sign of fatigue. Speaking with us direct from Los Angeles is Imani (Emandu Wilcox), a founding member of the group and one of only two who still have the legal rights to perform under the name, The Pharcyde. He’s schooling me in the evolution of hip-hop, and how the art form continues to evolve, just like the communication device we’re speaking on.
“The shit that you’re kicking should be relevant all the time,” he says, explaining the continued success of Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, the group’s debut now nearly 25 years old. “It’s like watching a movie, a rite of passage. There’s always going to be that 16-year-old virgin who watches that dirty film and is like ‘Whoa’. There’s always a new 16 year-old there!”
Often packaged together with De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde’s sample-heavy, trickster-rap only lasted two records before fizzling out. But many years later, it is still a cult favourite. And if there’s one Australian promoter that knows cult, it’s Astral People, which is equally enamoured with electronica and hip-hop. Last year’s packed OutsideIn at the Factory Theatre featured rapper Freddie Gibbs upstairs and house DJs in the courtyard, and this year’s shift to Manning Bar (presumably to cope with demand) looks to be no different.
Not that Imani will have any problem sharing space with the likes of Seekae or even Sydney’s own bizarre rap trio, Black Vanilla; he’s all about progression. “Bizarre Ride was ahead of our time,” he jokes. “But if it was ahead of our time then it’s right on time now!”
Functionally, The Pharcyde has split in two. Like all great rap feuds, the other members (Fatlip and Tre) are touring under another moniker. But Imani and Bootie Brown’s show has earned rave reviews for its visuals and on-point flow, even if most of the kids in the audience weren’t speaking full sentences the first time the record came out. Does Imani find that weird? Hell no.
“It’s only weird when you distance yourself from being a fan. Because when you think about music that you love that’s hella old, that’s been there since the ‘60s, it’s easy to see why people are into it,” he says. “My son is rolling around the house pumping Wu-Tang Clan; this music, it don’t ever go away! People find it no matter what age they are. If you happen to be lucky and privileged to be one of those bands that kids keep finding, it really gives you perspective.”
The Pharcyde headline OutsideIn, on November 29 at Manning Bar. Buy tickets here
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The Pharcyde – Keeping It Bizarre
Headlining OutsideIn Festival this year, we chat to Imani of hip-hop group The Pharcyde about staying relevant.
Published on 24 October 2014