By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Derrick Stewart, aka Fatlip, is not about to explode any myths. The members of his group, the Pharcyde, have a reputation as crazy, good-humored hip-hop stoners, and Fatlip--in conversation, at least--fits this description to a T. As he puts it, "What was your question? What was I talking about?"
Actually, Fatlip was discussing the Pharcyde's first album, the 1992 breakthrough Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, released on the Delicious Vinyl imprint. The disc emerged on a scene that even then was drifting toward repetitive street stories about murderers and whores, but the Los Angeles-based Pharcyde (Fatlip, Slimkid Tre Hardson, Imani "Knumbskull #1" Wilcox and Romye "Bootie Brown" Robinson) wasn't into that. Bizarre instead drew from the hypercreative inspiration of acts such as De La Soul to create a spaced-out cartoon universe that was as entertaining as it was twisted. Tracks such as "Oh Shit," "4 Better or 4 Worse," "I'm That Type of Nigga" and the single "Passing Me By" provided listeners with an aural party in full swing--funky and funny, with an air of off-the-cuff spontaneity that other acts later tried (and failed) to match.
"I'm glad it got recognized," Fatlip says, his voice a slurred mumble. "Some people called it a classic--but what's best about it is that a lot of that shit was freestyle. I listen to it now and I'm like, `Damn--we did that?' I mean, a lot of it sounds like we planned to do it, because there's some shit on there that's just, like, perfect, with the timing and each of us coming in and out with different flows and whatnot. You can really hear how in synch we were with each other. I can't really explain it, but it happened."
Nonetheless, Fatlip sees weaknesses in Bizarre that have escaped most listeners. "The problem was the grooves of the songs--that's mainly what it boils down to," he notes. "The loops we used for the beats were really musical; they had a lot of music in them, which wasn't the kind of shit you can groove to all the time. It made for good listening, but in the clubs it didn't work the same."
It's hard to tell if the next Pharcyde platter, Lab Cabin California (set for release in September), is going to be a major departure, however--because Fatlip's pharmacologically enhanced responses aren't easy to decode. At first he declares that the main changes in the California material involve "the time period and just our state, basically. That's really all it is. We're still the same people." But he subsequently amends that: "Well, the songs are different. You know, the concepts, the sound from one producer to another. Last time J. Swift did the whole album, and this time various producers are doing it. So that makes it different, I guess." Moments later he retracts this statement. "Nah, the sound is basically the same. The average person isn't that in tune with different producers. Nobody's going to tell any difference at all." Finally, he concludes, "Shit, I don't know. You tell me."
Of course, some of these claims may be put-ons; when asked if the new disc will have a more serious tone, for example, Fatlip first wonders aloud what "serious" means, then deadpans, "Yeah, there's no fun stuff on it at all." He subsequently announces that he's going to junk his spacey persona to become a gangsta rapper. "I could definitely have some gangsta rhymes, man," he swears. "I got that hardcore vibe. So maybe I'm going to change my flavor a little bit, because I think I got it in me. On the real."
In fact, Fatlip and his fellow Pharcyders grew up surrounded by L.A. gang culture but managed to steer clear of Bloods and Crips; their good humor inoculated them against forced recruitment by either side. And even though the players have little in common with the rash of Dr. Dre imitators currently reproducing like bunnies throughout the SoCal hip-hop community, they remain on good terms with them. Likewise, they've found a great many supporters among so-called alternative-music aficionados following well-received turns on select Lollapalooza festival dates. Still, Fatlip admits to being puzzled by the postpunk elite.
"We were on Lollapalooza last year with those Screaming Pumpkins, Smashing Pumpkins--whatever," he reports. "And I didn't even know what they were doing. Everybody complains about weak hip-hop shows, but I don't think you can classify it just as a hip-hop thing."
But what about hip-hop cliches? For instance, why does seemingly every rap group have to lead audiences in chants of "Put your hands in the air/And wave them like you just don't care" or "Hell motherfuckin' yeah" at least twice every show?
"It's a standard, man, and it's real," Fatlip says. "It works every time, and it's not going anywhere. You've got to do it or some variation, or people are going to be pissed. That's not the problem. But I haven't seen a good show lately, period. I mean, the only way to make a show work live is preparation, man. That's the main thing. Preparation."
So is that what he's focusing on to ensure that Pharcyde gigs are better than the competition's?