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Avoiding the stranglehold that gangster rap held over the West Coast during the late ‘80s and ‘90s would have been a feat in itself, let alone forging an alternative sound from within the the subgenre’s spiritual home of Compton. But when a young Emandu Wilcox (Imani) met Romye Robinson, Trevant Hardson and Derrick Stewart, he soon realised that there were others who saw a world beyond Eazy-E and Ice-T. Now, Imani and Bootie Brown are about to embark on their 20 Years of The Pharcyde Tour, which will see them headlining Sydney’s OutsideIn Festival as well as playing a string of shows around the country. Imani took some time out with us to discuss the journey, share his views on Hip-Hop in 2014 and explain how touring changes with age.

It’s been more than two decades since Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, how’s life treating you these days? 

Life’s good, I’m still keeping busy wherever I can, we played a show with KRS-One a few weeks ago and we’re heading out on tour again around Thanksgiving.

Still getting out to Compton much?

Ohhh, hell no! I made it out. My grandmother still lives in Compton and my mum moved to San Pedro, but no, not me, you got to get out when you can.

How did The Pharcyde come together originally?

The LA Hip-Hop scene was buzzing during the late ‘80s, it was huge; you had B-Boys, DJ’s, rappers, all of it. A lot of people actually say that we grew up together, when we never really met until after school, in our twenties, you know. We weren’t even from the same hoods: Booty Brown is from Pasadina, I’m from Compton, Trey is from Gardena. I knew Tray, and he knew Fatlip and that’s how it was. Pharcyde came from just being at the same places at the same time. We didn’t start making demo tapes till later on. We could legally drink liquor by the time we started recording, so we weren’t kids.

How did you manage to stray from the gangster rap movement at a time when it was such a dominant force in your own community? 

See the whole thing is, we’re not gangsters. We wanted to be true to ourselves. We knew plenty of gangsters, but that wasn’t our idea of fun, and we weren’t about to fake being gangsters just to make rap records. To be honest, you want to be as far away from that shit as possible, because it affects everything: you can’t do shows everywhere, gangsters don’t dance, they boogie, and we wanted people to dance to our music. We weren’t trying to be something we weren’t.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of our friends were straight up gangsters and we wanted them to like our music, but we weren’t really like that. We were Hip-Hop kids, we loved New York, no rivalries. You had De La Soul, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest; there wasn’t really anyone in LA making music like that. So that’s how The Pharcyde was founded, those were our idols, we weren’t out trying to be gangsters, we just liked hanging out at the club, smoking weed, making money, staying out of trouble, just life shit.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Hip-Hop?

See it’s difficult for me because I’m old and this is what I always say, just because you’re old, it doesn’t mean you have to be wack, it just means you been around longer. But people always equate being old with being wack, I don’t trip on that, age don’t make no difference. I’m not going to judge to someone that’s 17, 18, 20-years-old on the shit they into, if it’s dope then it’s dope.

Plus; kids don’t give a flying fuck about my opinion. If I was 25-years-old and some 45-year-old nigga tried to talk to me about Hip-Hop, I would laugh in his face. Even though I’ve been in the game for hella long, I’ve got no right to tell a 20-year-old what rap is or how they should rap, I’m just old, I’m not cool, so if dudes want to wear dresses or whatever they’re thing is, go for it. My parents always said the shit I did was stupid and now I feel the same way, I think a lot of the shit my kids do is stupid, but I sound like that old parent that ain’t cool no more. That said, when I roll around with a gang of 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds, I’m the shit.

Is there anything you’re particularly into right now?

I like Ab Soul, J Rock and I like Schoolboy Q a lot. I’ll give anyone a chance; I’m into a lot of different shit.
I heard some shit the other day and I was like “damn, who is this?” and I told my girl to Shazam it and it was Childish Gambino and I was like “damn, this shit is dope”. Everybody been telling me to check out this dude and I’m like “Nah, I ain’t got time” and there I was, trying figure “who is this?”, then I Shazamed it and I was like “Oh god, it’s that dude. Okay”.

The thing about Hip-Hop and music in general now is that there’s just so much shit out there, I mean, it’s fucked up, but I’ve been in Hip-Hop long enough to know it’s always fucked up.

Has your approach to touring and doing shows changed much? 

Shit has definitely changed. Backstage now, I’m usually doing calisthenics, stretching and doing vocal exercises and shit, to make sure when I get there my job is good. I’m always down for interviews or promotions or whatever but we don’t get into too much trouble these days. At the end of the day, every situation is precious and it’s just all one big blessing, it’s all special. When I sit back, and I’m totally done with all this rap, Hip-Hop, Pharcyde shit, I’ll be like “yeah, that was one of my shining moments”. But right now, it’s still a dream for me.


The Pharcyde tour dates:

Sydney: Saturday 29 November (OutsideIn Festival)

Melbourne: Thursday 27 November (The Espy)