TORONTO – Every few years or so, an argument surfaces that hip-hop has reached a new “golden age.” Think-pieces are written, panel discussions at industry conferences are held and major artists write self-aggrandized raps supporting the claim. Yes, we are currently being rewarded with envelope-pushing music from Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, but the history books will show that there has only been one golden age of hip-hop.
At the forefront of the movement was a bunch of wise-ass dancers-turned-rappers from South Central Los Angeles called The Pharcyde. Spitting lyrics full of razor-sharp humor and socially conscious concern over boom-bap drums and vintage jazz, soul and funk samples, they helped usher in a sound that has never wavered in its influence. During the golden age, The Pharcyde released two stone-cold classics in 1992’s “Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde” and 1995’s follow-up, “Labcabincalifornia,” which featured production by one of hip-hop’s greatest producers, the late Jay Dee (aka J Dilla). Although the group has slimmed down to a duo — Bootie Brown (Romye Robinson) and Imani (Emandu Wilcox) — they’ve remained a consistent touring act that will visit Japan with a full live band.
According to Brown, the band is all about the MCs having more freedom during their shows.
“The live band gives us room to improv during the show,” he says. “We can make instant changes adding certain songs as well as being able to go back and forth bringing different elements to each song. Plus our band brings in their own personal touches to each performance.”
The recent celebration of their second album’s 20th anniversary means there will be plenty of cuts from “Labcabincalifornia,” but also a strong representation of the band’s most popular output.
“When performing we always give people something from all our albums,” Brown says. “Our fans vary so much as our two first albums do, so we want to give something for each individual to feel satisfied from the show experience.”
But Brown acknowledges that with anthems such as “Runnin’ ” and “Drop,” the now 20-year-old album still holds a special place in the hearts of fans.
“I think that the passing of Jay Dee plays a huge part in the awareness of the album. Unfortunately, people are less celebrated when they are alive. But the album also carries a broad message that is relevant today.”
Promising they will also bring new material and 110 percent effort,The Pharcyde are just excited to be returning to perform for Japanese audiences, which they’ve managed to do on a regular basis since the golden age.
“I have been performing in Japan since 1990 as a dancer in the clubs of Roppongi and hanging out with Zoo (Crazy A, Bobby and DJ Beat),” says Brown, referring to pre-Pharcyde days. “I have always enjoyed Japan and its willingness to deeply learn the craft and culture. The Japanese people have (paid) incredible homage to black music across the globe.”
The Pharcyde plays Billboard Live in Minato-ku, Tokyo, on March 6 (¥6,500; 4:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. starts; 03-3405-1133); and in Kita-ku, Osaka, on March 8 (¥6,900; 6:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m.; 06-6342-7722). For details, visit www.thepharcyde.com.