The Pharcyde Turn Up the Heat from Inside Brooklyn Bowl London

Posted on Friday July 10th in

The Pharcyde – Brooklyn Bowl London – 9 July, 2015
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The Pharcyde, often referred to as an alternative hip-hop crew, alternative in the fact that they epitomise the left turn some early ’90s West Coast hip-hop acts took as they searched for a new sound, leaving traditional gangsta/hardcore and even party rap behind in their wake. Alternative meant fresh and, above all, brave, as this pioneering act, and many after them, blurred lines between genres previously regarded as no-go areas. Suddenly reggae, soul, jazz, pop, folk and rock were now fair game as beats and track samples were taken from different sources. This experimentation brought about a variety of fun aspects, especially in the candor and vocal play of delivery, usually accompanying quite dour subjects. It also led to great beatsmiths who enjoyed mixing hip-hop beats, obtaining never-heard-before results in the process. Unsurprisingly, J Dilla, the most iconic hip-hop beat creator of all time, was drawn to this crew to help produce their material. The rest, as they say, is hip-hop history.

With temperatures outside the O2 exceeding those of hotter climes last night, Brooklyn Bowl was about to turn up the heat from the inside, with the video curtain slowly rising to reveal turntablist and beat maker Mike Relm, looking like he’d just walked out of a bank or wedding. Headphones on, he took to the 1s and 2s like scratching was just about to be outlawed and he wanted to get in as many as he could before the deadline, driving those babies like he stole ’em! This was the cue for the highly charged crowd to descend to their stage-front position, which they did with haste, nodding as a collective to an old school who’s who of tunes. I’ve seen many of the best DJs and beat masters over the years and Relm definitely knew his way round his wheels of steel, dropping classics by the score, like Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier Part II,” Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” and 2Pac’s “California Love.” The hip-hop loving audience lapped it up, singing along to every note as Relm’s short but sweeeeet set grew to a crescendo.

Distraction over, the Pharcyde joined Relm onstage. Once four, now a dynamic duo, original founding members Bootie Brown and Imani bounced up, on and all over the performance space, revving up proceedings from the off. First outta the bag, “She Said,” off their second album, Labcabincalifornia. When first released, it was performed (verse each) by missing band members Fatlip (’til 1996) and Slimkid3 (’til 2000), but last night, with fluidity intact and an ESP-like understanding of each other’s performance and line delivery, it was like when someone finishes your sentences, but not! As they passed the imaginary rhyme torch back and forth, and within the same breath a lot of the time, they were perfectly in tune with each other, showing there was no room for prisoners, as they spat lines in deft and undeniable Pharcyde fashion. It all but set the bar perfectly for the rest of the evening.

They laid their chips on the table, jovially mentioning the first London-wide tube strike in 13 years, which in turn had almost bought the capital to a halt. Shaking off the slight annoyance, “We heard about the strike, we heard about this, we heard about that,” as they launched into the hauntingly melodic “Hey You,” with the Dramatics–sampled “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain.” Then there was no stopping the exuberant crowd, as they sang back every word of the chorus to “Ya Mama” with relish, which was then echoed by the artists in return. The same audience-participation factor was prevalent as cheeky hit “Oh Shit” aired in style, and “Illusions” was met with similar glee. Another highlight was the huge roar of approval as “Passin’ Me By” oozed quality from start to finish, the screens showing the track’s memorable black-and-white upside-down vid, played in sync with Brown and Imani’s ever expressive rap. It was this tune—taken from their equally impressive debut, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde—that had put them on the map.

“Drop,” again sounding freshly baked by the artists and with Relm’s scratching zipping the track along, was accompanied by another groundbreaking video, with all members of the band moving in reverse when filmed. This made an interesting watch when played in the opposite direction, spellbinding stuff from a gifted crew. As Brown, Imani and Relm drew proceedings to a close, performing the 1996 hit “Runnin’,” with samples from “Yearning for Your Love” by the Gap Band and “Rock Box” by Run-D.M.C. to name a few, it felt like a perfect way to end the show. These clever performers and developers of the hip-hop ethos were clearly ahead of their time, and they now leave the door ajar for many others.
—Zip Tee | @BluesAndSoul

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