Nearly three decades have passed since Fatlip exited the Pharcyde, one of the cleverest, funniest hip-hop groups to emerge in the early Nineties. Since then, he has put out a solo album, The Loneliest Punk, scored an underground hit with “What’s Up, Fatlip?” and even buried the hatchet with some of his former fellow Pharcyde emcees. Fatlip and original Pharcyde members Slimkid3 and Imani have been touring as the Far Side, though the original quartet, which includes Bootie Brown who owns the Pharcyde trademark, hasn’t gathered together since a short-lived reunion in 2008.
Now Fatlip is putting out a new album, Torpor, which contains a track featuring all four emcees, “My Bad,” in which each rapper appears to apologize to each other for decades of ill will. In a press release sent to Rolling Stone ahead of the song’s release, Fatlip hyped it as “the long-awaited reunion of the original Pharcyde group.” But as news broke of the reunion, the Pharcyde’s official Twitter claimed the headlines were false, telling AllHipHop it had “bad information” and saying, “[It’s] really weird people promoting something knowing I have nothing to do with it.”
“It is [my voice], but they lifted the song from another project,” Brown tells Rolling Stone from Australia where he’s on tour with Gorillaz. “I can’t remember what it was. I don’t know where they got the lyric from or who they got it from. I definitely know it’s an outside project that I did for something, but for the purpose that they’re using it for, I never recorded it for that. So I don’t know where they got it.”
On the track, Brown raps, “I find the hardest thing to do is admitting when you fucked up.” Slimkid3 offers, “Thought I was being honest, my bad.” And over a beat that echoes the Pharcyde’s breakthrough single, “Passin’ Me By,” Fatlip says, “I feel like I need some atonement.”
“It was Fatlip’s idea to do the song,” Imani says. “At one point, he was Public Enemy Number One. He was drunk all the time and being that dude that was getting kicked out of parties. I had to learn who he is now because you have your ideas in your head, and you don’t know who people are. I was with this brother for the past two months, every day. I know who he is. People don’t know who he is. They just know the stories. He used to be that dude. He’s not that dude no more.”
Despite the track being on his own album, Fatlip declined repeated requests by Rolling Stone to clarify the reunion claims and respond to former members questioning the authenticity of the reconciliation. The album’s producers Sccit and Siavash the Grouch, however, spoke with Rolling Stone.
“We said, ‘Why don’t we get Bootie on here?’” Sccit says. “We tried to reach him directly, but it was very difficult, so we had to do everything through his manager. We started talking in financial terms, and we settled on a pretty high amount. And then we got the vocals. This is when we started thinking, ‘It’d be great if we can make this into a Pharcyde track.’ So we tried to communicate that [to the manager], ‘Hey, I think this will be great if we can put four people in.’ We were hoping this song would bridge the gap and get everyone back together on a love tip.”
“Fatlip loves the track, Imani loves the track, and I feel like Bootie is warming up to it,” Siavash says. “There’s still a lot of unresolved issues, so he’s just trying to figure it out.”
But Brown disputes all of these claims. When he recorded his verse two years ago, originally for a song called “My Fault,” he says he was told it was for an up-and-coming emcee. The fee? $1,000. Although he can’t recall the name of the emcee, he didn’t think it was for Fatlip. “I thought I was helping out someone who didn’t have the opportunities,” he says. “I’m not saying I was giving back, but I’m not going to break somebody’s wallet but do a solid for somebody. I was totally unaware.”
Similarly, when Imani first heard the track this week, he didn’t remember it. But it didn’t bother him. “I had no idea, so who knows?” he says. “That’s the magic of music.”
“We have so many projects that we have been working on and are a part of that I forgot I even did it,” Slimkid3 tells Rolling Stone. “But I just had a couple listens right now, and I’m happy with what I put down to represent for the whole.” When asked about reuniting, he says “this question is loaded,” since only three members of the group have reconciled.
Brown feels like he was taken advantage of, but mostly, he’s confused. “Even if the guys from the label wanted to do [a ‘reunion’ track], I just find it weird that the other group members would let that go like that,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s a sign of desperation, but in my book I call it weird. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t, say, speak up and say, ‘Hey, you know what? This is kind of wrong.’”
After speaking to Fatlip’s team, he said he felt like he was being threatened. “They’re like, ‘We know you don’t own the trademark in the right way, and we can go after it,’” he says. “And then we got to talking about everything else. And then they kind of hit me with, ‘You should just do it for the love of hip-hop.’ It’s all so confusing. Basically, I felt like nobody authorized this song to be used the way that it was, even to the point that they were trying to tell me that they wasn’t trying to bill the song as Pharcyde reuniting. I didn’t understand that if they can get in touch with me now, how come they couldn’t get in touch with me before they even put the song together?”
Thirty years ago, the original Pharcyde members were tight with each other and had buzz from the beginning, when their debut — 1992’s Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde — climbed to Number 75 on the Billboard 200 on the strength of singles like “Passin’ Me By” and “Otha Fish.” They’d been a group since 1989 and their callow chemistry worked for them on the one-liners of “Ya Mama” like, “Ya mama’s glasses are so thick she look into a map and see people wavin’ at her.” The album was eventually certified gold, but the good feelings didn’t last long. Fatlip parted ways with the Pharcyde shortly after the release of their second album, 1995’s, Labcabincalifornia, citing creative differences. He scored a hit a few years later with “What’s Up, Fatlip?” and its hilarious, self-deprecating Spike Jonze-directed video.
The group stayed together as a trio, releasing a third LP, Plain Rap, in 2000, around which time Slimkid3 exited. Bootie Brown and Imani stuck together for one more album, 2004’s Humboldt Beginnings, after which the Pharcyde brand outwardly seemed to settle into cruise control. Other than a 2008 reunion with all four members, the artists largely worked solo.
On the back of the 20th anniversary of Bizarre Ride a decade ago, Fatlip and Slimkid3 toured together with two of the album’s co-producers, J-Swift and L.A. Jay. Bootie Brown and Imani sent the other two members a cease-and-desist since some shows were billed as a “Pharcyde European Tour,” according to Courthouse News Service. A judge issued an injunction to the ex-members telling them not to use the Pharcyde name.
Both sides traded barbed insults in interviews. “They want to erase everything that ever existed,” Slimkid3 told HipHopDX in 2012. “They want people to look at them as the Pharcyde like me and Fatlip never existed. You can’t do that. We’ve made history already. You can never erase us from history.”
“[Fatlip] told me that he can’t stand to hear Imani’s voice, and can’t take being onstage with him anymore because of [it],” Brown said a decade ago, according to Okayplayer. Imani laughed at the claim in the same article, saying: “That’s the same guy [Fatlip] that Facebook’d me, talking about, I need to come down and do the [Delicious Vinyl] show with him and get these millions! That’s why he’s funny! ‘Cause he can’t stand my voice, but he’ll be the first one to call me on some, ‘We need to go do this.’ So which is it?”
Since then, Imani put aside his misgivings and made peace with the two former Pharcyde members. He had been working with the producer Computer Jay in downtown L.A. and says he tried to get Fatlip to work with him. They started making music together, and Fatlip eventually presented him with the “My Bad” beat and asked if he’d want to record on it. “Me and Tre had been talking on the phone and Tre was like, ‘Yeah, I’m down,’” Imani says, adding that Tre sent his parts in from Portland, Oregon, where he lives. “I don’t know the situation with Bootie Brown, how that came about.” Ultimately, the three of them decided they liked working together again.
Earlier this year, the trio anointed themselves “The Far Side (Formerly of the Pharcyde)” and booked a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Bizarre Ride. They recorded a limited-edition cassette with Spear of the Nation, which came out in February, and are looking into future projects. Imani says he’s even been back in touch with J-Swift.
“It’s fun again,” Imani says. “The thing is, at one point it just wasn’t fun. … Our problem wasn’t being creative; our problem was outside of the studio and how we see the world. I never thought that Fatlip was wack. I’m inspired by the things they do. It was just that we wasn’t seeing eye to eye off the court.”
Imani says that while he and Bootie Brown kept the Pharcyde going, they no longer see things the same way when it comes to the group. “I was under the impression that you forget everything after 30 years, and he just wasn’t into the idea of collaborating with Fatlip and Tre,” Imani says, adding that his communication with Bootie Brown fell apart around 2018.
Although Imani, Slimkid3 and Fatlip are working together again, they can’t use the Pharcyde name without Bootie Brown’s blessing. “I know everybody’s kind of ticked off because basically I own the trademark to the name and everything, but it wasn’t something that I stole from anybody,” Brown tells Rolling Stone. “I paid for it. I went to the former label. None of us actually owned the name; I had to actually take the former label to court to actually get it and pay for it.
“So a lot of people just had this false narrative that basically I took it from Fatlip, or I took it from Tre,” he continues. “They basically was out the group, and there was some things that was going on that I felt that needed to be stopped. And so during the process of going through legal stuff with Delicious Vinyl, the trademark was essentially on the table. So I had to pay for it, and so why not own myself? Or own what I basically put the work in for? It wasn’t a real big deal until later down the line, everybody, ‘Hey, why are you the only one that owns it?’ ‘Well, it was about 20, 30 grand that was dropped on it.’ But nobody talks about that part. It was just like, ‘How does one person own it?’”
When Brown first heard “My Bad,” he didn’t even remember the verse. Then it came back to him. “When [my manager] showed it to me, he said, ‘The song is going to be called “My Fault” and it’s going to be dealing with the times and kind of just apologizing,’ but it didn’t say I was apologizing to the former group members,” he says. “It just kind of said it’d be cool to have a song called ‘My Fault,’ so I was unaware of everything that went down.”
When he heard that it was being billed as a Pharcyde reunion, he reached out and asked them to fix the statement because he hadn’t agreed to a reunion. Then he said he felt they were making “subliminal threats.” “My last question to them was, ‘Hey did you guys even get authorization?’” he says. “And they kind of went around the question. They just kept saying, ‘Do it for the love of hip-hop. Why do you have the name if all four people built it up?’ I said, ‘Nobody cared about the name when I took control of it.’ This could have all been avoided if they reached out and said, ‘Hey Brown, we’ve got this idea.’ But they went ahead and put it on the record and billed it as the Pharcyde and at the 13th hour are trying to clear something that was a mistake. But at the end of the day they’re still telling the untrue story to you saying that I agreed with it. I’m just totally confused and baffled why they would still hold onto something that’s false.”
A few days after Brown spoke with Rolling Stone, Sccit says they’ve connected with Brown’s team. “We spoke to them today, and he’s a little bit upset: ‘I still don’t want to do this reunion’ and ‘There’s a lot of things that have to happen before this reunion this happens,’” Sccit says. “The real issue is that they don’t want it to seem like there’s a full-fledged reunion with everybody back together, holding hands and they kissed and made up.’ But we did the track as a Pharcyde track, but they don’t want it to be viewed as a full-fledged reunion until all the conflict is resolved.”
“I guess the only thing I could do is maybe get upset and mad, but with so much going on coming out of Covid and everything, whatever,” Brown says earlier in the week. “I really just don’t have that kind of energy to put into hostility like that. I put it more into an awareness of this is the environment, this is what’s going on and try and navigate around that.”
“We did have a long conversation with [Brown’s manager],” Sccit says. “As long as it’s not publicized as a full-fledged reunion and ‘everybody is back together and this is it, Pharcyde is back as a group,’ it’s a Pharcyde track — Pharcyde is back for one song — but they’re not back for a full-fledged reunion. So as long as we put it out like that, then we’re good.”
“I think it would be really dope for us to come together in these times after all of our experiences to put the cap on that,” Imani says. “We wanted to do three records. We did two of them so far. We know a lot more than we did before.”
He adds that he’s open to reunite in a more official manner. “The Pharcyde is Imani, Bootie Brown, Fatlip and Slimkid3,” he says. “That’s why we’re going as the Far Side (formerly known as the Pharcyde) because we feel like the ‘Ph’ is the four. Me and [Brown] was the two of us and I always told him, the Pharcyde is [the four of us].”
Because of the way Brown feels about the track, though, a true reunion is unlikely anytime soon. “Fatlip knows the truth of how the song came about,” Brown says. “He has to because it’s on his record. If Fatlip or someone recorded on my record, I’d say, ‘Does he know this?’ That’d be my first question, because, like, I don’t talk to this guy. ‘How’d you get him to do this?’ He has to know it wasn’t legit how they got it. And he doesn’t want to incriminate himself by even getting on the phone to say something about it because he knows exactly that it wasn’t authorized.
“I’m just gonna roll with it,” Brown continues. “I think they’re going to get exactly what they’re getting out of it right now, which is a whole media stir of everyone being up in arms. ‘Why is Brown doing this?’ I’ve been in this kind of situation since Tre and Fatlip had left the group. This drama has been going on for about 20 years now. I guess I’m used to being the bad guy because I stand up for myself, and I feel like people should just tell the truth. … If we’re gonna clear the air, let’s clear the air correctly.”