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Thrillin’ ‘n’ Chillin’: Life With the Pharcyde

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At the Pharcyde Manor, the run-down, graffiti-art decorated house in South-Central Los Angeles that is headquarters to the hot young rap group the Pharcyde, there’s just a bit too much activity this weekday morning.

There’s an overload of career things to do and think about--checks to endorse, itineraries to be approved for the group’s first trip to Europe, photos to be taken . . . and everybody seems a bit on edge.

“This is the last interview I’m doing,” announces Derrick Stewart (who uses the name Fat Lip), arriving late to join his colleagues Tre (Slimkid 3) Hardson, Romye (Bootie Brown) Robinson and Imani (Knumbskull) Wilcox. “I’ve said everything I want to say. I don’t need to talk to anybody anymore.”

Stewart’s not only tired of all the sudden media attention, but all the people--friends of friends of friends--who have started coming by the house in hopes of hanging out with the group whose debut album, “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde,” is one of the rap sensations of the season.

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“It’s ridiculous,” sighs Wilcox, sitting on a desk in an upstairs bedroom with the rest of Pharcyde.

Robinson interjects, “And it’s not even those people that bother me. It’s the neighborhood guys. I sweat it with the homeboy with the Uzi.”

That sense of events being out of control was underscored by a rampage in the streets of Hollywood by fans who could not get into a sold-out performance by the group at the Arena club last week. Windows were broken at a nearby convenience store, and bottles were thrown at police who had been called in to control the crowd.

Like the rappers’ lives these days, the album is crowded with a rush of colorful elements. But the mood of the music is hardly the somber tone its makers’ demeanor these days might indicate.

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The debut album mixes old-style hip-hop beats, samples largely drawn from the jazz world (Donald Byrd, John Coltrane) and free-flowing rhymes. But the most important feature of the album may be the skewed sense of humor, which places the Pharcyde more in league with Oakland’s Digital Underground than such noted L.A. gangsta-rap acts as Ice Cube, N.W.A. and Ice-T.

“We laugh a lot,” says Wilcox, 22. “We find humor in things other people don’t. Everyday situations. People might look at things around here and say, like, ‘Damn!’ We say, ‘Hah, hah, hah.’ We just chill out.”

The group’s history is also not the typical story of an L.A. rap group.

“We didn’t all come from South-Central,” says Stewart.

“And we’re not all poor kids, though that’s the way people have made it seem,” adds Wilcox.

The four rappers come from several diverse L.A.-area communities. Hardson, 22, is in fact from South-Central and Wilcox from Compton, but Stewart, 24, was raised in the Fairfax District and Robinson, 23, grew up in Pasadena, where he says he was more of a Duran Duran fan than a rap aficionado until late in high school.

Robinson came to the hip-hop world as a dancer, choreographing high school teams for competitions. He met Wilcox and Hardson through that about five years ago and they started dancing together, landing occasional appearances on Fox TV’s “In Living Color.” They then enrolled in the South Central Unit, an urban L.A. music and dance program funded by A&M; Records. There they met Stewart, as well as J-Swift, an aspiring producer who encouraged them to rap as well as dance.

The group, with management by “Poetic Justice” director John Singleton and partner Paul Stewart, signed to L.A.-based Delicious Vinyl and recorded the album, which has joined the debut of the Freestyle Fellowship in leading a new wave of Los Angeles rap.

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But as much as the rappers are happy for the success, they’re already weary of the responsibilities it brings.

“We’re only going to make three albums together,” says Wilcox. “ ‘Bizarre Ride’ was the first, and now we want to get everything a little better. But then we’ll stop. Romye wants to be an architect, Tre wants to be a songwriter, and Derrick and I will be doing our things, but I just want to make three good albums for the hip-hoppers and then move on.”


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