VH1 really seems to be following the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Amid growing criticism of its latest season of “Basketball Wives,” the network is introducing yet another title in a booming roster of provocative programs slanted toward African American viewers wanting to wallow in the behind-the-scenes drama (quite evidently, there is a ton) that goes on with women attached to the music and sports worlds.
“Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta,” a spin-off of the popular New York based docu-series in which slapping, drink throwing and hair pulling became a plot point, is set to premiere on the network on Monday.
The 10-episode series is anchored in a new crop of industry players: Grammy Award-winning producer Stevie J (Diddy, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey), his girlfriend, Mimi Faust, and his protégée, an up-and-coming Latina rapper named Joseline; rapper Lil Scrappy, his girlfriend, Erica Dixon, and his mother, a former hustler known as “Momma Dee”; Atlanta rapper Rasheeda, her manager-husband Kirk Frost; songstress K. Michelle; and Trinidadian R&B singer Karlie Redd.
Pop & Hiss caught up with two of the aspiring performers, Joseline and K. Michelle, to talk drama, putting themselves in front of the camera and, of course, music.
In 1992, the group released the rollickingly irreverent 'Bizarre Ride.' The quintessential album's being celebrated with a box set, a reunion show and more.
This post has been corrected. Please see bottom for details.
In the haze of memory, it's easy to assume that the Pharcyde's debut, "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde," came out at some time other than the fall of 1992. So much of L.A. hip-hop that year was dominated by the riots in Los Angeles. For example, Ice Cube took a victory lap on "The Predator," reminding listeners why "We Had to Tear This ... Up." Meanwhile, Dr. Dre and his lanky new protege, Snoop Dogg, readied "Nuthin' but a ‘G' Thang" as their inaugural vision of a post-Bloods/Crips truce, post-riots gangster's paradise.
In contrast, the Pharcyde's introduction came in July 1992 via a whimsical song full of dirty snaps, "Ya Mama," followed by an album that boasts one of the most famous uses of vagina dentata imagery on an LP cover. "Bizarre Ride" is now considered a quintessentially L.A. album, but 20 years ago, it seemed to have arrived from a world all its own.
The 20th anniversary of the album is being marked in several ways. Delicious Vinyl recently released a box set of seven 7-inch records, based on singles from the album, plus a full-size poster and a jigsaw puzzle of the cover art. On Wednesday, several core group members will reunite at the Roxy to perform "Bizarre Ride" in its entirety: rappers Tre "Slimkid3" Hardson and Derrick "Fatlip" Stewart, and producers John "J-Swift" Martinez and John "L.A. Jay" Barnes. The group's internal dynamics have always been unsettled; missing from the show will be co-founders Imani Wilcox and Romye "Booty Brown" Robinson (who still tour together under the Pharcyde name).
The enduring fascination with the album traces partially back to its incongruity in that era, especially the group's rollicking irreverence. On "Officer," Pharcyde's members turned a staple of L.A. hip-hop -- the anti-cop anthem -- into a tongue-in-cheek tale about driving without a proper smog check, while "Oh ..." features vignettes about embarrassing intimate encounters, including one involving a friend's oversexed mother and a cup of ripple wine.
This was the key difference with the Pharcyde -- its members weren't above making themselves the object of ridicule or humiliation, displaying a sardonic but still visceral vulnerability. We take that quality for granted today (what's jokingly called "emo-rap"), but the early 1990s were dominated by superhuman MCs, be it the stern, prophetic gaze of Ice Cube, the sneering, chilling affect of Eazy E or B-Real, or the lyrical virtuosity of the Freestyle Fellowship.
In contrast, Hardson, Robinson, Stewart and Wilcox, with their whiny tones and hyperactive flows, were like overactive teenagers, bubbling over with equal amounts of excitement and insecurity.
To wit: Their biggest hit, "Passin' Me By" builds on pained stories of unrequited love. Compared with the endless variations on "I'm a pimp/mack/player," "Passin' Me By" spoke to listeners who could identify with their own futile attempts to charm a grade school crush.
What would seem like a relatively simple admission -- life can be awkward -- was practically revolutionary at the time. Besides New York's Leaders of the New School (perhaps the Pharcyde's closest counterparts), few other rappers seemed comfortable displaying anything other than a bulletproof countenance.
"Bizarre Ride" also manifested its difference sonically. Martinez not only sampled liberally from jazz records but he and the group also sequenced an album whose rhythm dipped and swerved with an improvisational spirit. It opens with a short, live instrumental, there are interstitial skits that sound straight out of a poetry slam, and there's a notable absence of classic funk loops that up until then had all but defined a West Coast sound.
"Bizarre Ride" created a musical lane that others would follow, especially the short-lived group Mad Kap, as well as the early pre-pop incarnation of the Black Eyed Peas.
Maybe it's because the Pharcyde's core members began not as rappers but as dancers in an earlier era of L.A. hip-hop. Maybe it's because they didn't hail from a single neighborhood, but from places across the region, including Torrance and Pasadena. Maybe it's because they were just quirky. Whatever the reasons, their chemistry -- volatile as it was -- held together long enough to produce this unique artifact of an album.
Their next LP, 1995's "Labcabincalifornia," was arguably a more sophisticated effort, but by then, the very landscape that Pharcyde's members had helped shift had made them sound less incomparable. "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" was, then and now, a heady journey whose paths, once carved, couldn't easily be remade, not even by the group itself.
(For the record, 5:50 p.m. May 22: An earlier version of this post had improperly spelled the names of Tre "Slimkid3" Hardson and Derrick "Fatlip" Stewart. The original photo, which showed Imani, has also been changed.)
-- Oliver Wang
Photo: Slimkid3, left, and Fatlip, who perform as Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Credit: Suzu Fresco.
In the video, which was posted as "Fatherly Advice," Too $hort, a.k.a. Todd Anthony Shaw, recommends that when boys "get to late middle school, early high school" and they "start feeling a certain way about girls," they should skip the kisses and get straight into riskier action -- whether or not either party is ready. In attempting to touch a girl "down there," he tells them do things like "push her against a wall" and, if the mission can be accomplished, he should "watch what happens," implying she'll be in a state of ecstacy.
There's no mention, however, as to whether the woman is consenting to this treatment.
The video was quickly taken down, but not before it ignited a furor in the hip-hop world, spurring several bloggers to fume about how Too $hort's video essentially recommended that boys sexually harass girls, thereby traumatizing young women. Bloggers also pointed out that he's putting young men at risk by opening them up to possible assault charges if their sexual advances are unwanted. All around, not the "fatherly advice" Too $hort promised.
Ask a Leimert Park local to describe the flavor of their neighborhood’s rarely exposed music scene, and chances are they'll bring up Bananas. Held inside the giant metal doors of cramped community venue Kaos Network (home of renowned hip-hop workshop Project Blowed), Bananas' monthly music showcase has become an ad hoc meeting ground for local rappers, DJs, bands and out-of-town acts. In just under three years, it has grown into driving force behind advancements in the area’s art and music scene.
Happening on the third Tuesday of each month, the Jan.17 installment will promote a community-based workshop where musicians and MCs exchange their chops on stage. This week's show is co-headlined by local rapper Catch Lungs, retro funk outfit J.R. Tate and the Good Intentions along with eight other acts.
Since it started in 2008, Bananas has been a case study in word-of-mouth advertising. Though not much promotion is done online, the show never fails to attract a full crowd, sometimes into the hundreds. Patrons reflect the city around them and are often a mix of hip hop heads, Echo Park bike riders, punk rockers. All congregate beneath a ceiling-high mural of an Egyptian pharaoh.
Founded by local rappers/ community activists VerBS and Gumshoe (born Devin Montgomery), the night has been an unexpected, but vital success. “It was kind of like a ‘if you build it, they will come’ type of scenario and it kept getting bigger and bigger,” said VerBS (born Kyle Guy), 25, of Culver City. Apart from his own solo shows, VerBS also reps local hip hop crew the Swim Team. As a local rapper, VerBS has done everything from gritty warehouse gigs to supporting act slots for Murs at the Paid Dues Festival in San Bernadino.
His inspiration to start Bananas began as an experiment to branch out from a previous monthly night he’d created in West L.A. called “The Spliff.”
In many ways, Banana’s talent pool matches the eclectic crowd. It's ability to include artists from various L.A. music scenes has afforded them an interesting mix of home grown South L.A. talent like Dom Kennedy and U-N-I, as well as the distortion-heavy, experimental rock bands like Professor Calculus.
As more artists and musicians have gravitated toward Leimert in the part few years, VerBS said the success of Bananas has helped spawn the Leimert Park Art Walk, a self-guided monthly tour that now uses the space at Kaos Network as one of it’s primary locations. “The city started to recognize that I could bring people from this whole other realm of L.A. to this part of the city,” VerBS said.
Bananas' has also differentiated itself from other hip-hop monthlies by being a multi-racial event where male and female acts share relatively equal presence on stage. "It's a refreshing vibe at Bananas," said Ben Caldwell, local filmmaker and owner of Kaos Network. "A lot of the times Project Blowed and some of the other local underground hip-hop nights can feel very male-dominated."
In an area that sheds light on community events fueled by creativity, Bananas continues to garner steady source of foot traffic by artists and musicians from all over the city. “If you go to downtown or Silver Lake or Echo Park, those neighborhoods all have their own little flavor and I think what people are starting to see more lately is that Leimert Park has it’s own unique flavor,” said Caldwell. “I think Banana’s is helping to define that.”
Photo: Verbs (left) on stage with J.R. Tate and the Good Intentions at Bananas in Leimert Park. Credit: Kaos Network
It was nearly impossible to ignore the ubiquitous “In Paris” last year. And as if you hadn’t heard the track enough, Pitbull -- otherwise known as Mr. Worldwide, Mr. 305 or that guy who dominated pop radio in 2011 -– has added himself to the list of those who have remixed or covered it.
Pitbull, however, one-upped Kanye West and Jay-Z by traveling to the City of Light alongside Dominican rapper Sensato for the music video to "Latinos in Paris," which he directed himself and premiered on New Year’s Day.
The clip is exactly what you'd predict: hobnobbing backstage before a sold-out concert, dancing on a private jet, clubbing with women and "balling" in front of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, all while wearing designer shades.
Check out the video, which relies on the same menacing Hit Boy-produced beat, unprintable language and Will Ferrell sample as the original, to see how the two “chicos get crazy.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Screenshot taken from Pitbull's "Latinos in Paris."
Early on in Common's "The Dreamer/The Believer," the Chicago-bred rapper goes after those he believes are "too soft" on "Sweet," targeting those he sees as putting too much of an emphasis on singing rather than rapping. Yet two tracks later, Common goes all "808s & Heartbreak" himself with "Lovin' I Lost," a Curtis Mayfield-referencing slow-jam.
"Is this our new forever?" Common asks throughout the track, wondering whether he'll be permanently alone. If Common doesn't quite sing on the dusty, soul-inspired song, he does get awfully reflective. As he reminisces about a dead relationship, he asks, "How could someone you could talk to, each and every day, that you about to marry, be on their merry way?"
"That song is like a blues song," Common said when asked about the track earlier this month. The song was one of the last written for "The Dreamer/The Believer," and Common admitted he bared his soul for it.