By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
In the mid 90’s, the Pharcyde was one of the legendary groups that profiled the diversity of Hip Hop on the west coast, in an era where the whole coast was being type-casted with only doing Reality Rap aka Gangsta Rap because of the rise of artists like NWA, Ice Cube, Ice T, Snoop, and Tupac. Groups like The Coup, Souls of Mischief, Freestyle Fellowship, and the Pharcyde added different layers of artistry to Hip Hop in the West; with their sample driven beats, original stories, and rhythmic wordplay.
I am extremely privileged to have been a teenager experiencing the Pharcyde dropping their two classic albums “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” and “Labcabincalifornia”, because both of those albums were the soundtrack to my high school years; songs like “Passing Me By”, “Ya Mama”, “She Said”, “Moment in Time”, “Can’t Keep Running Away” got played out, if you were around me in that era right alongside classic albums like “Me Against the World”, “Thuglife Volume 1”, “Ward of the State”, “Get In Where You Fit In”, “Message to the Black Man”, “Genocide and Juice”, “Dare Iz a Darkside”, and “Death Certificate”.
30 years after the release of their debut album, 3 out of 4 of the original members: Fatlip, Slimkid Tre, and Imani are back in the lab as the Farside (formerly known as the Pharcyde), creating on top of production from Oakland’s own Spear of the Nation, who was the true architect in putting this moment in time together.
Besides music, Spear of the Nation and his wife Mizan, have been pillars in the conscious community of Oakland for decades, having created the Sankofa Project Living Museum at Eastmont Mall, as well as playing a part in the creation of the Akoma Market, which is an outdoor flea market type of space for small businesses of color in the heart of Deep East Oakland, which is open on most weekends in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Check out Spear of the Nation as he talks about what it took to get Fatlip, Imani, and Slimkid Tre to work with each other after splitting up 25 years prior, as well as he talks about the sound of this new album that they put together.
JR Valrey: How did you personally get into music? When did you start to take it seriously?
Spear of the Nation: Music has always been an integral part of my life. My father is a jazz musician who played bass clarinet, with the legendary Horace Tapscott’s Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra in Los Angeles. Growing up, I remember hearing greats like Sun Ra, Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and many others which pretty much shaped my sound, approach, and connection to music. Music was never really a form of entertainment per-say but rather a tool for spiritual enlightenment, meditation, and political awareness. My mother was the type to blast Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross early Sunday morning to signal that it was time to deep clean the house (lol), I think every Black child in America knows exactly what I’m talking about. It was my older Brother Dray that introduced me to Hip hop via LL Cool J, Biz Markie, Kane, NWA, Too Short; yah know that late 80’s classic shit. I would love rolling in his Jetta banging out to whatever he had in rotation at the time, because the messages resonated with me in a deep way. The first rap I ever wrote (transcribed) was “How yah Like Me Now” by Kool Moe Dee and I would go around the house performing it like I was Kool Moe Dee himself. It was then that I knew that this Hip Hop thing was going to be an integral part of my life.
JR Valrey: What is the story on how you brought 3/4 of the legendary rap group the Pharcyde back together after 25 years? I know you’re related to Imani, and you used to kick it with him and Brown, where’d you get Fat Lip and Tray? And where’s Brown?
Spear of the Nation: This journey began when I was able to pull the “FARSIDE” (formerly of the Pharcyde), together for a song entitled “Let’s Talk” that is featured on the latest Lunar Heights project, entitled GODPARTICLE. The song was so dope that the brothers agreed to come to Oakland to shoot the video for it. During that time, I was able to take the brothers to our headquarters, Spearitwurx Center for Culture and Wellness in East Oakland.
I had the privilege of guiding Imani, Fatlip, and Slimkid3 through our Experience Sankofa Project Living Museum and, in their own words, it really transformed their life. I was able to explain the concept of Sankofa to them and realized that is exactly what was going on. It was time for them to look into the best parts of their past, and bring that forward into this current time to create something magical. At that point the mission became clear, this was bigger than Hip Hop, this was clearly about intergenerational wellness, mental health and brotherhood; I am Because We Are. This is really what I have been doing for the past 20 years, along with my wife Mizan- through our organization Spearitwurx, we have been inspiring intergenerational wellness and radical healing. I create radical healing music. This latest project is just the extension of the work, as Hip hop needs healing.
In regards to Brown, I reached out to him, as well as Schmooche (manager), several times to invite them on this journey, but I kept getting the voicemail and no response. When I was finally able to speak with Schmooche he expressed not wanting any parts of what we were doing, and asked me specifically not to put the Pharcyde name anywhere associated with this project. I’m a stand up guy as you know JR, so I honored the request as well as their feelings about the whole situation. This is not an official Pharcyde project; its Spear of the Nation featuring Imani, Fatlip and Slimkid3.
JR Valrey: What did y’all produce together? What does it sound like? How would you compare the sound and production to the classic albums “Bizarre Ride” and “LabcabinCalifornia”?
Spear of the Nation: To be frank with you, we produced a classic. It sounds like nothing that the ‘Cyde has ever done before and that’s a good thing. Expect to hear a whole lot of bars, passion, and heart. This is definitely a mature album that has a spiritual undertone, and provides medicine for all those that press play.
JR Valrey: What made you add Inspectah Deck, Jerneye, and Kosh to tracks with the brothers? What did they add to it?
Spear of the Nation: By default, Jerneye was going to be involved, because he is my Lunar Heights bredren and long time Hip Hop comrade, so it just made sense. King Kosh and I have been talking about doing music for years, and it just never really lined up until now, and I’m glad it did. He brought a rude boy “Madlion” kind of element, that just fit perfect on this song called the Vortex, a real stand out on the album. Through our connection with Kalista, who is supporting us with tour management and media outreach, we were able to have a direct line to the Wu Tang Clan. With Deck’s reputation for blazing every feature he is a part of, he was the obvious choice for this project; plus I knew when folks saw the liner notes it was going to add that shock value that every Hip Hop fan loves and appreciates. I truly got to Big Up the professionalism and follow through Deck and his management exhibited through this process, and I know the fans are going to be blown away by that track. It’s called “The Ballad”.
JR Valrey: What was your concept for producing an album with 3/4 of the Pharcyde? Although you are family, how did you feel producing for such a monumental group knowing the legendary J. Dilla did production on the album prior to the one you worked on?
Spear of the Nation: Man it still is surreal when I sit back and think about it. In all transparency, I just moved with spirit and produced what I felt was dope. Once again, the music was one aspect, but I was more concerned with the process. I wanted to create something original, and do something that hasn’t been able to be done in 15+ years. I can never fill the shoes of a J-Swift or J-Dilla, but I could provide an opportunity for healing and realignment for my brothers to move forward. This is just the spark, I truly believe their best work is yet to come.
JR Valrey: How was this album recorded? Was it done in Oakland or was it done over the internet? What was the creative process like?
Spear of the Nation: We began the recording process at the Sankofa Center with a Macbook, MPC, Pro Tools, and mic (lol); nothing fancy at all. The rest of the album was recorded via the internet; flying verses back and forth to each other. It was really the genius of DJ Icewater to facilitate the mixes, master, and synthesis of the project. I produced every track, but Icewater really took everything to a competitive level in terms of sound quality and arrangement.
JR Valrey: Do y’all plan to tour with this album? How will you accomplish that feat despite COVID?
Spear of the Nation: There is actually a tour in progress now beginning on 4/3/2022 in Miami. This is the 30th anniversary tour for “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde”, but you might get a chance to hear some of the new joints. Only time will tell, stay tuned.
JR Valrey: Did the COVID pandemic help or hurt the process of recording this album? Please explain.
Spear of the Nation: Honestly I feel like the ancestors have been rocking with us throughout this whole process and although COVID is a factor, we were able to get this project done in less than 3 months. I’m still blown away by that fact. Really nothing is impossible, when in alignment with purpose.
JR Valrey: How could people purchase the album? How could people stay online with you?
Spear of the Nation: For all those that want to support, we are pressing up a limited run of 500 cassettes tapes to promote the album before it is live on all streaming platforms, later this year. This cassette will have a QR code for digital access, and will work as a VIP pass to any of the shows along the 30th anniversary tour. You can purchase cassettes at Spearofthenation.com under Imani, Fatlip, Slimkid3. That website is also the best way to stay informed with what’s up and coming with myself, and future projects.