“Ain’t got no homies that got my back
Yeah I’m a brother, but sometimes I don’t feel black
My girl is white, my game ain’t tight
Niggas who ain’t seen me in a while be like ‘Dude, you aight?'”
For a young ‘Flash’ not even in his freshman year of college, The Pharcyde’s “Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde” was a crucial album. There was an incredible sense of camaraderie and chemistry between Imani, Slimkid3, Fatlip and Bootie Brown, and J-Swift’s production ranged from humorously fresh (“Ya Mama”) to heartfelt (“Passin’ Me By”) to fly as hell (“On the DL”). The album dropped during an era where being HARD was increasingly the norm for rappers on both the East and West coast, but this group at least was willing to make fun of themselves and each other while making delicious (vinyl) hip-hop. The album was a classic in its own time and has only gotten better with age.
When I learned that Fatlip (born Derrick Lemel Stewart) was kicked out of the group after “Labcabincalifornia” I was dismayed and to say the least upset. 1995 was not a time where you could “Google it” to find out what happened or why. You had to get your information from magazines like The Source or newsgroups like rec.music.hip-hop and neither one seemed to have the full story. Eventually (many years later) it came out that Fatlip wasn’t happy with their sophomore album and stopped touring to support the album, which led to a split which was amicable… at first. In public The Pharcyde would say things like “If you support Fatlip’s solo album you support us” and vice versa. Behind the scenes Fatlip and Imani nearly busted each other up in a bar fight. Ouch.
When “What’s Up Fatlip?” dropped as a single, I started to wonder if they weren’t right to kick Fatlip out of The Pharcyde. While the group’s first two albums aged like fine wine, my appreciation for both the song and his subsequent solo album “The Loneliest Punk” aged like blue cheese. For a long time I didn’t understand the flavor. Fatlip purposefully made his vocals sound like a rapping hobo, painted himself as an “immature insecure grown up nerd” and even had a sample of KRS-One dissing him as a “soft punk”. When the Spike Jonze directed video came out though, that cheese came through and went from foul to funky. Everything suddenly made sense. Fatlip was providing the ultimate rejection of the aforementioned trend of BEING HARD. He was willing to quite literally play the role of a clown.
Sometimes flavor profiles just don’t click until you get older. Your taste buds age and change, and you suddenly like broccoli and blue cheese. “The Loneliest Punk” is that kind of album. In the era of The Pharcyde it was too hard to step away from what Fatlip meant to that group and vice versa, but as sand fell through the hourglass each grain added to my respect for what Derrick created. “First Heat” is well named as the album’s first certified banger, produced with a bouncy Printz Board beat that would be at home on an Alkaholiks album. Coincidentally the song is all about “ladies shakin/b-boys breakin/radio station heavy rotation/got no time to be wastin/I’m drinkin, drugs and ho chasin”. This isn’t a down on his luck rapper, this is a dapper FLY rapper.
“The Loneliest Punk” has very few guest appearances, which makes the fact they are PHRESH with a capital P even better. Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) guests on “Today’s Your Day” and Shock G (also playing Humpty Hump) is on “Freaky Pumps,” produced by Squeak E. Clean and Edy Crahp respectively. Now if you thought Fatlip was corny on “What’s Up Fatlip?” he’s got nothing on the names of those producers — but they can work magic behind the boards and that’s for damn sure. Edy did “What’s Up” along with about half the album, and number two in production credits is Pharcyde’s mix wizard J-Swift. “Writer’s Block” proves that he didn’t lose his touch over the years.
“I could have been a legend like Big and ‘Pac
but I caught a bad case of writer’s block
Writer’s block for those unaware
is a condition that’s hardly rare
often compared to a tree that bares no fruit
a bank account with no loot”
Are you starting to get the impression that “The Loneliest Punk” is a slept on classic? Well you should be. This review is almost 14 years in the making and easily could have been another 14 were it not for Record Store Day. Although I’ve had the CD for years, it was actually picking up the VINYL that made me finally put pen to paper and cover it, all thanks to the fact the release came with a free digital copy. Listening to it again I discovered that not only did I now savor the flavors of J-Swift, Edy Crahp and Mr. Stewart, I was anxious to share that taste with other people. The album’s crowning achievement may be the Swift produced track “The Story of Us”. Fatlip grew from being one-fourth of a crew to holding it down entirely on his own with cinematic narratives, pulling you into the stress and drama of his persona.
You don’t have to pick up the limited edition black and yellow vinyl to enjoy “The Loneliest Punk“. It’s like blue cheese and mushrooms on a perfectly cooked steak — the extra flavor is nice but the juicy tender meat is what really matters. I don’t want to oversell this though because while “TLP” is indeed slept on, it’s not “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Cooking Channel. It’s just really really good. Let’s put it this way – it’s like ordering the least expensive steak on the menu only to find it was mouthwateringly good anyway — perfectly seasoned with just salt and pepper, grilled to perfection, and accompanied with crisp pommes frites. There’s little to complain about.