Bizarre Ride

Words: Arthur Vandalay
Photo: Estevan Oriol
In 1992, J-Swift produced The Pharcyde’s classic debut album Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. Offering a hilarious, free-spirited alternative to LA’s dominant gangsta rap, the innovative album spawned hits like “Ya Mama” and the timeless “Passin’ Me By.” After The Pharcyde tried to take some of the credit for his beats, J. fell out with the group before the seminal album was even released. Still, the Inglewood native managed to parlay his obvious problems go away. I would be in the studio crying ’cause I couldn’t believe that I was in the situation that I was in. I was like, What did I do to deserve this? All I did was try to help everybody, so I was kinda feeling sorry for myself. I was feeling suicidal but I knew that I didn’t have the balls to put a gun to my head, so I figured I’d smoke dope and just kill myself off this dope.

Did you keep making beats during this period?
I’d go into the studio and I’d lock my door and I’d just smoke dope and slowly but surely I started working on beats again because, you know, that’s my number one addiction. But I was about to lose my studio. My phone was cut off. This one guy who I did a remix and did some production for came looking for me. [This was] the day before I was going to get kicked out. There were these little gnats in my studio. I wouldn’t even want to go out, so I would piss in a bottle. I was drinking a lot of wine and liquor, so I would just piss in all the bottles. I tried to talk to him about what’s happened with me and he said, “I need two remixes. Do you think you could knock them out for me?” I was like, “Yeah, I’d love to but I have to move,” and he was like, “I’ma pay your studio for six months, just knock this remix out for me.” That gave me a ray of hope, so I started weaning myself off dope. I started exercising, working on these remixes.

So where did things go wrong?
I was doing business with some Mexicans. I had to start doing illegal business just to keep my shit afloat. Like, letting them cut and distribute they dope in my studio. I had dope of theirs hidden in the studio, and I mean in a heavy fashion. I’m talking like, pounds and stuff. At any given moment there’d be like a half-pound to a pound or two [of rock] stashed.

And is it because you’re smoking so much at this point, you’re indebted to these dealers?
No, I wasn’t indebted to them, I just had developed a system. I would go out onto Hollywood Blvd. and I would buy dope. See, what they do is they send dealers out here and they don’t have no paperwork, so if they get caught, they just get deported. They don’t even go to jail. So there was one Mexican kid I knew and he was leaving to Mexico. He introduced me to this older guy who had juice. He seen that I had a studio and that I was doing music. He saw the gold album on the wall, so he [told] me, “I am going to bring you whatever you want, at any time of the night, all week, but on Sunday, we gotta straighten out the books.” So, I was like, “Cool.” But his plan was that once I did have a tab, I would start paying him by letting him operate out of my [studio].

Did you have money to support your habit?
Well, I still had money. I had a single deal and I still had my royalty checks coming. Most of the time I could pay him and I figured that’s what it would be, ‘cause I was naïve. But he was like, “I’m going to start doing some business out of here and I’ll just give you dope.” So, I had a girlfriend at the time, Kelly, she’s in the movie…

The white girl?
Yeah, the white chick, Kelly. She knew where the dope was stashed and stole over $3,000 worth of dope.

And she smoked it all?
Yeah! I was out of town. When I got back, they went to check. We were going to get killed. Three hundred rocks [were gone], so I was like, “You know what, bitch? You’re going to go hit the track.” I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know any other way. Nobody was going to lend me three grand, my relationships were already fucked up. So, she started hoeing.

Did she make right by the $3,000?
Yeah, we changed the program and she didn’t know where the shit was at. We finally got right with them. I [eventually] stopped doing business with him, ’cause he had to leave to Mexico. But then I come home one day and every pimp, hustler and basehead was in my studio. And she’s playing hostess! She would let people in because she wanted to smoke dope and I wouldn’t give her no dope. They would want to come in there and chop their shit and wrap it.

Who would she let in?
This [one] Crip, he rapped and I made the mistake of doing a song for him. Then he wanted me to do three more songs and I was like, “You gotta pay me a thousand.” The next thing you know, his [leather] jacket comes up missing, and Kelly [is] like, “I owe him $800.” You know, textbook gangbanging. So one day he came over and was like, “Where’s my money, cuz?” That nigga took a couple shots to my body and I was laid out on the ground. They beat the shit out of me and just invaded my studio. They put [Kelly] on the track. They had took her to their motel, got her dressed up and they started pimping her. They tied me up with handcuffs. They slid all my filing cabinets to one corner of the room and put me behind it. People would come in the studio like, “Yo, where’s J.?” And they put they foot on my neck like, “Cuz, if you say one thing, I’m going to snap your neck.” Then they’d be like, “J-Swift ain’t here.” They basically had me hostage in my own studio.

In a matter of hours, they had her on the track and you tied up?
Yeah. I was in pain. I was dehydrated. I really felt like I was slipping, because I was so thirsty. Then he poured some soda in my mouth and dropped the Styrofoam so I’m drinking the soda and I’m spitting out the Styrofoam. They were just horrible. They took most of my equipment. They didn’t take my computer, thank God. They took the monitor and took the keypad, thinking they had the computer, idiots [laughs]. But they left the brain. If they would have took that computer, I might have killed myself, for real—I might’ve just took it to a switchblade and just cut my veins, because all my masters [were on] this computer.

How did you get away?
I heard one of them talking that they were going to really fuck me up or get me out of there that evening, ’cause they couldn’t move me out of there during the day. So, I didn’t know if they were going to kill me or what. Fortunately, I got loose again. They didn’t put wire through my T-shirt, so I slid out of my stuff. This was all God working. There was only one Crip in there at the time and he was watching a college football game. I was in shock. I wasn’t even thinkingcorrectly, but something just told me, “Run.” So, I ran out in just a T-shirt and got the security and the police.

What happened when the cops came?
I didn’t even cry the entire time I was getting beat the fuck down or tied up. But when I saw [Kelly], I just broke down in tears like, “How could you do this to me?” I couldn’t believe it. So then the police were like, “Well, do you want to press charges?” I was beat the fuck up and I was like, “Nah, I don’t want to press charges.” The cop was mad, like, “They beat you down, they stole your equipment and you don’t want to press charges?” And I said, “No,” because I didn’t want no police doing my work for me. I’m still from Inglewood, you know what I mean? I still got people that live in the hood. The last thing I need is for these people to hear that I ratted these niggas out to the police.

How did the documentary come about?
I had met Shauna [the producer of “1 More Hit”] in ’94. She was working with MTV and she had her own production company—she was doing big things. She wanted to do a film on me back then and I was like, “Hell nah, I’m doing my records.” So then in 2004, I hadn’t talked to Shauna in like, almost a year. I called one day her like, “Yo, can I borrow $20?” She knew it was for dope but she was like, “Alright. Where are you? Where have you been?” I was like, “I live under this tree on Ivar and Hollywood Blvd.” So, she comes over and she gives me this $20. She’s like, “What are you doing under this tree?” and I’m like, “I live here.” She couldn’t believe it, and she was like, “Well, what’s going on with your music?” And I had my CD, so I popped it in her truck and when she heard it, she was like, “Ohh, this is dope!” That’s when she got the idea, like, “I can make a film out of this.” And she was like, “If I can get you back in the studio, will you stop smoking dope and work on your album?” And I was like, “Hell yeah.” So, that was the beginning. She started filming me everywhere.

So tell me what happened—the original idea was to turn it into a reality show?
I still had my drug use and was still you know, getting filmed. But this guy who wanted to be a producer—this guy that me and Shauna had put on while there was no budget— had locked up on some of the footage. Also, I had my computer at his house because I did the last two weeks of my album at his house. So, there I am stuck, with no computer. So, naturally they thought that I just didn’t care about doing music, like, “Ohh, this was just a ploy to smoke some dope.” Which was bullshit, but what could I say? So they pulled the plug on the show.

And so you fell back, into the addiction?
Yeah, I was worse than ever, because it was like I got an uplifting moment and then it just got pulled from up under my feet. So, I’m back in the streets with Kelly and then I end up getting arrested, again. So this time, they wanted to put me in an in-patient [rehab] place, but this place, you can’t come out at all, which I didn’t care ‘cause at that point I was really ready…

To just come clean?
Yeah. But then I was like, “Can I bring my equipment?” They were like, “No” and I was like, “Well, fuck y’all,” ’cause I couldn’t work on my music. That was the only thing that gave me happiness—God and my kids, and then my music. And I can’t do my music? And I really can’t go see my kids when I want to ’cause, you know, my baby moms ain’t down with me so then I was like, back to the streets. Shauna stayed down with me. She was still filming me and then she got some other interests and people involved and started making it into a movie ’cause this was a story that had to be told. A lot of people are going through this kind of shit.

How did you finally end up in rehab?
I had to report to this probation officer for like, two months. They had all these restrictions: I gotta give a DNA sample, I gotta call every day to see if it’s time for me to get tested. I had a suspended sentence, so if I fucked up, I was going to prison. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t smoke weed, so I violated my probation and was on the run. I was like, Fuck this shit, I can’t do it. My plan at that point was to finish my album and then just turn myself in, but Shauna introduced me to this chick named Leslie who worked at Land Community. It’s like a drug rehab place but they also deal with mental illness. She was like, “Look, they got a bed for you. You’ll be able to eat and stuff. You’re going to be on restriction for thirty days, you won’t be able to go anywhere but after thirty days, you can go out.” When she told me about that shit, I jumped on it, like, “Hell, yeah, I want to go.” So that’s where we are now. After three p.m. to ten p.m., I can be out. When I do another thirty days, then I can go out on weekend passes, like be gone for the weekend and hang out with my kids and then come back.

How long have you been clean, at this point?
At this point, I’ve been clean almost 60 days.

How are you feeling about things?
I feel incredibly great. I’m not going to lie, I mean I had the feeling like, I want to do some dope. But then it went away. I would just sleep it off. And then when I got my [restrictions lifted], they were like, “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Because this place is on Skid Row—right when you come outside, there’s people living in tents, like smoking right out on the street, selling dope right there. So I’d walk outside and they’d be like, “What you need, what you need?” And I was like, “I don’t need shit.” I really didn’t want to [smoke]. I was really like, “Wow, it’s over.” I used to have dreams of smoking dope. I would be asleep, dreaming like, “God, please take this shit away from me.” But he did, you know?