The six members of Phony Ppl sit in the basement of NeueHouse, eating food and having drinks before their performance. They are lively, warm, and incredibly charming, with a fraternal chemistry that makes them even more alluring, as they joke with each other. The band, which is comprised of Elbee Thrie, Sheriff PJ, Elijah Rawk, Maffyuu Byas, Aja Grant, and Bari Bass, heralds from Brooklyn, NY, and references an eclectic amalgamation of bands as inspiration, from Queen to J Dilla. In fact, their music is a testament to their encyclopedic knowledge of music, with a unique and smooth sound that lives somewhere between jazz, soul, R&B, and hip-hop. Over the sound of drinks and laughter, the guys of Phony Ppl talk to us about the fear of failure and what heaven looks like.
NeueJournal: What’s the story behind Phony Ppl?
Elbee: Six young black men from Brooklyn who came together for the sake of great music. That’s what it’s about – the music.
NJ: What musicians or bands made you guys want to become musicians yourselves?
Bari Bass: Jamiroquai. That’s one. You’re going to get 5,000 answers by the way.
Elbee: Earth Wind and Fire and Ohio Players.
Aja: It’s too many to name. I don’t even know where to start. That’s such a hard question. If you got good melody and good harmony and just sounds good. Anything that gravitates.
Maffyuu: I want to say Mike Jackson, my son J Dilla, Stevie Wonder…I’m just naming mad names, but I could go on. Frank Zappa…
Elijah: Everybody says [Jimi] Hendrix. You could say Kanye [West], you could say A Tribe Called Quest. You could say Queen, you could say Fallout Boy, you could say every single band. Busta Rhymes.
Elbee: Joao Donato! Moacir Santos!
NJ: What’s the worst phony thing someone can do?
Elijah and Maffyuu: Be fake!
Elbee: Lie to themselves. That’s the most phony thing you could ever do.
Bari Bass: You gotta be real with yourself, man!
NJ: If a movie were to be made about Phony Ppl, who would play each one of you?
Sheriff PJ: If anyone else would play me, it would be Ice Cube or LL Cool J or Synbad!
Maffyuu: Or the dad from Smart Guy!
Sheriff PJ: Or Liam Neeson!
Bari Bass: If there were a Phony Ppl movie, Andre 3000 should play me.
Maffyuu: If anybody would play me, it would be Taye Diggs.
Aja: I’d get Sizzla. I’d get Beenie Man. I’d get Morato. Elephant Man!
Elbee: I’ma bring Bob Marley back, and he would play me. If we can’t do that, we’ll have to settle for Wocka Flocka. You know Leon from the Temptations movie? There’s a dude in there who don’t look like us, but he would have to be in the movie.
Sheriff PJ: If anyone were to play Elijah Rawk, it would be Childish Gambino with braids and a beard, or Xzibit! Bout to pimp hella rides.
NJ: Who do you think would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?
Sheriff PJ: Batman! Spiderman would get violated.
Elbee: Batman is aight. But Spiderman…that’s my son.
Bari Bass: That doesn’t mean he’s gonna win!
Elijah: Nah. I’ma end it right now. This is why it’s easy – all the rest of them got powers, but Batman never had powers and he was still nicer than everybody. He’s the greatest tactician. You can’t beat him. Spiderman’s a little kid. He’s not smart enough.
Bari Bass: Ooooh, offensive!
Elbee: Bruce Wayne over Peter Parker, any day!
NJ: If you could sum up the current presidential race with one word, what would it be?
Phony Ppl: Ridiculous! Hilarious! Fuckery! Idiocracy! Entertainment!
NJ: What’s the strangest job you’ve had?
Elijah: One of the only jobs I ever had, was I had to babysit a kid name Elijah and my name is Elijah. It was really annoying. Nah, he was a cool kid.
Sheriff PJ: The only job I ever had was me being me. Me being the person that I am. I was a daycare teacher. I had to teach these kids… they freaking hated me! They gave me hell, and I eventually quit because I couldn’t deal with the disrespect. But I have a kid, he’s amazing.
Bari Bass: I had a couple jobs. I was a cashier at a juice bar. I worked at the back in the sneaker store warehouse for Paragon Sporting Goods (give me a sneaker!). And now I’m doing deliveries. I think the worst one was working warehouse at the sneaker store.
Aja Grant: So mine was at a company that was closing down, Tastebuds. I used to make free sandwiches for everybody. A company that was closing down, and the dude hired me because he heard about my band and he was a musician from Ohio or something like that. He only hired me to work with me. I didn’t get fired. The place just closed down so I just dipped. Yeah, that’s the strangest one.
Maffyuu: I ain’t never had no other job. No 9 to 5. Just straight music. All day every day. You feel me? Rehearsals, orchestras…
Bari Bass: Being born!
Elbee: I saw this opportunity to go work at this farmer’s market garden in the hood, in Bed-Stuy, called Hattie Carthan Farmer’s Market. I really needed this turntable and mixer so bad. I was like, “I’m about to earn this.” So my friends drafted me in, and I started working after everybody else. It was from like extreme heat in the summer, to the coldest of the cold in winter. When it was time to get paid, which happened at the end of everything, not bi-weekly or monthly, the lady who ran the shit didn’t give me as much money as I was supposed to get. She was like, “Well you started late, so you’re not going to get the same amount.” So I wasn’t able to get that turntable and mixer, I only got just the turntable. I had to do other things to get the mixer. But here I am. Things can’t hold me back, man.
NJ: What is your biggest fear?
Bari Bass: Whales.
Aja Grant: The country or the animal?
Bari Bass: Yeah, the country. Let’s go with the country…
Maffyuu: Biggest fear is not trying.
Sheriff PJ: My biggest fear is dying without succeeding. It’s pretty dark, but that’s how I feel right now. I got kids!
Elijah: I’ve always been scared of like being buried alive. That shit’s scary as fuck.
Elbee: I don’t know if it’s scared… but I cannot end up on the train, shaking a cup at age 50. That’s just what can’t happen. It’s not really a fear, but that’s just what can’t happen. So like everyday, I’m taking a step away from that.
NJ: If heaven exists, what do you think it looks like?
Elijah: We’ve arrived, right?
Sheriff PJ: It’s like a conference room type thing in NeueHouse. With a bunch of caesar salads, steak tartar, some Jameson, and a lot of alcohol. But it doesn’t affect your body…it affects your mind.
Maffyuu: Man, we in heaven right now. For real. Heaven on earth, man. Come on, you gotta live, dogs. If you ain’t living, you in hell.
Elijah: Like a long endless beach, with like every great person you’ve ever met… and everyone you’ve ever been a fan of. J Dilla is there!
Aja Grant: Heaven is a whole bunch of clouds and skies. That’s all.
Elbee: If heaven exists, I’m going. Shout out to God!
Video: Mr.GIF & Ira Chernova for NeueJournal