Phony Ppl, Phonyland. Brooklyn New York City. photo by Bonnie Biess

Phony Ppl’s Nine Lives

Asking artists to describe their own music is one of the most pointless things you can do. Try it for yourself and see. If an artist is delusional, derivative or just plain wack, he’ll answer quickly—comparing himself to a revered contemporary or a figure from music history who is widely accepted as great. Those are the posers.

If the artist is at all worth his salt he will undoubtedly be “sensitive about his shit” (see: Erykah Badu’s monologue from “Call Tyrone”). He will tell you that his work is very difficult to describe and will scoff at any comparison because, of course, he is incomparable and his music wholly original. Those are the (understandably) pretentious ones.

I never directly asked the members of Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl “to describe their sound” or tell me who they considered their contemporaries because after about a dozen listens to their official debut Phony Land (stream it from start to finish above), it became apparent that any attempt to slap a label on what they do—outside of the nebulous “Brooklyn Soul” categorization they’ve given themselves— would be too reductive.

“To some people we’re a hip-hop group, to some people we’re a band, to some people we’re a gang of producers, to some people we’re R&B,” says, the soft-spoken Elbie Three who co-founded the crew with his childhood friend Aja Grant. “Looking at it I realized that it’s cool that people can see us from different angles,” he says pulling his dreadlocks away from his face and into a ponytail. “They can take what they want from Phony Ppl.”

And there, without pretense and with wisdom that belies his age (19,) Elbie answered the stupid “how would you describe your sound?” question that music journalists always ask, even when we think we’re not: Music is simply what you get from it.

Listening to recently released Phony Land, I got hip-hop, I got jazz, R&B, electronic music, jazz fusion and alt rock from the music as well as the impression that this nine-member collective of instrumentalists, singers, rappers, composers and producers were on to something.

Comprised of the aforementioned Elbie Three (vocals, keys), Aja Grant (keys), Dyme-A-Duzin (vocals), Sheriff PJ (vocals), Bari Bass (bass, Aja’s older brother), Elijah Rawk (guitar), Ian Bakerwoman (guitar), Maff Yuu (drums, percussion DJ), and Temi O (saxophone) they range in age from 19 to 21 and exhibit a familial chemistry one rarely sees in a group this large. Their name has no deep meaning it’s just a name Elbie pulled out of the air when Dyme had a solo gig and needed a name for the crew as his backing band.

There’s camaraderie, brotherly bickering, collaboration and healthy sibling rivalry amongst the crew—but there’s no clear pecking order. Everyone’s opinion is valued in the creative process.

“I relate everything to soccer—you have to learn how to play as a team in order to achieve one goal and that one goal is a good song.”

says Bari Bass, the group’s resident sage, space cadet and smooth-talker. “So if everyone is trying to score the same goal we’re gonna end up working together, passing the ball and moving into the right spaces.”

Phony Ppl usually engage in this sonic soccer games at “Casa De La Phony,” their home base and rehearsal space in an unassuming two-family house in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The place is actually member Maff Yuu’s home and his dimly-lit and slightly messy bedroom, where most of the interviews took place, doubles as a makeshift pre-production studio. For the time being the basement of this building might be more famous than Phony Ppl, that’s because Maff Yuu’s dad is Jazzy Jay, the legendary Zulu Nation DJ and world-renowned record collector. The basement houses the hundreds of thousands of pieces of vinyl and was featured in the 2001 DJ culture documentary “Scratch.” According to Maff Yuu, Jay is their harshest critic and most passionate teacher: “My father brings all of us in a room, plays us a record and then tells us what we need to do to sound like that [laughs].”

These “Jazzy moments”, when Jay exposes Phony Ppl to the diverse music of yesteryear, are occasions when old school hip-hop pioneers interact with the now school of young artists. But inter-generational exchanges like this are rare and as is often the case, the youth are misunderstood and/or ignored by their elders. Conscious of this nonsense, Dyme-A-Duzin, (Who recently signed to Warner Bros. As a solo artist) and Sheriff PJ the reformed thug of the group, penned an S.O.S. for their peers called “Save Our Generation.” “We tried to relay a message” says Maff Yuu between puffs of a Marlboro Red.

“Instead of it being this pop song or about getting all this money or all the bitches and all of that we wanted to talk about what’s going on in our society as young men and saying we basically have to save our generation from going downhill, from being…”

He trails off. “From being cunts! Somebody had to say it,”chuckles Sherriff PJ finishing his bandmate’s thought. “I freestyled it,” says Dyme. “That was one take. It was like ‘this is how I feel about how things are going on.’”

“Save Our Generation” punctuates an album where many of the songs are light-hearted flirtations with the fairer sex or declarations of artistic independence. But Let Dyme tell it they’d be remiss if they didn’t address the harsher realities of young Brooklyn kids like themselves. “I walk around New York every day seeing gangs of kids [and I think of that] line in the song: ‘We just roll in gangs ‘cause we all are scared.’ It’s like dude you know you’re with these guys because you want to be a part of something.”

Luckily for members of Phony Ppl the “something” that they’re a part of is as great as the music is hard to describe.

For more exclusive photos of Phony Ppl, check out our album on Facebook.


  • Bonnie Biess Photography
  • Related Articles


    El-P “The Full Retard”


    DJ Clark Kent’s Black Apple Mixtape Is All You Can Eat


    ’90s Resurrection in Dallas Penn’s Phony Ppl Video


    Homeboy Sandman Talks School, Stones Throw, and His New Album


    VideoPrint: Bodega BAMZ


    Kendrick Lamar and Hip-Hop’s Savior Complex


    Latest News

    clams casino the listening room Music

    New Music From Clams Casino, Denzel Curry, Rockie Fresh and More

    The Listening Room (June 26, 2017)
    DJ Premier with Prodigy and Mobb Deep Music

    The Best Prodigy Rarities and Tributes SoundCloud

    "Still came home with his shine"
    Taylor J "Five Times" Music

    Taylor J Takes Over a Five Guys in His New Video For “Five Times”

    Can we get a combo?
    chris brown future "pie" video Music Video

    Future Adds a Bite to ‘HNDRXX’ With “Pie,” Featuring Chris Brown

    You thought he'd take the summer off?, open space, chicago, black and white Video

    Open Space:

    "We don't give off that same violent persona. We just be ourselves."
    Super Nintendo Classic Tech/Games

    The World May Be Burning, But At Least The Super Nintendo Classic Is Coming Back

    Help us Star Fox, you're our only hope
    XXXsensation Rainbow Cover Music

    An Interview With XXXSensation, the Internet’s Top XXXTentacion Parody Artist

    Travel Ban Protests News

    Trump’s Muslim Ban Partially Reinstated By the Supreme Court

    Welcome to the "bona fide relationship" era
    clams-casino-tape Music

    Clams Casino Brings His Beats Back with ‘Instrumentals 4’

    Download a fresh catch from the Vince Staples & A$AP Rocky producer
    computer-brain Knowledge

    Knowledge Darts Vol. 17: Content Of My Character

    You can’t pay rent or utilities with respect
    run-the-jewels-daily-op Music

    Killer Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels Debuted Four Years Ago. Job Well Done!

    The bangin' beginning of one of hip hop's best duos
    Chance The Rapper News

    Watch Chance the Rapper’s Moving Speech At the BET Awards

    Michelle Obama introduced Chance for his BET Humanitarian Award
    shaqisdope, power, toronto Music

    PREMIERE: ShaqIsDope Wants That “Power”

    "I wanted to create a record that would inspire people to get up and go get it."
    jay-z-reaction News

    What JAY-Z Going To Rap About? Colonoscopies?

    Never Read The Comments
    migos and joe budden nearly fight at bet awards News

    Joe Budden and Migos Almost Got Into Fisticuffs on BET Red Carpet

    Watch Offset elegantly prepare himself for battle
    will wagner, deep cover, vintage, wwe Hey, You're Cool

    Hey, You’re Cool! Will Wagner of Deep Cover

    Look back at the Attitude Era through vintage WWE/WWF clothing