Hieroglyphics – “Gun Fever” (Hieroglyphics.Com / 2013)
The West Coast crew form like Voltron for this Gully Duckets-produced track from the forthcoming project “The Kitchen”.
Hieroglyphics – “Gun Fever” (Hieroglyphics.Com / 2013)
The West Coast crew form like Voltron for this Gully Duckets-produced track from the forthcoming project “The Kitchen”.
With 2012 almost out the door, it’s about that time for magazines, websites and blogs to take the customary look back over the last twelve months to highlight those releases most worthy of recognition for really hitting the sonic bullseye during the course of the year.
Whilst the usual debates concerning the state of Hip-Hop have continued to rage on street corners, social media sites and everywhere else music fans may congregate, inbetween the vast amount of mediocre and downright terrible music that’s come from the mainstream / underground rap worlds during 2012, there’s also been a decent number of impressive album and EP releases from various corners of Planet Rock which have all delivered in terms of quality, creativity and overall dopeness.
As I always say when putting a list like this together, the projects and artists included in this 2012 round-up aren’t the only names and releases that were worth checking over the last year, but they are the ones that spent the most time booming out of my headphones and speakers.
So, in no particular order…
Roc Marciano – “Reloaded” (Decon) – With the release of 2010′s “Marcberg” album transforming Strong Island’s Roc Marciano from respected underground emcee to Hip-Hop cult hero, the former UN member refined his Rotten Apple sound even further on this sophomore solo shot, delivering a relentless barrage of vivid wordplay over melodic, minimalist production.
Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam) - Arguably Queensbridge’s favourite son’s most cohesive and consistent body of work since 1994′s timeless “Illmatic”. Nas might not have chalked-up another universal classic with his latest album, but he did sound more comfortable in his own skin on this project than he has done in a long time, as he reminisced about 90s New York, dealt with parental responsibility and reflected on his recent marriage problems.
Mystro – “Mystrogen” (Don’t Bizznizz) – Having started 2012 amidst rumours of retirement, veteran London emcee MysDiggi laid any such talk to rest with the release of his long-awaited debut full-length, lacing a varied selection of up-beat production from the likes of Mr. Thing and Black Einstein with his witty verses, leftfield life observations and sharp humour.
DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – “Kolexxxion” (Gracie Productions / Works Of Mart) – The infamous Freddie Foxxx teaming-up with hardcore composer DJ Premier for a full-length project was always going to result in something memorable and “Kolexxxion” definitely lived up to expectations. Bumpy proudly displayed his OG stripes, schooling upcoming artists on the rules of the game and giving his opinion on the state of the culture, whilst Premier crafted an impeccable selection of thoroughbred bangers tough enough to crack concrete.
Keith Science – “Vessels Of Thought Volume II” (Central Wax Records) – A polished collection of instrumentals from the New Jersey-based producer, this album encompassed a number of different musical vibes and emotions, ranging from jazzy optimism to aggressive boom-bap, with each track maintaining its own unique sonic personality thanks to Science’s mastery of true-school Hip-Hop production.
Apollo Brown & OC – “Trophies” (Mello Music Group) – Having built himself a solid reputation as the go-to man for drum-heavy underground production, Detroit’s Apollo Brown tested his talents to the limit by joining forces with legendary D.I.T.C. emcee OC, resulting in a quality concept-driven album full of head-nodding beats and lyrical jewels that contained enough creative chemistry to make the uninitiated think the pair had been recording together for years.
Timeless Truth – “Brugal & Presidentes” (Timeless Truth) – Steeped in Rotten Apple heritage, Queens, NY brothers Solace and Oprime39 paid homage to their city’s traditional boom-bap sound on this EP unleashed at the top of 2012 without sounding like they were simply chasing the musical ghosts of a lost era. The duo’s intense, sample-heavy style and ferocious verbal artillery kept heads salivating all year for the release of their recent full-length “Rock-It Science”.
Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought – “Attractive Sin” (Parallel Thought Ltd) – Ice Cube’s cousin has faced criticism in recent times for being just a little too off-the wall on some of his solo material, but whether it was a conscious decision or just natural creativity, on this Parallel Thought-produced project the Hiero emcee sounded more focused than he has in a long time. Backed by beats ranging from anthemic West Coast funk (“On Momma’s House”) to breakbeat-driven old-school flavour (“1520 Sedgewick”), Del delivered a potent lession in lyrical excellence that recalled the brilliance of his early critically-acclaimed work.
DJ Format – “Statement Of Intent” (Project Blue Book) – A rejuvenated Format returned to burn on his third album, pulling together musical influences that ranged from old-school New York block parties and 80s electro to golden-era greatness, creating a diverse but ultimately-satisfying musical mosaic featuring the likes of Edan, Mr. Lif and Phill Most Chill holding down microphone duties. An entertaining sonic journey back to the future.
House Shoes – “Let It Go” (Tres Records) – A close friend of the late, great Dilla and a talented producer in his own right, Detroit’s House Shoes pulled together an impressive line-up of Motown talent such as Black Milk and Guilty Simpson plus a few out-of-towners (Roc Marciano, The Alchemist etc) to ensure his official debut album was something to remember. Clearly feeling he had something to prove to the non-believers out there, “Let It Go” wasn’t just the sound of a producer putting together a typical compilation-style album, this was the sound of a man on a musical mission.
Part Two coming soon.
Casual & J Rawls ft. Del The Funky Homosapien – “Respect Game Or Expect Flames” (Nature Sounds / 2012)
Visuals for the title track from the Hiero emcee’s J Rawls-produced album which dropped today.
Title track from the Hiero emcee’s forthcoming collabo album with the Ohio producer.
To promote their upcoming Stateside summer tour the mighty Hiero crew release this quality mixtape project featuring music from the likes of Pep Love, Casual, A-Plus and more from the Imperium vaults – download here.
Bukue One – “Hip Hop-Body Rock” (Bukue.BandCamp.Com / 2012)
Electro-influenced track taken from the Del The Funky Homosapien-affiliated emcee’s new album “#Autonomy”.
Del The Funky Homosapien – “Blind Bat” (@DelHiero / 2012)
The West Coast icon makes lesser emcees hang their heads in shame as he drops lyrical bombs on this Nadir Morgan-produced track.
Del The Funky Homosapien – “JetSmoke” (@DelHIERO / 2012)
Another DIY video from the West Coast emcee.
Del The Funky Homosapien – “Quit Playin” (DelTheFunkyHomosapien.Com / 2012)
The Hiero general continues his steady stream of brand new cuts and home-made videos with this latest lyrical barrage.
Del The Funky Homosapien – “Tha Rise And Fall” (DelTheFunkyHomosapien.Com / 2012)
Another new dose of Del fresh from the Hiero lab.
(Fat Boy Music Group)
1994 was an incredible year for Hip-Hop. Nas broke out of the dungeons of rap with his classic debut “Illmatic”. Biggie dragged Hip-Hop back to NYC after a period of West Coast dominance with “Ready To Die”. Outkast smashed through listener’s preconceptions of Down South rap with “Southernplayalistic…”. Plus, the likes of O.C., Warren G, Jeru The Damaja and Method Man all dropped debut albums that each had an undeniable impact on the Hip-Hop landscape.
Yet another debut dropped during that same twelve month period which may not have achieved the sales or immediate widespread acclaim as some of those previously mentioned, but was no less revered and respected by the underground heads with a good ear for potent lyricism who embraced it. Coming out of Oakland’s multi-talented Hieroglyphics crew (Del, Souls Of Mischief etc.), Casual’s 1994 Jive-released album “Fear Itself” was a dope combination of jazzy, funk-tinged boom-bap and incredible displays of lyrical excellence with b-boy bravado and sharp wit in abundance.
Nearly two decades later and after something of an up-and-down career, the gifted West Coast wordsmith is back with this digital-only release, still laying lesser emcees to rest (which in Casual’s book is pretty much anyone else holding a microphone), but also delving into other subject matter that may also occupy the mind-space of a thirty-something Hip-Hop junkie.
The crisp “Mic Memorial” opens the album with Casual reasserting his rhyme superiority for anyone who thinks time may have blunted his lyrical sword. Over sharp handclaps and dramatic string stabs the Hiero emcee drops killer punchlines and boastful metaphors with cool, calculated ease (“I have to squeeze big lyrics in microphones, I need a macrophone, Your tour’s like an Apple phone, Sixteen gigs for three gs? You should’ve stayed back at home”).
The self-explanatory “Fiend For Hip-Hop” has a dusty, basement feel to it, with Casual’s battle-ready rhymes sitting tightly over chopped “Impeach The President” drums, funky guitar licks and a well-placed Nas vocal sample. Built around the same melodic Don Blackman loop immortalised on L Da Headtoucha’s 90s classic “Too Complex”, the Pep Love-assisted “Take The Time” encourages listeners to shun negative energy in our lives by expressing emotions, avoiding unneccesary conflict and seeking knowledge of self.
This theme is continued further over the live instrumentation of “Where Do I Go”, as Casual stresses the need to “find the power in you” and gain “spiritual enlightment” in order to survive in a world dominated by materialism and war.
Not wanting to dwell too much on global ills, however, Smash Rockwell goes back to his Oakland roots on the smooth “Sunday’s Best”. Boasting a Willie Hutch soundtrack sample from Oaktown movie classic “The Mack” and featuring a slick vocal hook, Casual uses the sun-splashed track to lay his OG hand down with a combination of cocky boasts and life observations.
With the exception of one cut (the sub-par “Shrimp Fried Rice”), “The Hierophant” is entirely produced by DJ Toure who does a solid job of providing Casual with a varied but satisfying selection of beats. Although clearly grounded in the traditional bass-heavy West Coast sound, Toure’s knack for lacing his tracks with old-school samples and atmospheric instrumentation gives the music here a soulful fluidity that compliments Casual’s many rhyme schemes. Only with the the African tribe vibes of “Bombs” does Toure’s production not really connect with Rockwell’s rhymes, with the end result sounding cluttered, disjointed and ultimately out of place.
Overall, “The Hierophant” is a welcome return from Casual. The self-proclaimed “West Coast champion” still clearly has a passion for the art of lyricism and a competitive edge that hasn’t diminished with age. A former student of the game who can claim to be a master, Casual is still as raw as he always thought he was.
The original Hiero emcee talks to PyramidWest about his recent album “Golden Era” and some of the most important moments of his twenty year career.
Del The Funky Homosapien – “Makes No Sense” (The Council / 2011)
Taken from the original Hiero emcee’s forthcoming triple-CD project “Golden Era” – still one of the nicest lyricists out there twenty years after the release of his debut Elektra album “I Wish My Brother George Was Here…”.
Many artists dream of releasing a debut single that crashes into the consciousness of listeners the world over, but very few actually achieve such a goal. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Oakland, California’s Souls Of Mischief, when, in the early-90s, they dropped the instant hip-hop classic ‘93 ‘Til Infinity’ on Jive Records, an upbeat, jazz-fuelled explosion of high-calibre lyricism that firmly established A-Plus, Opio, Tajai and Phesto as emcees to look out for.
As members of the Hieroglyphics collective, a crew initially introduced by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Souls displayed another sonic side to Oakland, which at the time was primarily known in rap circles for the explicit freaky tales of hometown hero Too Short and the gangsta funk of Ant Banks and MC Pooh.
Seventeen years, four albums and hundreds of shows later, Souls Of Mischief recently released their latest project ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’, which finds the group teaming up with visionary music man Prince Paul, who produced a large chunk of the album. Still as sharp as ever on the microphone, the group’s latest endeavour finds the foursome once again displaying the same proud independent spirit that prompted the Hiero crew to break free from label contracts in the 90s, blazing a trail as one of the first rap outfits to embrace the internet as a viable business outlet for artists.
Group member Tajai recently kicked it with Black Sheep to talk about working with the great Prince Paul, the lost art of lyricism and some of his favourite rappers.
Souls Of Mischief have been releasing music as a group now since the early-90s – what hopes did you all have for your music careers back then?
“Man, we were just trying to put a record out. We were kids when we recorded that first album, I was only 17. There really was no groundbreaking, over-arcing concept behind any of the stuff we were doing back then, we really were just young kids trying to make music. It’s kinda hard to fathom now looking back on how young we were because kids nowadays are like a Soulja Boy or a Bow Wow. But we just wanted to make a fresh record.
Are there any particular memories from that time period that really stand out for you looking back now?
“Being on tour with A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Just being able to be on the same show as greats like that was definitely special. It was a great time in hindsight because things have gotten so bad for rap music, but to be honest the whole journey has been a great memory and the best part is that it hasn’t ended. It’s not like I’m only sitting around reminiscing about some shit I did back in the day, we do bigger shows and travel more than we did back then and we’re still out there making music.”
The recently released Souls album ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ was largely produced by the legendary Prince Paul – how did that come about?
“Opio and Domino were on tour and Prince Paul had expressed an interest to them in doing a record with us. We just thought he meant a track, but he wanted to do a whole album. I mean, c’mon, we’re sorta from that whole Native Tongues, black medallions, no gold thing, that’s what gave Souls Of Mischief life in a place like Oakland where it’s all about pimps and keeping it real. So for us to be able to do a song with one of the architects of that movement, let alone a whole album, it was just like a dream come true. It’s kinda unreal. I mean, Paul flew out and lived with us for a month to record the album. We rented a house and he came out, stayed there with us and we recorded everything real guerrilla style. It was an amazing experience and we definitely didn’t want to disappoint him and I think it really brought out the best in us creatively. Paul had a vision and I’m just glad he’s as happy with the record as we are.”
Through his work with the likes of De La Soul and Gravediggaz, Prince Paul has always seemed to enjoy bringing concepts to the table when creating music. Did he do the same thing during his time working with you?
“Paul had a whole concept for the album, but it wasn’t anything that was really rigid. But that’s how we’ve always made records as Souls Of Mischief, we make whole albums. I mean, we came up after the 12″ single era but before the mix-tape era, so we came up when it was normal for artists to actually think about putting a whole album together, instead of just throwing a single out or putting a bunch of unrelated songs together on a mix-tape. Other than about three songs on the new album, like ‘Proper Aim’, which are just us straight ripping the track, everything else is concepts and stories. We’ve always been known as being rapper’s rappers, but even on ‘93 Til Infinity’ we had tracks like ‘What A Way To Go Out’ and ‘Tell Me Who Profits’, which were more than us just freestyling. But Paul is such a down to earth person that sometimes you wonder if he knows how important he is to hip-hop. I mean, to go from De La Soul, to Gravediggaz to ‘Prince Among Thieves’ to Handsome Boy Modelling School, those are all creative leaps and bounds that are miles apart, but he just seems comfortable in everything he does. So for Souls Of Mischief to be a part of that pantheon of great records is incredible, because I really think that when you put this new album next to all that stuff, it’s gonna stand up because it’s really a Prince Paul record. That’s why we put him on the cover because it’s not just a Souls record with Prince Paul beats.”
Souls Of Mischief and pretty much the whole Hieroglyphics crew have always been known to keep a fairly hectic tour schedule. Is that still the case?
“I mean, we have to man, because if you’re not on TV nobody knows your record is out unless you’re in town. Nowadays, nobody’s going to buy your record unless they’ve been to the show and seen that you’re dope. We probably do between one hundred and two hundred shows a year. We tour like The Roots or The Grateful Dead (laughs). We get it in as far as shows are concerned and it’s definitely integral to our whole get down.”
Given that you’re part of a group that’s now been making records for almost 20 years, does it surprise you when you see younger fans at shows?
“It’s hella surprising because I’m like, ‘You like this shit? You actually know this shit? You were born the year this record came out!!’ (laughs). That’s the craziest part to me when we see kids at our shows who weren’t even born when ‘93 ‘Til Infinity’ came out. That’s a trip. But that’s what keeps performing those old songs fresh because they’re always going to be new to younger fans who’ve just discovered them. What’s really cool though is when you see older fans who were there the first time around now bringing their teenage kids to the shows. It is surprising, but it’s great because it makes you realise that, as an artist, you’re only as old as when people find out about you. I mean, Earth, Wind & Fire and Curtis Mayfield are two of my favourite artists, but most of their biggest hits came out before I was even born, so I can relate to our younger fans from a certain perspective because of that, but then in another way I can’t relate because it’s hard for me to put myself in that position and see us how our younger fans must see us. But when you look at the rhyme styles we were using on our early records, some dudes are only just getting there now, so that first album was a manual of rap flows.”
Listening to a lot of the early Heiro material from the likes of Del, Casual and Souls Of Mischief, you definitely got the sense that when you were all on a track together everyone was pushing each other to really up their game lyrically…
“None of that was contrived either. I mean, we were all sitting in the same room making those records. It isn’t like that was a time when you could send a track to each other over the internet and all add to it, we were all sitting there together. So one person might’ve kicked something and if it was similar to someone else’s rhyme then they’d change it up. Then there’d be other times where we were writing together, trying to mirror each other’s flow and bounce off of each other. Lyricism is definitely kind of a lost art nowadays and I do feel like a samurai in a world of gunfighters, but it doesn’t matter because in the same way that martial arts are practiced today, it’s about self-mastery and perfecting an art.”
And as a fan of hip-hop and lyricism that’s what you want to hear an artist doing – pushing themselves to perfect their craft. Back in the day you didn’t necessarily want to completely understand a rhyme straight away or catch everything an artist was saying in a verse the first time you heard it…
“Nah, you wanted to be able to play it over and hear something new in it. The whole point of it was to impress people and make them think about what you were saying at the same time. Even with the whole freestyling thing, we were trying to get to the level of making our freestyles sound like written raps and a lot of the time I don’t think that really connected because guys just thought we were kicking written raps. But our whole thing was to be able to rock a rap that sounded like it could be album worthy, but it’d actually be off the top of the head. I mean, we were never really about that snap-rap where dudes are joking about each other and dissing each other’s moms, we came up on Rakim, Brother J, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, ain’t no rappers like that no more. I mean, there are some new dudes out there worth checking out like a Skyzoo or a Blu, but most new artists now are involved in the music for other reasons outside of the creativity. It’s almost like a cage fighter going against a dude who’s mastered ju-jitsu, on the one hand you have a guy who’s more about brawling and just does the cage fight shit for the money, then you have the other guy who’s about mastering his art and carrying on tradition. It’s really a sign of the times though and it goes beyond just hip-hop. We’re in microwave times and we have a dumbed down population that really can’t follow a lot of the shit people are saying. I mean, I play these records to some kids and they really don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about because they don’t understand things like metaphors. Lyricism is an art and some respect that and some people don’t, but I can’t blame that just on new rappers and the fact they’re trying to get paid before anything else, there’s also a lot of social factors involved. But it’s also not just about mainstream versus underground, or them versus us, because the dudes I listen to and think are fresh makes for a weird ass list (laughs). Fabolous, Peedi Crakk, Cassidy, Blu and Black Milk, those are some of the dudes that I think are from that true school mentality when it comes to rhyming. Someone like Fabolous I think tapers his lyrical complexities with his choice of subject matter, which I know some people think is wack, but the best way I can describe him is to say he’s a master architect but he chooses to build restaurants for McDonalds (laughs).”
So now ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ has been released is there more new Hiero material on the way?
Yeah, I think we’re going to put out a mix-tape type project of all original material to hold people over as far as Hiero is concerned. Then there’s a new A-Plus record which I think is going to be called ‘The Return Of Good Time Charlie’, Phesto’s got a record called ‘Background Check’, Opio’s coming with ‘Vulture’s Wisdom, Volume 2’ and I’ve got a new record coming as well called ‘Rap Noir’. We’re also gonna put out a remix version of this new Souls album and Pep Love’s got ‘Reconstruction’ coming. So we have a lot of stuff in the pipeline, but I don’t want to over promise and under deliver, so those are the things I know are definitely in the works.”
Opio ft. Del The Funky Homosapien & Guilty Simpson – “Some Superfly Sh*t Remix” ( Hiero Imperium / 2008 )