Tajai & The Architect – “Scattershot” (Tajai.BandCamp.Com / 2020)
High-octane beats and rhymes from the Souls Of Mischief / Homeliss Derilex duo’s forthcoming album “BLKTEK”.
Tajai & The Architect – “Scattershot” (Tajai.BandCamp.Com / 2020)
High-octane beats and rhymes from the Souls Of Mischief / Homeliss Derilex duo’s forthcoming album “BLKTEK”.
Tajai & The Architect ft. Kool G Rap – “Scattershot – Ghost Recon Edition” (Tajai.BandCamp.Com / 2020)
Souls Of Mischief’s Tajai and Juice Crew legend Kool G Rap team-up to give a masterclass in how to flow on this latest track off the forthcoming Architect-produced album “BLKTEK”.
Agallah Don Bishop ft. Tajai – “600 Horses” (Agallah.BandCamp.Com / 2020)
Taken from the album “Aggravated”.
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.
Bay Area website TheFormat.Com interviews legendary West Coast collective Souls Of Mischief.
Tajai & Mr. Brady ft. Just Brea – “That Soul” (Clear Label Records / 2012)
Soulful head-nodder which appears on both the Souls Of Mischief member’s recent album “Machine Language” and Brady’s own “Labor Of Love Vol. 1” project.
Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London Date: 11 March 2012
Introduced to the rap world in the early-90s as proteges of Ice Cube’s cousin Del The Funky Homosapien, Oakland’s Souls Of Mischief have built themselves an impressive reputation over the years as being staunch purveyors of quality underground Hip-Hop packed with impressive verbal gymnastics. Transcending the traditional boundaries of subterranean rap, the West Coast crew have managed to maintain an audience that includes OG golden-age heads, alternative music fans and skateboard-pushing teenagers. So it wasn’t a surprise to walk into London’s Jazz Cafe for this particular gig and see an eclectic crowd waiting patiently for the Hiero crew representatives.
Following DJ Lex’s efforts to put the crowd in a Cali state of mind with a medley of West Coast classics from 2Pac and Dr. Dre, Opio, Tajai and Phesto Dee (no A-Plus) arrived onstage decked out in sunglasses and a variety of Hiero t-shirts and hoodies. The trio barely paused for breath before launching into an opening salvo of bangers, including fan favourite “You’ll Never Know” from 1998’s Hieroglyphics album “Third Eye Vision”, dropping their rapid-fire verses over the track’s soulful production to audience cheers.
Aside from Opio politely asking the soundman to adjust the monitor levels and Tajai asking for the spotlight to be dimmed, the show was free from any interruptions, allowing the threesome to slickly run through a selection of cuts covering all periods of the crew’s career. Yet whilst it was clear Souls were performing a very polished and familiar set, the crowd definitely didn’t witness a group on auto-pilot simply going through the motions on the European tour circuit for the sake of a quick buck.
With those in attendance swept up in the energy and intensity of the performance, at times it felt like the three Souls were actually a new group determined to leave their mark rather than twenty-year veterans who already have an incredible musical legacy and dedicated fanbase.
Throughout the show, the group switched effortlessly from performing as a cohesive unit to then allowing each member to take centre-stage individually, with Opio acting as frontman, Phesto performing “Full Speed” from his new solo album and Tajai dropping a blistering acapella rhyme.
After bringing things up-to-date with “Tour Stories” and the punchy “Proper Aim” from the group’s last album, 2009’s “Montezuma’s Revenge”, the crew then cleverly caught the crowd off-guard with an unexpected twist. Given that many would probably have expected SOM’s timeless classic “93 ‘Til Infinity” to be the night’s grand finale, it came as a welcome surprise, when, following a brief intermission from Opio commenting on Hiero’s longevity, the track’s melodic opening sample from Billy Cobham’s jazzy “Heather” filled the venue accompanied by thunderous roars of approval and a sea of raised hands.
The group continued to plunder their back-catalogue with a handful of cuts such as the brilliant “That’s When Ya Lost” and bass-heavy “Never No More” (prompting Opio to say that, just as it was when the group debuted in 1993, no matter how many wack artists are embraced by the mainstream, the underground will always be around to deliver quality Hip-Hop).
Although having member A-Plus along for the ride would have only added to the performance, that was an afterthought rather than something playing on your mind during the show. One-quarter of Souls might have been missing, but as a fan it didn’t feel like you were necessarily missing out, as Opio, Tajai and Phesto dropped their rhymes with a masterful clarity and precision honed by years spent rocking venues worldwide.
Ending the show by giving heartfelt thanks to all who’ve supported the Hieroglyphics movement over the last two decades, the group jumped offstage ready to man the merchandise stand for eager fans keen to take home a momento of the night.
93 ’til infinity indeed…
Souls Of Mischief performing “That’s When Ya Lost” at The Jazz Cafe.
“He Think He #Rapgod”
Ask any group of rap fanatics to discuss the most talented clans, posses, crews and cliques to have put in a claim of lyrical dominance over the years and the likes of Wu-Tang, Juice Crew, Flavor Unit and the Hit Squad would no doubt all be championed. But no such debate would be complete without Oakland’s Hieroglyphics collective being given a well-deserved mention.
First introduced to the rap world by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien on his 1991 debut “I Wish My Brother George Was Here…”, the Hiero crew spent the 90s simultaneously impressing listeners and obliterating wack emcees on releases from Souls Of Mischief, Extra Prolific and the cocky-but-likeable Casual. With albums produced by in-house crate-diggers such as Domino and Mike G, Hiero brought a next-level lyrical element to West Coast Hip-Hop at a time when gang-related rhymes from the like of Ice Cube (ironically Del’s cousin) dominated Cali’s sonic landscape. Now, nearly twenty years after the release of his 1994 debut “Fear Itself” (my personal favourite from the first wave of Hiero albums) and Casual is determined to take another step towards rap god status with his second album this year.
Like the solid “Hierophant” project released some six months ago, “He Think He #Rapgod” would have been more than enough to satisfy Casual fans in its own right if it had been the sole 2011 release from the Left Coast lyricist. Yet irrespective of the quality of both projects, neither are being considered ‘proper’ albums by Casual, with the Hiero member gearing up for the 2012 release of “He Still Think He Raw”. So with that in mind, why go to all the trouble of dropping two back-to-back releases which are effectively promotional tools when a mixtape project full of freestyles over popular beats would have sufficed for many artists looking to create a buzz? Well, as Casual states simply on his Bandcamp page, “Rapgod don’t do mixtapes, but I got albums fo that ass tho.”
Opening with the title track “#Rapgod”, Casual is joined by Souls Of Mischief’s Tajai and Pep Love, with the trio performing verbal gymnastics over Gully Duckets’ spaced-out production. Accompanied by a Phife Dawg vocal sample and a synthesized sound effect reminiscent of a Decepticon transforming in slow motion, Casual drops typically boisterous boasts, promising that “Every verse you hear is reverse engineered from the first one.”
Part of Casual’s brilliance as an emcee over the years has not only been his ability to pen pummeling multi-syllable barrages of wordplay, but also his talent for making such effective use of simple one-liners. Lyrics here such as “I’m venerable, you’re vulnerable” are delivered in such a way that Casual’s passion for bullying language and putting words together to embarrass the competition can clearly be heard.
“Baseball” is a sparse, head-knocking track featuring Casual, Killer Ben, Tristate and Planet Asia hitting verbal home-runs over subtle funk-fuelled guitar-licks, whilst the GKoop-produced “Lieza” has the Oaktown vet switching up into story-telling mode, weaving a graphic tale of a mistreated woman over an ominous, tense soundscape.
The brilliant “Flamethrower” finds producer Domino resurrecting the drum break heard on Big Daddy Kane’s late-80s favourite “Rap Summary”, with the “Pharoah of the Hiero crew” Del unleashing “rhyming pyrotechnical bonanzas” with effortless ease. Meanwhile, Toure mixes old-school 808 thumps with haunting chants for “Dogon Don” as Casual drops self-assured verses with the calm confidence of a king holding court in his own palace (“Enemies we pop at ’em, Break ’em down to the fraction of the size of an atom when I rhyme at ’em…”).
Still sounding as sharply entertaining and lyrically superior here as he did on his cult classic debut two decades ago, Casual, along with his Hiero homies, represents a dedication to the craft of lyricism that should make many of today’s so-called emcees feel ashamed to even attempt to claim the title. With “He Think He #Rapgod” Casual proves yet again that real lyricists don’t die, sometimes their skills multiply.
And remember, as Casual himself says, if you see a rap god, pay tribute.
Casual ft. Del – “Flamethrower” (Casual1.Bandcamp.Com / 2011)
Casual ft. Tajai & Pep Love – “#Rapgod” (Casual1.BandCamp.Com / 2011)
Gully Duckets-produced track from the Hiero emcee’s new digital project “He Think He #Rapgod”.
DJ Toure ft. Nio Tha Gift & Tajai – “Freestyle” (Hiero Imperium / 2011)
A taste of what to expect from Hiero deejay Toure’s upcoming album “Toure’s Theory” which will be released via the Interdependent Media label.
Souls Of Mischief freestyling on SB.TV during their recent UK tour.
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.”