Souls of Mischief – “’93 Til Infinity

What up? This is Tajai of Souls of Mischief. Let me tell you guys, making the transition from being on a major, where everything is paid for—cars, hotels, plane tickets, tour support—to being on… nothing, was shocking and a little bit scary. We came directly out of high school into a major label deal into a world of stardom, so to not have that label security made it seem like everything else would go away. Luckily, Domino had the foresight and we had the talent to decide to rely upon ourselves, and this music, first and foremost, as a way to improve our situation.

Pulling a boatload of favors (big up to Matt Kelly for hooking up a lot of the studio sessions during this time and using his expertise to mix our records to perfection) we recorded our first indie album, Third Eye Vision in 1996/1997. During (and pretty much since) this time we toured the world constantly and made friends with a lot of promoters, who were young up-and comers and mainly fans at the time. A lot of these folks now run some huge promotion companies and booking agencies. Some even own the venues where they book us.

Hieroglyphics – “You Never Knew

Hieroglyphics Imperium really started on the landing at my mom’s house. A buddy of mine put me up on this kid named StinkE, who started a fan site for us on this thing called the “internet.” We reached out and connected with him and made the site official in 1995.

Once we had the Imperium up, Domino kept telling me he had these old tapes of our unreleased demos and music. By that time we had about 15 years of material, so we decided to start slangin’ tapes, and put it this way—we moved a lot of tapes. Eventually, Hiero moves up to a desk in our lawyer and longtime advisor Michael Ashburne’s office. By 1998, we had a studio and an office in downtown Oakland. By 2000, we had a warehouse in West Oakland. In 2004, we purchased our own warehouse and offices in East Oakland with our own recording studios, T-shirt and merchandise manufacturing facility, AV studios, and our corporate offices.

Hieroglyphics – “Soweto

How did we make this growth happen? In that time, we put out a gang of vinyls, albums, tapes, CDs, clothing, etc. (all of which you can check out on our site, if you don’t know our repertoire), and we constantly reinvested in ourselves and made sure our logo symbolized quality and forward-thinking music. I’m not a music critic and I can’t be at all objective about the records we put out, but we are craftsmen and we try to create exciting musical experiences. As little kids, we grew up with whole albums as experiences, sitting next to a speaker for an hour knowing you were about to experience a whole record, not fast forward through some shit. The time and effort we put into our music is what makes it timeless and makes people gravitate towards it.

As a result, we have one of the sickest global groups of fans who support everything we do; from live shows to recorded music to clothing. If you look at companies like Def Jux, Rhymesayers, Duck Down or Stones Throw; we all use a model of touring constantly, interacting with fans and selling our music hand to hand, while maintaining a traditional distribution chain for our products (CDs, vinyl, T-shirts, etc.) and maintaining a strong presence online. Leading up to working with Prince Paul (Souls), Tame One (Del), and Guilty Simpson (Opio) this year, we’ve always worked with like-minded artists when the fit made sense—like when Del collaborated with Gorillaz or Souls joined forces with Pharcyde to form Almyghty Myghty Pythons; and in the future we’re hoping for a Casual and Sean Price album!

Gorillaz feat. Del – “Clint Eastwood

Opio feat. Guilty Simpson – “Some Superfly Shit

I’ve taken the same strategy in my own Clear Label Media Group venture, which helps independent labels to expose the wealth of talent we have in the Bay. It frustrates me that when people think of underground, it usually means “backpack” rap music. There’s an underground in every genre and subgenre of music, talent that needs to be exposed to the world. I base my label on this variety, we’re from the Bay, the land of everything from Natural Four to Sly & the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Tony Toni Tone, to Too $hort, to Hieroglyphics—Oakland encompasses all this music. As an artist and as a member of this community, I wouldn’t be living up to my duty if I didn’t expose the world to all the talent out here in all of its variety.

Shady Nate – “Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Chris Marsol – “3 In The Morning

Deep Rooted – “Crazy

Some people think it's crazy that I would work with a Beeda Weeda, or a D-Lo or a Shady Nate, or rock out with Chris Marsol, or “ungenrefiable” music like FAMSYRK or Baby Jaymes; but to me that seems natural. It makes me hella proud when I see groups like Deep Rooted or League510 on MTV or cats like Beeda and D-Lo on the covers of magazines. I get to experience the newness and excitement of the music biz all over with the next generation.

League510 – “I’m On

Baby Jaymes – “Keep it Movin’

D-LO – “No Hoe

With the new Souls of Mischief album, Montezuma’s Revenge, I feel like we’ve once again come full circle, and moving forward into a new era of good music with a true-school vibe. To work with Prince Paul is a dream come true, and I’m happy with what we came out with. I hope the fans are able to experience the entire record the same way I did as a kid, and still do to this day.

Check out the links and videos of all the music Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics have done over the years. And, now that everyone that may have missed out is caught up on Souls and Hiero’s history, the rest of Souls, and my man Domino, is gonna kick off our tour stories tomorrow. —Tajai

Souls of Mischief – “Proper Aim

Hieroglyphics – “Battle Drum