By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
While the G-funk hip-hop genre garnered headlines in the early '90s, influential crews began percolating along the West Coast, such as Los Angeles' Freestyle Fellowship and what would become the Hieroglyphics crew in Oakland.
Captained by Ice Cube's cousin Del tha Funkee Homosapien—who got his start writing for Cube's band, Da Lench Mob—Hieroglyphics came together when the act Souls of Mischief was dropped by Jive Records following its '95 sophomore release, No Man's Land, and Souls members Tajai, Opio, Phesto and A-Plus started collaborating with Casual, Del, Pep Love and their producer, Domino. Many went to school together.
With Casual and Del, who'd already released solo albums, the group formed a formidable crew that's cut more than two dozen albums across its career and has sold more than a million records on the Hieroglyphics Imperium label. This year, the band is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its debut, 3rd Eye Vision, and the introduction of its new "lifestyle line," Hiero Jeans.
On the band's Freshly Dipped Tour, Hieroglyphics will be supported by a pair of fast-rising groups, nimble-lipped Seattle duo Blue Scholars and the gritty trio Tanya Morgan—but the event as a whole will be equally defined by the absence of Del, who recently released his latest solo album, 11th Hour—on Def Jux's label instead of Hieroglyphics Imperium's.
So, since we couldn't get the band on the horn, we sampled their lyrics to help imagine how our interview with its members might have gone.
Tajai, you're the CEO of the label; isn't it something of a sell-out to start marketing a clothing line?
Tajai: "To these quote unquote underground cats, guess what, you went commercial soon as you sold your first rap."
Well, is there a business philosophy guiding the decisions, or is it just a cash grab?
Opio: "Money might interest you, but it shouldn't be integral. Keep your physical in balance with your spiritual. Indivisible, it's nearest you, so listen, dude, Edwardian theories you can throw 'em out the window too."
While I appreciate your reference to class conflict in turn-of-the-century Britain, you aren't exactly Robin Hood here, guys.
A-Plus: "We provide hits to care your stress, which coincide with making G's, so yes,you can say we've been blessed."
All right, well, let's discuss your band's legacy, instead.
Pep Love: "I never perpetrated to this day, or did anything that they did. Only catered to the way, that we created and dated, to let 'em know we kickin' that straight shit, that sacred, dope rhyme-related, every time they congregated. It was us definitely somethin' to discuss."
Casual: "Even hyphy youngsters trying to start up this new Bay shit, it's not a problem cuz we taught them how to do that shit."
Well, what makes you distinct from other battle-hardened hip-hop artists—perhaps ones with more bullet wounds?
Casual: "I leave teeth in the floor like fossils. I toss flows, just to show you what the boss knows."
Tajai: "My style is on levels unattainable, recyclable and reusable but not biodegradable."
Opio: "I penetrate the mind's eye like a straw through a glass of lemonade. It's elementary. If marijuana's so bad, what's this Zoloft they sellin' me?"
A-Plus: "On the mic I never act like I was born hard. Telling lies for cash or selling my ass like a porn star."
Phesto: "Let me just deal with the facts. Niggas keep it real in they raps, which are not realistic. Perfection and our poetical competitive edge is just a reflection of how we feel shit."
Is there something you'd like express beyond your contempt for wack MCs? Perhaps why Del isn't along? And why he released his last album on Def Jux—and promised to work with them in the future?
Tajai: "To the rap critic, you fuckin' Herb: Fuck you, your review and your SAT verb."
Wait, that's not fair—
Casual: "You remind me of Greg Brady leavin' with the lava rock."
Phesto: "Patented moves raps, scat and scoop, fatten the groove, flatten your crew,could happened to you..."
Is that a threat? All right, this interview is over....
[Sound of scuffle, tape cuts off.]