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words- ali raymond
photography – Charlie Whatley
Illustration – Laxmi
A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai were just a bunch of school kids when they met at a junior high school in Oakland California, the place where they formed the hip-hop group Souls of Mischief. Now after four albums and nearing closer to twenty years in the game they are still independently standing strong, working on a new tour and an exciting new release.
Any aficionado of hip-hop will tell you the frenzy ‘93 ‘Til Infinity’ invokes every time it’s dropped. With looping horns and rollercoaster laidback verses it’s an anthem that has gathered hip-hop pilgrims coast to coast worldwide.
Back when they started Souls of Mischief were carving a new breed of sound, consequently standing out for all the right reasons in a West Coast America that was dominated by Gangsta Rap. Although their first album was their most successful and the single of the same name became an instant classic, their ability over the years to verbally visualise everyday issues in an upbeat carefree attitude meant they could never be considered as one hit wonders.
Other individual tracks and those with their extended family Hieroglyphics like ‘Taxi Cab’, ‘Live and Let Live’ and ‘Make You’re Move’ renders their wax a coveted place in the same crate as any Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde or De La Soul vinyl.
Their attraction is an interesting topic especially in an industry that has seen a massive rearrange of what’s seen as hot. Some may say their appeal is down to the power of comforting nostalgia for the golden days, but in real essence it’s been Souls of Mischief’s ability to stay fresher then new socks representing that very era today with current dope head nodding music.
For sure it’s been a long hiatus since their last release; the Tour Stories EP and an even longer wait since a full-blown LP, but set for release early 2010 the new offering Monetezuma’s Revenge has all the right ingredients to get us bouncing.
Produced by the renowned Prince Paul, word through the grapevine is the Cali boys locked themselves in a secluded log cabin to find nature and inspiration during the recording. Whether or not it’s true, it’s still enough imaginary to crack a grin thinking of the lyrical professionals sporting long johns and dunks sitting around a log fire, pens and pads in hand.
As we look to a new decade Beatnik sat down with the four formidable rhymers at an eccentric London hotel to discuss strange tour stories, hype surrounding the new album and the beginning of infinity.
It’s been a while since you guys passed through, what sort of mischief (cough) have you been up to?
Opio: (laughs) man mostly on tour. The Souls of Mischief tour is hundred days plus a year! We’ve just been staying on the grind and taking this hip-hop all over the world.
Let’s take it back to the first album and the stomper it contained 93 ‘Til infinity. Many people will hold this as one of their favourite Hip Hop tracks ever, what was the thought process when making that record?
Opio: Definitely, with that record that was our whole aim. To put out something that people would talk about forever and would say – ‘This is one the dopest records I’ve ever heard!’ That’s what we went into the studio to do, so god blessed us to be able to produce a track like that.
Did you anticipate at the time it would really blow the way it did?
Opio: In my opinion it didn’t blow up enough. I remember at the time thinking man this shit should be getting more play, but you see we’re from Oakland in the West Coast. People would say if you’re from the West Coast you’re from Los Angles, where there’s crips and bloods. But we don’t have any of that there. And in New York they weren’t ready to give props 100% lyrically to somebody from the West Coast.
So we had some things working against us but at the end of the day, looking back we couldn’t have really asked for any more.
Looking back at the filming of the video with its shots of nature it wasn’t exactly the stereotype of the time…
Phesto: Yeah. We still kick it like that. We live in California man it’s not urban. There you got mountains tops, deserts and shit like that. It’s a place where you can ski, surf – even find a dust storm somewhere if you like (laughs). So with that we wanted to show where we were from.
Opio: I mean if you look at the video it’s not only in nature, there are scenes where we are chilling in Oakland and peeling off with the mustangs. At the time everybody was like in the junkyard with sparks and bats and crazy shit going on (laughs). But we are always trying to do something different.
So just like with our music we just wanted to be original and separate from everybody else. We wanted to give a whole perspective of our daily life.
After ‘No Man’s Land’ you left Jive records and went independent forming Hieroglyphics, what was the real idea behind the group?
Phesto: Hiero as a crew is Del, Souls of Mischief, Casual, Pet Love, and Domino. We’ve been a crew from day one. If you watch Del’s first video you’ll see Hiero in there sleeping on the couch.
Once we all parted ways from our label, Dom was like lets make some music and see what goes from there. It’s just gone to the point where we’ve built the label and the whole independent thing for 12, wow almost 13 years.
Being together for such a long time is often unusual in a collective..
Phesto: It’s not really hard. We are friends before music but music is our mutual interest. We have a family atmosphere that supersedes the musical vibe. Whereas I think a lot of cats were thrown together by the industry or by a common interest.
You’re known for being a touring group, so any interesting tour stories?
Opio: (Laughs) when people ask that question they want to hear the crazy groupie sex stories. Thinking back along time ago, we been and did all that.
Well that too, but I mean really I wanted to know if you’d wrestled an alligator?
Phesto: (laughs) Nope, but we were homeless in Japan once. The promoter went bad on us, so we had to cut out. All the hotels and bars were closed so we slept at the train station. It was tough (laughs).
Opio: I mean we lucky to be alive. Damn nearly flew of a cliff driving. For real we are fortunate to be here when you think about all the great artists who have died on tour. In that respect tour is crazy!
Seeing the extending arm of Hip-Hop worldwide what do you notice most about touring in Europe?
Tajai: People really represent hip-hop over here, like it’s the 80’s or something. Everyone from the b-boys, graffiti artists and dj’s are really into what they’re into.
They have a lot of passion and that’s the first thing that ripped us. Even with the language barrier it really freaks you out when you see the appreciation.
Opio: That’s the main thing that keeps us going though because we have a real relationship with our fans across the world. Even for us the word fans sounds weird, it’s just like our family.
Anyone you’d like to work with in the UK?
Opio: I like Wiley and Roots Manuva. TY is dope too.
Getting Wiley to Cali would be a good look
Opio: I like Wiley cos he’s funny. He don’t give a shit.
So what can we expect from the Montezuma’s Revenge and beyond?
Phesto: The album is like –how the hell did Prince Paul describe it? – New-skool Classic. Like the samples are crispier and drums hit harder. Upgraded but not updated.
Opio: I think there is one segment of Hip Hop that people haven’t really paid a lot attention too. There is a strong following of people who love Hip Hop. They are Hip Hop, they lived it, grew up with it and participated in every element of it. Now it’s become all corporatized mainstream pop something that you are bombarded with that you haven’t even chosen.
We don’t take ourselves seriously but we are serious about our responsibility in how we represent the culture and music.
Tajai: As far as this independent game goes we want to be seen as visionaries – People who did it on their own at a turning point in their career.
Opio: We’ve been successful in the musical game because people are like genuinely attracted to the music. It’s also that fact that we had success with 93 ‘Till infinity and such but at these critical points of our career you’re always gonna see us put out these high joints, like Montezuma’s Revenge.
And even though cats wanna go back to 93’, which I love, we said it then – till infinity! Not next year – till infinity.
Montezuma’s Revenge is out in February