This is how we chill – Souls of Mischief/Hieroglyphics.
I always seem to bump into the ill emcee and producer Opio Lindsey of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics crew at hip hop shows, and seeing The Pharcyde play earlier this month in California was no exception. This time around we managed to organise a little interview out at the studio in Oakland, so I headed out to Hieroglyphics HQ and chatted hip hop, live shows, culture and London with the man Opio himself and Hiero member Pep Love, enjoying the company of the bands GIANT pet dog.
Hieroglyphics are playing quite a few shows at the moment with the full line-up – are you guys recording as a whole unit again?
Opio: Erm, we still do record and have a lot of songs together, but until we actually make a definitive statement to the world like ‘okay were back in the studio recording, blah blah blah,’ it doesn’t really have the same kind of impact you know?We’re making some songs together, but nobody wants to go out and make a serious announcement. We do have some stuff in the works though, and we got shows coming up.
Souls of Mischief came to Europe last year – any plans to bring Hieroglyphics over?
Opio: It would be dope, but I just don’t know – there’s so many of us it gets kind of expensive, you what I’m saying? I don’t know. Not everybody likes to travel, they got other obligations. To bring everybody together is so hard to organise, but Del was just recently there doing his own, and then we went. (To Pep) You ever been to Europe before?
Pep Love: Yeah, never been to England though.
Ah, you should come on over…
Souls of Mischief’s show in London last March was pretty sick, but the energy was on another level when I saw you guys play in San Francisco. There was this real sense of ownership and pride in the audience – is that something you guys feel on stage when you play in the Bay Area?
Opio: Yeah…well, specifically like the song ’93 till infinity’ by Souls of Mischief, obviously a massive hit or whatever, as everybody loves that song. Part of the reason why it’s been maintained over all the years is just Bay Area culture and the love and support that they always show underground hip hop in general, and they sort of super-represent it for that song. You know, if you run into somebody from the Bay Area that’s an underground hip hop fan, they’ll probably love the song ’93 till infinity,’ even if they’re not as big a fan of Souls of Mischief. So I really feel like we owe the Bay any success that we have, cos’ they rep for us so hard, and for so long over the years and the generations. It’s kind of like this relationship that we have.
Then on top of that, in Hieroglyphics mostly everybody, even if we weren’t born and raised here, has spent a serious formative stage of our life in the Bay Area, Oakland specifically. You know, it’s definitely a way different experience when we perform at home. Plus, people see us all the time. I mean, for all the years we performed in the Bay Area live, every year people still have love for us, which is kind of an amazing thing.
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Does it ever get frustrating people still just loving that one song?
Opio: I mean, there’s so many people that probably only love that one song, but we don’t necessarily come into contact with them that much- I don’t think those people are hella beating down to come to a Souls of Mischief show. If they do, that’s cool and everything, but I would say at least like ninety percent of the people that are there like other songs as well, but definitely that song. I mean it’s funny because we got tired of that song when it came out a long time ago, like ‘aw, I’m tired of doing this song, this is the only thing people wanna hear, blah blah blah’. We did that song every night for a year or something and got tired of it, but then basically came to our senses like ‘you know, people wanna hear that song.’ Then we got over it and just never ever got tired of it since. I can’t remember ever having that feeling since then. I don’t know how to describe it, but I just never felt bad about that song again since then. So long ago!
Sounds like you really recognise your fans – playing what they want to hear.
Opio: Yeah. But then there’s certain older songs that fans, cos we have a lot of hardcore fans that are just so into everything we do, have started up with and built up this nostalgia for. Songs that only the real underground, hardcore Souls of Mischief fans know like ‘Taxi’ and ‘Step to my Girl’. Before we ever got signed to Jive we were in high school and just being experimental doing songs, and we didn’t want those songs to come out when we released ’93 till infinity’ cos we felt like they didn’t really represent what we were trying to do. We wanted to be more cutting edge and lyrical, and take it seriously – we felt songs like ‘Taxi,’ people wouldn’t really take seriously. But, I mean, people loved that song then and they still love it now. There’s a lot of requests at our shows – I can’t remember the last time I did a Souls of Mischief or Hiero show and someone didn’t walk up to me and say ‘aw- you guys shoulda did Taxi’. They just say it every time, and we don’t ever perform that! So it’s kinda hard to say that we definitely do everything that fans want us to play. I kind of have a feeling in my heart that if we did do that song we would see this huge eruption from the crowd. But it would kind of be an experiment – a toss up like maybe they might, they might not.
You reckon you’d get the few hardcore that would enjoy it?
Opio: Aw yeah, hell yeah. Somebody would just be going crazy, like one guy jumping all ‘Yeeaaahhh, yeeeahh I love this song!’ but that’s not what we really try to do at a show. We don’t want to just have one person jumping in the back- that’s not what our shows are necessarily designed for, at least at this stage.
When we spoke the other weekend you mentioned UK hip hop and the London music scene, which artists do you respect or are you feeling?
Opio: Well, a lot of the newer stuff I can’t say that I’m hella familiar with. I mean obviously there’s Dizzee Rascal and Roots Manuva and those kinds of artists that for us out here in America are like super underground, but you kinda go to the UK and you’re like ‘oh yeah, fuck yeah I been listening to Roots Manuva’ and everyone’s like ‘you’re not really telling us anything…’ It doesn’t really sound like you know what you’re talking about. So, I mean, it’s hard to come off and be like ‘yeah I really know that scene’. I can say that I’ve heard a lot of different stuff, cos people give me cds and lil compilations or whatever, and I hella appreciate that style when people do their own thing. I think I’ve seen that more in London than anywhere else in the world. A lot of places people just kind of imitate either a West Coast or East Coast style. They have a certain style of the beats and the drums and everything, and it’s kinda like you heard it before because of Gangstarr or something, but in London they push the envelope a little bit, mix things up and create their own formulas and flows. And even though it’s not a different language, its so different from American slang- some of the UK slang words just sound super slick and cool. And I appreciate the originality, it’s almost a first for me – ‘Are you original? Then, are you good?’ I mean, sometimes it’s like ‘this person is so original that even though they’re not that good, it’s kinda sick’. The stuff I hear coming from out there, its really pushing some boundaries. The lyricism and the patterns; grime music – that kind of style just has a sort of dope energy about it.
And also, I think that the fans are something – I’ve run into a lot of people in England that are so knowledgeable about music and the history of music. And you guys have a lot of greats- The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, all of these amazing artists that are from there, know what I mean? Out there people have a little more of a – I don’t know what you call it – better understanding?
Opio: Yeah, like a higher awareness – or a sophisticated palette I guess you should say if you’re listening to music. You can easily pick out what really is cool, and what’s not. I think you see a lot in America that people jump on what you say is cool in England, they’re like ‘oh, cos you guys say it’s cool then we think it’s cool over here’, but ain’t able to really decipher it as much as you guys are over there.
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You always hear from so many respectable artists, like Krs-One and Erykah Badu, this refrain that ‘rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live’, what are your thoughts on that notion?
Opio: Well, on the one hand, I enjoy people trying to make a separation between what’s real and what’s like Pop culture, and somehow that there’s a difference. A lot of people like to use those words – rap is one thing, and hip hop is something else. But for me, growing up in a city like Oakland my whole life, which was one of those towns that people automatically didn’t give any respect to from hip hop. They were like ‘oh, it’s from Oakland? it can’t be any good cos the only thing that’s good is from New York’, and would be like ‘we’re hip hop, and they do rap’. But as a kid I was exposed to a lot of different stuff, so I never looked at it like ‘West Coast/ East Coast’ hip hop, it was just all one thing. Ice T and Run DMC have totally different styles from different coasts, but it was just one music to me. So, I think that people sort of lose sight sometimes, when they separate rap and hip hop.
There is a culture of hip hop that is kind of a lifestyle, that includes a lot of elements. It’s not just about being down with underground hip hop, it’s about knowing all the different elements of hip hop and understanding the history of black music, not just in America but all over the world. I feel that if you live hip hop, you carry the tradition of black music on your shoulders, and so much history comes with black music. The rhythms and the melodies, and just the cutting edge – you know, avant-garde jazz players that were just totally pushing the boundaries of music. So much encompasses rap, and hip hop, and a lot of true hip hop heads have a deep understanding and deep connection with that. So with that comes an appreciation for break-dancing, graffiti, deejaying and emceeing all together. So, I appreciate people that are like that because it helps to carry on the traditions. We have to be custodians to make sure that its never forgotten. A lot of real hip hop heads are super knowledgeable about not just hip hop music but hip hop culture – how did this sneaker become so popular? Why is the Nike Air-force One such a big shoe in hip hop or whatever…know what I mean? There’s a lot of elements that I think that we should pay attention to and understand if we’re going to really live hip hop.
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Do you think that appreciation and knowledge often leads to a better quality of hip hop?
Opio: Yeah, it does. But I hear a lot of young kids who probably don’t really care about the history of black music that are doing some amazing hip hop right now. So it’s not necessarily that you have to have this knowledge. That’s the whole reason why I don’t like people trying to separate it. To me – that’s divide and conquer, the oldest trick in the book. All these artists have a lot in common, you know, a lot of the same experiences, their parents share things in common, they’re from some of the same areas – it’s just that people try to divide it up and be like ‘ah man – this shit is real rap, and this is fake rap’.
Pep Love: I think the only difference between hip hop and rap is that hip hop is a culture and rap is a part of it, it’s inside of hip hop. Hip hop is the whole thing, rap is the ingredient. Johnny Guitar Watson was a rapper, and that was before there was ever a term called hip hop. The first song that ever got popular in rap – what was it called? Um… Sugarhill Gang. They’re doing the Johnny Guitar Watson storytelling style of rap, and his records came out in the early seventies, before hip hop ever existed. But then they put all the different things together and you got hip hop culture. Its more of a communal thing I’d say, when you say hip hop.
Opio: I mean, even now I get amazed because on the internet there’s these amazing videos of old black and white films of tap dancers or whatever, like all these young black guys just basically breakdancing, doing the moonwalk and all kinds of moves that in my mind I thought started with hip hop, but didn’t.
words Alice Price – Styles