Interview: Souls of Mischief

Interview: Souls of Mischief

True music is timeless. When a musician expresses honest experiences and emotions, listeners can identify with ease. And so, genuine artistic output will often speak to several generations. Testifying this sentiment perfectly is the enduring appeal of West Coast hip hop group Souls of Mischief.

“Hip hop? It’s like breathing. It’s just part of us; that’s what we’re made of” Phesto

True music is timeless. When a musician expresses honest experiences and emotions, listeners can identify with ease. And so, genuine artistic output will often speak to several generations. Testifying this sentiment perfectly is the enduring appeal of West Coast hip hop group Souls of Mischief.

Nearly twenty years after its release on Jive, their debut record 93 Till Infinity stands up as a bonafide hip hop classic, and still sounds incredibly fresh – proof that music can be a product of its time without becoming dated.

Not only do their early records still sound great today, but over the years they have steadily put out, and continue to put out, underground hip hop gems. Part of the extended, Oakland based Hieroglyphics collective, Souls of Mischief have maintained their signature sound, releasing music through their own label Hieroglyphics Imperium Recordings as of 1995.

Returning to the legendary Jazz Café in London earlier this spring, Souls of Mischief seamlessly mixed up old and new material, providing a varied yet consistently dope show for an enraptured crowd.

After the show I was lucky enough to catch up with the group and have a chat about hip hop, fans, tour stories, upcoming projects, their collaboration with The Pharcyde, and Hieroglyphics dynamics.

You’re coming towards the end of your European tour – have there been any highlights?

Tajai: Paris was cracking – and somewhere else was super cracking…

Phesto: Stockholm.

Tajai: Stockholm was cracking.

Phesto: Yeah, was crazy.

Have there been any ‘tour stories’?

Tajai: Let’s see – tour stories?

Opio: Some guy got murdered in front of our hotel in Oslo Norway

Tajai: That was the first night? That was the hip hop-est night ever!

Do you know what happened?

Opio: We don’t know.

Phesto: We just saw the caution tape and were like ‘yo-what’s going on?’ We asked someone who worked at the front desk and they told us what happened. It was the first night we got out here so it was like…

A nice welcome?

Phesto: Crazy. But we had fun that night.

Opio: Especially in the city of Oslo, it’s like nothing ever happens there –

Phesto: At home it would’ve been a little unusual too, but not as much.

Opio: It was right next door – entrance was here, and then there was tape – we thought it was at our hotel, it looked like it when we pulled up-

Phesto: DJ Lex was outside chatting to Lake-

Oh you thought it was him??

Phesto: No, no – he was outside.

Opio: We thought it was our hotel…

Tajai: I think so.

You think he did it?

Tajai: No – I don’t think he did it – let me retract that statement – I know he didn’t do it, because he was with me-

I’m not trying to incriminate.

Phesto: But, no, he didn’t do it. Certainly didn’t do it.

Tajai: Damn it, fuck it, we’re tired of lying – that guy deserved it – he was in front of the hotel for no goddamn reason – Souls of Mischief.

(All laugh)

Seriously though, that was a cool night. First we rocked this shoe-store and then this party, and then we went to the studio and made some stuff. Then, back to the airport and we left. That was an ill night. Sweden to Norway – then we went to Switzerland.

So what brings you on tour? Are you recording as Souls of Mischief again? Or, is it to promote your own individual projects? Because you guys have a lot going on…

Phesto: It’s really one and the same; there’s no separation to it.

Tajai: Yeah, and we’re hella fortunate for that too. They both have solo albums out now, but it’s not like they’re ‘going solo’ – you know what I mean? A part of that I think is because we’re indie, so we can do what we want to do, and then another part is that we’re a group first and foremost. So, they’ve both got incredible records – insane records, the best we’ve put out. Pep Love just dropped a record too. So, that’s the main reason that we’re out at this time – but we tour constantly and try to stay on the road. If you’re not on TV and your videos aren’t doing your groundwork for you, you’ve got to do your groundwork.

The way that you’ve been able to stay together but pursue your own projects and music – do you feel that you’ve each developed individually, or that you’ve grown as a whole?

Phesto: It’s both. Because everybody sounds good at home by themselves, everybody does, but I think the group dynamic is something that helps us to get out of that. I don’t think any of us would want to be just doing our own thing, totally satellite or something. I think that the group element is really where it’s at, for me personally I love it – it’s like energy exchange.

We’ve been doing it so long – a natural progression I guess is for everybody to start expanding and doing their own thing, but the foundation of what we are and where we come from is Hiero. It’s the group element, and Souls of Mischief is the epitomy of that in my opinion.

Opio: I mean, even in a group you can only do so much. Obviously we love being Souls of Mischief – but, each one of us individually has more to say, that you can’t cover in just one show or album. So you need to have the outlet to do solo stuff, and it enhances the whole group dynamic. As each individual grows the group grows and elevates, and as artists you’re always trying to do new things and have new experiences, new inspiration.

Being able to go back and forth between Hiero records, solo records, Souls of Mischief records just keeps everything fresh for us, and excited about what we’re doing. At the same time we’re also able to hear everyone else’s individual projects, and it keeps the competitive nature of where we started off. Not in a negative way, but you hear someone and are inspired by them, and so want to compete and match the same level of what everyone else is doing.

You did the Rock the Bells tour this summer playing 93 Til Infinity in its entirety – how was that experience after so many years?

Phesto: I didn’t know we could do that whole album – it’s such an honour to do your whole album. As much as people love the song ’93 Till Infinity’, there’s a mass of people that want to hear the whole record – and that was probably the first time that I realised that. I knew that people like certain songs, and I knew people love Souls and Hiero – but to hear the album, first song to the last? That was such an honour.

All the other groups that were there made it that much more of an honour too – to be on tour with peers that we hold up, that are so dope and whose albums we listened to coming up. People had choices like ‘I could go see Souls of Mischief, or Black Moon, or…’ And there were a lot of people over there to see us and listen to the record.  A lot of young people too – if you asked people how old they were, they might’ve said that they were born in 93, or later… To see that generation of people there was icing on the cake. Rock the Bells was dope.

I read an interview where you guys said that music is timeless in that way – that you can have fans that are younger and they can still relate to your music. So, it doesn’t matter if fans weren’t necessarily of a certain age when a record first came out-

Tajai: But, they are at the age that we were at when the record came out, so they can relate to it because it’s kids making songs – we were seventeen/ eighteen at the time. Songs like ‘Cab Fare’ were written when we were like fifteen/ sixteen, so I see how it works. Before I used to be like ‘what is this?’, but now I see that the fans stay the same age because I think it relates to them on a youthful level. I mean, our fan base probably spans forty years or so – we got fifty to twelve year old fans. It’s really crazy, because the fifty year olds were younger than we are now when we came out – they were in their twenties or whatever – and then for the twelve year olds – the nineties is in, it’s cool – like right now if you look at how the kids dress, they wear acid wash jeans…

So we have a weird mix of fans, and it’s good because it regenerates. I see why they relate now, before I couldn’t figure it out, but now I’m like ‘oh, we were kids when we were making the record too…’ When I listen to our catalogue as Souls and Hiero, I think the reason we take our time with all our records and don’t just throw them out is because we’re going for that – not trying to sound ‘classic’, but going for  a timeless aura with it. So it’s true, having a fan-base that spans so wide is crazy.

Would you extend that to say that it’s kind of universal in the way that you’ve got fans in Europe and London as well as back in The Bay Area – that as well as time the music can transcend location and geography?

Opio: Yeah. I mean, making a song like ’93 Til Infinity’ you can’t predict that and say ‘oh this going to have this type of longevity’, but when we were making our music we did have a mind-set of ‘we want this to be universal’. That anyone can listen to it and enjoy it – it wasn’t just specifically for one small section of humanity or whatever – know what I mean? And because we come from an area that is so diverse – the diversity of thought that exists in the Bay Area is staggering; it’s all different walks of life and cultures.

Just tasting different foods and listening to all different types of music, we were exposed to a lot of stuff and we brought that into our music. Even though we hadn’t had the chance to travel yet, the world kind of came to us as kids. We tasted a lot of different elements and used that to create our style and what we were trying to talk about. So now in 2012 to be able to do this it’s like a plan coming together, even though we were young and didn’t know if it was going to work or not necessarily. But, we did try to do that, to make our music able to reach everyone. Even the melodic way that the music sounds – we had a whole style that we rocked with.

Lastly – there’s been talk of the Souls of Mischief/The Pharcyde collaboration ‘Almyghty Myghty Pythons’ – I didn’t know if was a big hoax for music geeks, or if there was actually an album that you guys have waiting to come out?

Phesto: We do have a project that we were working on, but it’s not finished. So I think word got out – we put the single out and it got a lot of people hyped. We did that as a pre-cursor to the album, but the album never really got finished. We’ve been working on stuff though, so hopefully one day. I want it to come out – they started this petition on Facebook… It’s dope, so I’m hoping it comes out.

Opio: It’s sealed in a capsule somewhere… I mean, that’s my family – The Pharcyde – I still bill with them all the time whenever I go to L.A. or they come up to The Bay. So, that’s family right there – we came up together.

Phesto: We had fun making it too, it kind of started off as a one song thing and then we just kept doing stuff…

Opio: I think the more that people know and talk about it, and if the interest grows then it’ll definitely come out. The music is there, we do have a lot of material that we worked on, but it’s been a long time now since it was actually recorded.  But, if people want to hear it then it’s going to come out.

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