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‘Tour Stories: So You Really Wanna Be In Show Business?’, XXL

Tajai of Souls of Mischief shares the history of going from major label to indie.

Originally published on:
XXL.com
January 18, 2010

Written by XXL Staff

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 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 Hieroglyphics.com 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.

Reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.

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‘Saved by the Web: The Hieroglyphics see with the Third Eye,’ Metro Silicon Valley

THE WORD “hieroglyphics” suggests an ancient tool of communication, but when hard times hit the East Oakland rap crew of the same name, modern technology helped reenergize its following.

Originally published on:
MetroActive.com
From the January 8-14, 1998 issue of Metro

Written by Todd S. Inoue

This column is dedicated to the memory of Toshiro Mifune.

Saved by the Web: The Hieroglyphics see with the Third Eye
Saved by the Web: The Hieroglyphics see with the Third Eye

Consisting of Souls of Mischief (Opio, Tajai, A+ and Phesto), Del the Funkee Homosapien, Casual, the Prose (Pep Love and J-Biz) and manager Domino, the Hieroglyphics’ strength came mostly from its skillful lyricism. In the early ’90s, Hiero members released acclaimed solo albums on major labels (Souls, Del, Casual). Then, as the focus moved from content to gambinos/playalistics (ca. 1994-95), the labels’ interest waned. All were released from their contracts.

“The lowest point was when I got dropped, because I didn’t know nothing [about it],” recalls Del, who spent the down time studying Japanese and working at a record store. “Jive sent me a letter, like one sentence, saying my contract was terminated. I had plans of doing shit in New York with Redman and De La.”

“I knew the label wasn’t doing their job,” says Casual, whose second LP was never released. “Everybody was telling me I was dope. The label was fucking shit up.” Then technology went to work. Dual cassette decks all around the world whirred, spreading the Hiero gospel through an intricate network of tape hunters and collectors. Dedicated Hiero fan and webmaster StinkE put up a virtual shop and street-corner for fellow Hiero heads to download freshly mined tracks. The site garnered hundreds of hits a day.

“It was tight,” Del says. “The Internet was one of the reasons we’re still doing things. Through StinkE, there was a way we could still keep in touch with fans. So we started slipping him the top secret shit.” The cream of the “top secret shit” will be released on Third Eye Vision, the long-awaited Hiero “family album.” TEV satisfies the craving for nonstop flow that entranced the hip-hop nation back in the early ’90s. Tracks such as “Oakland Blackouts,” “The Who” and “Dune Methane” meld the nine diverse personalities into one cohesive set, a dream for fans of Hiero’s dense lyricism. The album is set to be released next month.

Reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.

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‘Fan Website Kept Hieroglyphics Crew Alive,’ VH1

Site gives crew easy access to its fans and offers devotees song previews.

Originally published on VH1.com
February 3, 1998
Republished on MTV.com

Written by Randy Reiss

When you are a Web designer running the Hieroglyphics’ official fan-controlled site as Yameen Friedberg is, you’re privy to details about the crew and its struggles to make music that few people know.

Fan Website Kept Hieroglyphics Crew Alive
Fan Website Kept Hieroglyphics Crew Alive

As the creator of “Hieroglyphics Dot Com,” a website that tracks the

movements of rappers Souls of Mischief, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Casual and the Prose, Friedberg said he used to get e-mail all the time from people claiming to be members of the rap collective Hieroglyphics.

Then one day, something strange and important happened.

“One time I got this page with a 510 area-code on it [the area code for Oakland, Calif., the crew’s hometown],” the 19-year-old Philadelphia Web designer said. “When I got the guy on the phone, he said he was Tajai from Souls of Mischief. I was just like ‘Yeah, right. I get people telling me this all the time. I’m going to need to see some proof.’ ” But when a Jive Records press packet arrived at his house later that week, Friedberg was convinced. “I was just blown away,” he said. “I took it to school and I was just like, ‘Man, look at these stickers!'”

What Friedberg soon learned was that what had started as your average fan site was slowly becoming the online headquarters for the rap crew. While this may not have been so unusual at first, the site became a vital line of communication from the crewmembers to their fans when they were individually dropped from their various labels in 1996 and were searching for a way to keep making music. “The website was essential for us,” Souls of Mischief’s A-Plus said during a recent interview in Casual’s home-based studio in Oakland.

“There were times during our hiatus that some of us thought no one was feeling us anymore,” he added. “But hearing that there were all these people around the world who were going to our site, that’s what kept us going at times.”

Visitors to http://www.hieroglyphics.com over the past two years have been presented with a variety of contests, opportunities to purchase merchandise and news updates. When the crew decided to come back with a group album, Friedberg, who goes by the moniker Stinke, set up a page entitled “Third Eye Central” that allowed fans to read what the crew was up to and download samples of works-in-progress for its upcoming LP, Third Eye Vision (Feb. 26). “One of the main positives of being independent is to be able to give [fans] something that they usually wouldn’t get,” Hieroglyphics manager/producer Domino said. “Third Eye Vision will be in stores like a regular album, but we have separate stuff for the core fans.

“If we can constantly do that,” Domino continued, “have an album in stores and extra stuff at the shows and on the Net that we did on a whim, I think we can build a bigger hardcore fan-base that way.”

Not only that, but the crew can get a sense for how its fans like the new material based on early reaction to clips put up on the site, Tajai said. “Getting that kind of instant feedback was essential for us,” he added. “We can put a song out right now and instantly hear back what people thought about it.” Both the Hieros and Stinke said that the crew will continue to use the website as a fund-raiser and a communication device after the release of Third Eye Vision.

The website was not only the crew’s outlet for fan feedback, it was

also an essential fund-raiser to cover the production costs of the new LP. While the crew didn’t have a steady income from its music, Tajai said, the members decided to take any money earned from shows and merchandising and put it back into the project.

Souls of Mischief’s Opio was quick to head off criticism that the Hieros are making money hand-over-fist by selling merchandise with no middleman. “There ain’t nothing wrong with making money,” he said. “But right now we’re on a whole different level. We’re just trying to get our shit started again.” [Wed., Feb. 4, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]

Reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.

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‘No Fear of an MP3 Planet,’ Salon

Salon.Com
JUNE 1, 1999

Written by JANELLE BROWN

As Public Enemy embraces new music technology and takes on the recording industry, it’s also helping smash the Web’s lily-white image.

[Excerpt from Page 2.]

“The industry doesn’t really understand rap music as a whole; they understand it in terms of marketing but they don’t respect is as a culture. And in hip hop, the culture is very, very important,” explains [Felicia] Palmer [of SOHH.Com]. “The industry is really interested in the emceeing and the rap artist because that’s what makes them money. On the Web, adversely, you have the culture component,” including all four of the hip-hop “elements.”

No Fear of an MP3 Planet
No Fear of an MP3 Planet

But it’s not all about culture; it can be about making money too — but money that flows into artists’ pockets rather than labels’ coffers. The popular group Hieroglyphics, for example, has used its Web site not only as a community area for fans, but as a place to distribute its music after being dropped by its record label. The Hieroglyphics’ new album, released last year, was self-produced entirely from the money the group made selling tapes of unreleased material on its Web site — a practice which is becoming increasingly popular with hip-hop artists. And the new album — sold primarily through online music stores — has turned a respectable profit.

“I believe the Net is hip hop’s fifth element — it combines the other four and allows the musicians to control everything from marketing to distribution to fan relations,” says Hieroglyphics webmaster Yameen Freidberg, aka Stinke. “The Net is putting the control back into the artists’ hands; whereas before you had to go through the label and it was all about politics and money and someone who doesn’t understand the music being in control.”

Excerpt reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.

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‘Hip-Hop Awards Play on Net,’ Wired Magazine

Originally published on Wired.com
March 29, 1999

Written by David Kushner

NEW YORK – The Grammy awards have long been criticized for not properly recognizing hip-hop culture.

Now a group of artists and activists are staging their own star-powered event that will be webcast Tuesday night.

Hip-Hop Awards Play on Net
Hip-Hop Awards Play on Net

The Online Hip-Hop Awards Show will honor winners in 12 categories, including Best Web Site Dedicated to the Art of Graffiti and Best Artist Web Site. Performers and presenters are scheduled to include innovators from hip-hop’s past and present, from Grandmaster Flash, who helped pioneer the genre nearly two decades ago, to Canibus, a new artist who has been using the Web as a means of distribution.

The event grew out of Support Online Hip-Hop, a three-year-old site based in Brooklyn, New York.

“Hip-hop on the Web has always been prevalent,” says SOHH founder, Felicia Palmer. “It started on the streets, and soon kids were MC-ing online. We’ve been screaming ‘Hip-hop online’ for years; the industry is just starting to take notice.”

Since 1 February 1999, over 40,000 sites were submitted for consideration. The Artist of the Year category recognizes notables such as Lauryn Hill and The Roots, who have created their own independent sites. Another nominee, Hieroglyphics, an unsigned band in Philadelphia, has used its site as a publicity platform since being dropped from its record label.

“Hip-hop consists of four elements: break dancing, graffiti, MC-ing and being a DJ,” says Stinke, Hieroglyphics’ online manager. “The Internet is the fifth element of hip-hop. It’s giving power back to the artists to maintain and control their music.”

Unlike the Grammys, the Online Hip-Hop Awards are celebrating the community as much as the artists. One category recognizes sites such as Homegrown Hip Hop Zone and The Krib’s Freestyle Board, which are dedicated to “the art of turntablism/DJing.” Another award highlights the “hottest audio/video Web site,” including the popular Net radio show, 88 Hip-Hop.

Part of the US$25 ticket price for the show will benefit MOUSE, a New York nonprofit that wires urban schools.

Randy Nkonoki-Ward, co-host of 88 Hip-Hop, says he’s happy to see more diversity not only in awards shows but within his own musical community.

“It’s a good thing when hip-hop is represented the right way,” he says. “It’s not just about rap music, it’s about the culture.”

Reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.

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