Originally published in Hip-Hop Connection Magazine (HHC)
Written by DJ Greenpeace (stylized as “Verbals by”)
Just because the Hieroglyphics have been absent from your local record store for aeons, sleep not because they’re back to wreck shop and damage retail outlets. All have shed contractual obligations from their respective record labels and are ready to bombard the hip-hop world with singles and albums full of new material and a sprinkling of unreleased tracks, which never got sample clearance. Although they have always been a unified force to be reckoned with, the Hieroglyphics are now officially a collective with no immediate plans to split off into their former solo careers. One thing they’ve learned from their experiences is how to promote themselves well, and the promotional items floating around are only short of a Jive logo to differentiate them from something a major label would circulate for publicity.
Now on a self-owned label called Hieroglyphics Imperium, Souls of Mischief, Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, and all their affiliated emcees and producers are set to release a number of projects which sound like they feature whoever was around at the time. After their successful 93 ‘Til Infinity album and the poorly promoted sophomore joint, No Mans Land, the Souls of Mischief are now just one facet of this newly revamped collective, but represented in fine fashion when HHC begged exclusivity for the lowdown on their latest power moves…
HHC: Does the under-achievement of the second Souls LP represent the real reason for a Hieroglyphics relaunch?
Opio: In terms of dealing with record companies, we’ve all heard the stories. Basically they’re true. We were always into the music for the love, and when we got into the business, we started realizing all the politics involved even down to all the shit to do with radio play. We just weren’t down with it. All we wanted to do was some real progressive hip-hop and major labels turned out not to be the correct outlet for that.
We tried to work with them and that was probably the main problem. Now what we realize is that they helped us and look at it as positive because they enabled us to get to the public and even get world-wide. Just like they tried to pimp us, we’ve pimped them and turned the tables on them. Now we’re just going to do this hip-hop shit independent with no ties, no poison in our music. Our shit is pure and it’s not going through no filters. There’s no people who don’t know anything about hip-hop telling us what to do.
HHC: It seems like you’ve gone the alternative route, rather than what seems to be the current trend of getting a deal off the back of independent material.
Opio: What we’re trying to force is a revolution in music. All artists — not just in hip-hop — don’t like dealing with record companies. They rather wish that they could do music themselves and give it straight to the fans and hopefully, if we get a lot of success from this, then people will realize that you don’t have to get the radio play and have platinum albums in order for you to do what you want to do. On an independent [label] you can sell 200,000 [units] and still do videos, do tours, and get paid. You shouldn’t have to sell your ass to anybody for nothing in return.
HHC: Are you going to consider splitting off to your solo careers again?
Pep Love: Even while we’re doing the Hieroglyphics, we’re gonna do other projects and use the underground scene to distribute little things just to maintain the buzz while we’re doing shows or whatever. We’ve all established ourselves as artists, so the Hieroglyphics thing is just going to lay the foundation for our own business, and for us as a musical family. After all this, I think we can do anything we want to.
Tajai: This enables us to come up with any musical configurations. On the Souls of Mischief LPs, people were used to hearing other Hiero artists, and now you’ll be able to see new groups forming, whether it’s Del or Tajai and Pep as a group, or Opio & Pep…
Domino: We felt the best way would be to come back as a unit and that would have more force than with an individual Souls record, Del, or Casual record. The plan is to stir enough buzz so one day we can release separate [artist] records.
HHC: Is it a case of strength in numbers right now?
Domino: Yeah, and plus all we always did our individual albums as a unit anyway. Usually there was one or two songs with any member of the crew on there and we got a lot of good response about that.
Tajai: It’s all about a process of being collaborative now. We have eight producers, seven emcees and two DJs — everybody’s putting something in now, so the best beats are going to get used, period. It’s not really a competition to make the best record. Everyone’s got their own flavor, so the new material is going to be a combination of all the flavors.
HHC: Now that you’re independent, are you realizing alternative forms of promotion can be successful, like the website?
Pep Love: With the website, Tajai was browsing and there were a couple of Hiero pages done by fans with hip-hop chat forums. At that point, we weren’t even aware that this was a form for us to promote ourselves. Then we discovered one site by a guy called Stinke, and it was real tight. We could tell he was a real Hiero connoisseur, so we gave him support, made it official, and gave it our backing. We bought him a PC and got it on the World Wide Web.
HHC: Have you had any labels interested lately?
Opio: We could get signed if we wanted to, but we don’t want to run away from slavery to another plantation.
I don’t close any doors or shut my eyes to anything. I listen to everyone because everyone could be an asset in the future. But at this time, the best thing is to be able to come out ourselves and nurture ourselves.
One of the main things we’re doing is taking a real grassroots approach and personal approach as far as guys in the group being involved in contacting radio stations or DJs and networking, instead of some person who works for a label speaking on behalf of us. That best suits our music because we want to do things unorthodox, and we want to be seen that way. We want to be able to do a 12-inch single whenever we want — just to be able to throw out at shows. And I think that more suits our music style than the stuff you can accomplish being on a major label. So we need to get out there and reestablish ourselves before we would even think about signing to another label. Plus, we want to be able to have our own business and experience that we can pass on to the next generation of emcees to be on our label.
HHC: Do you think you could have been promoted better by the media to build a better base away from just the West Coast?
Opio: Initially, they did, like with the first album. One fortunate situation we’re in is that we feel like we have been set up, and people know us, and that’s why we can be confident about the success of what we’re doing now. A lot of our biggest markets were on the East Coast, Philadelphia especially, as well as New York. We were able to establish in Canada and the UK, so Jive [Records] did enable us to do that. Now we feel like people are open to us already, so once we get the music out, we’ll be able to rock them.
Tajai: In terms of the media, I’m doing a project at the moment, and I’ve been looking at all these black and white hip-hop magazines. These independent magazines give the ill concert footage, all the tight spots to visit. They’re on a smaller scale and not trying to be the voice of the hip-hop nation. So there’s a whole bunch of these independent trends because people are getting sick of the industrial side, and we do have the power or control to change it all.
Domino: It’s so easy to lose touch with the underground, and it’s these independent artists and publications that really set the trends and can establish you, rather than the mass hip-hop media.
HHC: Has the mass media separated rap from hip-hop?
Tajai: For me, I think rap music will go back to one aspect, and people will be doing graffiti or breakdancing. Rap is one part of hip-hop, but it’s still hip-hop. Hip-hop is just not rap, and that’s where the difference is. We’re trying to make it so that we represent all aspects, so when you look at us, you see hip-hop, period.
Pep Love: What we don’t need is that whole concept of separating this and that, but it’s already enough with this east/west bullshit. You can’t say even gangster rap isn’t hip-hop because they’re trying to rip it — they’re really trying to put some skill into it now.
HHC: What sort of material are you planning to release in the coming months?
Domino: We got these tapes at the moment called Domino’s B-sides: Unreleased and Hard to Find, and we’ve put some real underground shit on there. But we don’t legally own some of the real dope shit, and we don’t want to get sued even though there are more opportunities on an independent level. Jive made so much of an issue of clearing some of the samples that if we release it, then it would be noticed.
Opio: Even though we are independent, we want to do it the right way and not look like we’re desperate just to get some stuff out there. We want it to look like we are on Jive, and as long as we can afford to make the stuff look like quality, then we want it to look like it’s on a major record label. They don’t have any special apparatus, they’re just an assembly line. Jive already did the hardest part. It takes a lot of money for people to be able to see your face on TV. We got tapes out now, and there’s already the history people can relate to, so we will just have vinyl for the underground DJs in the next month. When we get the reactions, we’ll release a proper single and then an album.
Coast to Coast
Hieroglyphics on the East/West Saga
Opio: Hip-Hop is a universal thing, and anyone who confines it to anything smaller than this planet, if not the universe, is making a mistake. As far as “east/west,” if you’re gonna represent where you are, be about that. But don’t diss a whole area for no reason unless you plan on going out there and battling everybody.
Pep Love: People who do that are small-minded, and there’s no basis for it. There’s always been a little “east/west” thing, and that’s inherent from the way hip-hop has grown. But it started to blow out of all proportions, and that’s another example of falling prey to the politics of it all. We were never fooled by that shit. First of all, we’re from Oakland — or East Oakland, if you want to get specific — and we’ve got nothing to do with any other parts of what California has to say. We’re not even tripping.
Tajai: We represent Hieroglyphics, and Hieroglyphics represent hip-hop. We consider ourselves to be universal, so it ain’t even about falling prey to these little propaganda schemes. Y’know, we’re not stupid, and if anyone falls for it, then they’re just fools. The scam’s on you if you want to fall into their mind tricks.
Domino’s Top 5 Breakbeats
- The Soul Searchers – “Ashley’s Roachclip”
- Bill Withers – “Kissing My Love”
- Harry Milson – “The Rainmaker”
- Gladys Knight – “Who Is She (And What Is She to You)”
- Lafayette Afro Rock Band – Anything by them
Reproduced on Hieroglyphics.org for educational purposes.