"A Hierophant is a person who deciphers arcane knowledge. On this album Casual's wordplay demands your attention while his vocabulary inspires thought," is the accurate description of the word Hierphant that inspired the title of talented longtime Oakland emcee (and high profile Hieroglyphics member) Casual's highly recommended new album The Hierophant - according to the official website for the artist's latest release in a career spanning almost two full decades - releasing his debut album Fear Itself back in 1994 following hot on the heels of his much acclaimed, most impressive cameo appearances on albums by fellow Hieros Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Souls of Mischief.
Casual "You Like That" from The Hierophant (2011)
I recently caught up with the longtime Oakland emcee to chop it up about the new release as well as his illustrious career that recently has included him doing video production for other artists. Knowing how young he was (still a teenager) when he started out and been thrown head first into the crazy music biz, and then in turn forced to become independent as an artist following a short lived stint with Jive Records, I asked Casual if, in retrospect, does he now think that that whole early career experience helped shape him as an artist and make him stronger perhaps?
"I feel been on a major label early in my career made it easy for me to understand the business later on," he replied, adding that "How to run a record company was all learned watching Jive execs." But looking back now, two decades later with the wisdom he's acquired over the years, what would he have done differently if anything? "I think I would have complied with Jive. They had request that I didn't want to consider then, I may consider those request now," he said.
Casual "Take The Time (feat. Pep Love)" from The Hierophant (2011)
In hip-hop circles when Casual's name is mentioned the infamous 1994 onstage (Kennel Club - now The Independent) and on air (KMEL radio's Wake Up Show) freestyle battle he had with Oakland's Hobo Junction crew's star emcee Saafir inevitably comes up in conversation. I asked the Hiero emcee if that shaped his image as emcee and battle rapper? I also wondered if he and Saafir had talked about it in more recent years, and if so what did the two have to say about it all now 17 hip-hop years later?
"I have talked with Saafir via social networks," replied Casual. "Everything is cool. That battle was a defining moment in my career. It also set precedent for hip-hop battles around the world. After that everyone was like "Freestyle, Freestyle!!"
So is Casual always down to freestyle these days? "Not always," he said. "Only when Im feeling it. When I was younger I would like to freestyle all day. Not anymore. I prefer to write."
On the topic of freestyling I asked Casual if he thought if someone is a rapper or an MC that, by the nature of their title, that they should be always down to freestyle or is it cool for some to say (as many do when asked to drop a freestyle rhyme on a radio show) "Oh I don't freestyle"? "Yes, It is cool to say "I dont Freestyle". Nothing is wrong with that. It's better than embarrassing yourself trying." replied the veteran freestyler.
Casual "That's How It Is" (1993 debut single + 1994 Fear Itself album track)
Getting back to the new album and knowing how tight and well produced it sounds I asked Casual how long he and DJ Toure spent working on it, and also if there is an overall vibe or message that he wanted to convey with this new release? "I worked for two years on that album," he replied. "There is a underlying message; to seek knowledge. I don't preach or lecture on the album. I just use words to inspire thought and curiosity."
On the new album track "Where Do I Go" Casual address the state of the world today - something that we can all agree is not the best time, especially economically. So where does Casual see America in particular headed and specifically the poor and minorities of this country? "I see the demise of America in the future forecast," he responded dismally. "We are setting ourselves up on the global level. God Bless America!"
Knowing how tight the Hieros crew has always remained (Toure, Pep Love, and Tajai all contribute to the new album and how the Hieros are constantly collaborating in some capacity (EG Casual produced Dolla Will's new music video "Work That Body (feat Too $hort)" for Tajai's Clear Label Records) it was not surprising to hear Casual say that remaining unified as a crew has always been one of the Hieros' greatest strengths. "Yes it's good to be a close knit crew."
Casual "Shrimp Fried Rice (feat. Tajai)" from The Hierophant (2011)
In addition to his own new album Casual has recently been working with other hip-hop artists including making a cameo on mic and in video production on a new track by East Bay emcee 4two7 (aka Eclipse 427). "427 is a friend and client of Wetfoot Filmworks - my production team," said Casual. "I did a song "Comedy Central" with 427 and shot the video. It's dope!" (see video below)
On his new album Casual has a great song titled "Fiend For Hip Hop" which pretty much sums his dedication to the art form of hip-hop - not something he does, but something he lives - to paraphrase KRS-One. So in say 20 years from now, in the year 2031, does he see himself still wrecking the mic as an emcee? "Possibly not. I may release songs but I don't think I would be a performing emcee.. in 2031. I would love to host other artists at that time."
Available only digitally right now the CD version of The Hierophant will be out in "about a month" and available at Amoeba according to Casual who says he will also be unleashing a lot more material before the year is out including another full-length He STILL Think He Raw (the anticipated follow up to his 2001 album He Think He Raw) and an accompanying He Still Think He Raw movie (see rough-cut clip of opening scene from this movie below). And to view all videos that Casual, aka Smash Rockwell, has produced visit his YouTube channel.
4Two7 "Comedy Central" (feat. Casual) (2011)
Casual "Rock My Shit" (from forthcoming second 2011 Casual album He STILL Think He Raw)
Rough cut clip of opening segment of He Still Think He Raw movie (2011)