Posted by Billyjam, December 30, 2009 05:00am | Post a Comment
souls of mischief
The highly anticipated new Souls of Mischief album, Montezuma's Revenge, on Clear Label is the Hieroglyphics collective's first official studio album in almost a decade. There's a good reason why the long awaited record has been selling extremely well at each of the three Amoeba Music stores since it was released early this month. It's an amazing album; one that recaptures the magic of each stage of the longtime, unique East Oakland hip-hop crew. Souls of Mischief first burst on the scene in 1993 when they captured the attention of the hip-hop world with their stunning debut 93 Til Infinity on Jive/Zomba. And of course, having Prince Paul, one of hip-hop's most gifted producers, at the helm for Montezuma's Revenge only helpted bring out the best in the Souls of Mischief.

I recently caught up with Tajai of the group and asked him why it took such a long time for this new official Souls full-length album to drop.  "We have been traveling and promoting a gang of records, from Hiero Full Circle and Full Circle Live to Power Movement, Triangulation Station and My Last Good Deed, from the crew and individual members," said Tajai. And just how did the Prince Paul collaboration come about? "Opio and Domino were on the Handsome Boy Modeling School (Dan the Automator & Prince Paul) tour a few years back and they tossed the idea of doing an album back and forth. Prince Paul actually followed up and the rest is history," he said, adding, " Working with him {Paul} was incredible. He is a perfectionist and really brought out the best in all of us." 

While Prince Paul is credited as the new album's main producer, he is not the sole music provider. Opio, A-Plus, and Domino were also involved. "They brought beats of their own and then we picked the ones Tajai, Souls of Mischiefwe felt were the nicest and put our heads together on concepts," Tajai noted of the recording process. And as for Montezuma's Revenge's entertaining "skits" (a longtime trademark of the Prince Paul style of album production dating back to the first De La Soul album he produced), they were, indeed, Prince Paul's ideas.

Having read and heard various reasons for the new album's unusual title, I had to ask Tajai about it. Is Montezuma's Revenge a state of mind? Some disease? Or simply the name of the street you recorded the album on? "It is named after the street but is also appropriate since we are from Cali and also in Hieroglyphics, so the Aztec glyphs and imagery work there too," he said.

In hip-hop, even more so than in other forms of popular music, so many groups break up after a few years, especially after the stress of dealing with labels and the music biz in general. But the Souls of Mischief have somehow managed to stay strong and stay together as a tight knit crew for all these years. I asked Tajai what the secret to their success is at accomplishing this. "We are friends first and business partners/bandmates second, so the business doesn't mess up the family vibe." And if he and the other members of the Souls could go back in time, to when they first started out and signed to Jive/Zomba -- with the knowledge and wisdom that they have today -- what would they have done, if anything, differently back then? "Nothing," Tajai replied without missing a beat.
Back in those long ago days of the middle 1990's, the extended Hieroglyphics family members (including Souls of MischiefSouls, Casual, Del), after parting ways with their respective big record labels, became pioneers as hip-hop artists in embracing the (then relatively new) Internet as a channel of distribution very early on in the game (leading to their successful independent company Hieroglyphics Emporium, which today even includes its own fashion line of jeans). It was the early days, long before most people even had email addresses. But had the Souls not been prematurely dropped by their label and forced into independent status, they may not have lasted as long as they have, nor been nearly as successful in the long run. Tajai looks on it now as blessing since it helped make the Hieros so self-sufficent. "{It was} definitely a blessing, we were able to use Jive's resources to build a fanbase, then we were able to connect with that fanbase through touring and the Internet, until we developed into a full-fledged label!"
And as for how Tajai feels about the new album, how it turned out and its reception, and what the follow up to Montezuma's Revenge will be, he says:  "I am hella happy with the outcome; it exceeded my expectations with the song order, skits, etc that Paul masterminded," and adds, "We may have some surprises in the near future from outtakes."

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Montezuma's Revenge (1), Tajai (7), Souls Of Mischief (23)