Formed in Oakland, California in 1991, Souls Of Mischief have long been at the vanguard of alternative hip-hop – part of the Hieroglyphics collective with Del Tha Funkee Homosapien as well as being associated with the Native Tounges Posse alongside A Tribe Called Quest. The quartet have just released their fifth album Montezuma’s Revenge, a good enough reason for State to talk to Tajai, A-Plus, Phesto and Tajai.
How did you all get into Hip-Hop?
Tajai: We just grew up with it. It was something that was new, fresh and exciting when we were kids and we gravitated towards it.
What are your views on the genre at this moment?
Tajai: Hip-hop is experiencing a ‘hair band’ or ‘disco’ phase. It is being co-opted by the mainstream and a lot if vultures are in it for the money rather than for the love.
How has Hip-Hop changed since you got started in the industry?
Tajai: It is a lot more popular and reflective of corporate interests. It still spawns great music though!
Tell us about Montezuma’s Revenge, how did you come up with the album name?
Tajai: We recorded the album on a street called Montezuma in Northern California. Plus we are in Hieroglyphics and from California, so the Aztec hieroglyphs and imagery are right up our alley.
You worked with Prince Paul, how was that?
A-Plus: of course it was definitely an honor to work with a legend. He’s a master at what he does. It was a great learning experience.
Does your music have a message?
A-Plus: No one particular message. We just keep it original, and in our format we can talk about anything, so there’s not just one particular thing. We just make sure we have our own sound, and our own style, and aren’t copying anybody else. We’re just doing our own thing. But as far as a particular message, there is no one message.
If you had to list your top 10 hip-hop artists of all time who would they be and why?
A-Plus: I have favorites from every era, and it’s way more than just ten. When I first heard ‘The Message’, that’s when I decided I was going to be an emcee. I’ve been listening to hip-hop since ’79 and I’ve had favorites throughout that whole time. It’s difficult to just pick ten without leaving people out and it just doesn’t feel right.
How would you describe your sound to people who haven’t heard you before?
Opio: That’s a hard one. We definitely work with a lot different styles in the rap patterns. A complex, highly stylized lyrical style. Musically, we tend to lean toward more melodic beats – melodies and harmonies within the musical backdrop.
Critics have already said that Montezuma’s Revenge is an instant classic that will go down next to 93 Till Infinity and Focus, how do you feel about that?
Opio: I feel like that’s a blessing. I always try to stay humble and don’t go toward the accolades. I can deal with constructive criticism, but avoid haters. Working with Prince Paul on the record, it had potential to be one of our greatest, if not our greatest record. I know people look at 93 ‘Til Infinity as a classic, but with Prince Paul this is on that level too. If people listen to it with open ears I think they’ll realize it really is on that level.
Tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to, how was the tour?
Phesto: Just been working as well as getting re-acclimated with being home. Whenever you tour Europe and come home and just hit the ground running it takes a little time to read just. Time difference and everything makes it a little rough but it’s a blessing.
How did the band name come about?
Phesto: At the time we were all young and into a bunch of different things. Hip Hop being our common denominator, but also we used to get into a lot of mischief nothing really too malicious. When your young you have a lot of energy. If you find a conduit in which to direct that energy, positively, you can accomplish some good things when you really put your mind to it. For us hip hop is that conduit. We always said we like to reek havoc (make mischief) on the microphone and that’s sort of where the name came about.
What does the future hold for Souls Of Mischief?
Phesto: I’m influenced by all music. Even music I don’t particularly like drives me to want create an alternative. True musicians are fans of music in general and we do this because love music from a fans standpoint as well as from someone who creates it.
Phesto: I think in the future we plan to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Putting out good music, touring and touring and putting out more music. Whether it’s Souls or our solo projects or Hiero as a whole. We have a lot more to give because we are constantly growing as artist and have really just scratched the surface as far as what we can accomplish.
Montezuma’s Revenge is out now on Clear Label Records