SOULS OF MISCHIEF////TAJAI////FEBRUARY 2010
Few of Rap’s elite, or any other connoisseurs connected to the genre would argue against Souls of Mischief playing a significant part in putting the ‘Hip’ directly in front of the ‘Hop’, after the release of their seminal debut ‘93’ til Infinity’. A release which was dropped upon an unsuspecting world seventeen years ago and spookily in accordance with its title…is still widely regarded as a timeless classic which has given this Californian based quartet the tools and power to continue plying their trade on an independent level ever since. As well as countless solo projects for each individual member of the band and also the evolvement of the sublime Hieroglyphics (a side project with the highly infectious Del The Funky Homosapien) the group have just released their fourth full SOM release ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’…a record which is going down a storm amongst critics and Hip Hop fans across the globe. To share a little on life in Californ-I-A, main man Tajai chews the fat with Outline…
Congratulations on a great new album…it’s really taken me back to a time when Hip Hop was great, a De La Soul time, A Pharcyde time, a Tribe Called Quest time…I understand that ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ is a platform game from the 80’s…how did it also end up becoming the title for your record?
Well y’know, it’s also a euphemism for travel sickness and diarrhoea and we recorded the album on a street called Montezuma. So we kept on referring to the house as Montezuma’s House and after a while it sort of stuck. We’re in Hieroglyphics and California. The Aztecs invented the hieroglyphic calendar, and back then California was part of Mexico, so with that and the imagery it was all kind of fitting…
It was produced by the legendary Prince Paul (Stetsasonic, Gravediggaz, Del La Soul), surely that was a dream come true?
Well Opio and Dan (the Automator) were on tour with him – the Handsome Boy Modeling tour. They suggested maybe doing a song to him and he said ‘I wanna do a whole project’. So he called us up. I mean when Prince Paul or anyone else of that calibre calls, you don’t mess around (laughs). Man it was insane dude…
You are no newbie as far as the genre is concerned, but I wondered if you learnt much from your time around him?
Well he’s like an encyclopaedia man, he knows so much about the game and Hip Hop history and stuff. We learned all kinds of crazy facts. He’s a perfectionist, conceptually he has great ideas for song structure and how he wants things to go. It was just a pleasure working with him man, it was really great…
I’d read something where Opio was saying you locked yourselves away and just got down to business…how long did the whole process take?
I’d say probably two months to get the whole thing recorded and then the mix probably took another year on top of that.
What did you all do to chill between takes…two months is a fair old time to be in lockdown?
We’re a group, so we’re used to people going in to their thing. But in the mean time we worked on other songs. Erm…we basically all live in a house together. We have a house out in the country, which is were we recorded. So in between takes, we’d y’know, go on walks or some of the guys would smoke weed, just sit and look at nature and try and get inspired for the next song.
Your last album ‘Trilogy’ was released way back in 2000, can I ask why so long between the two releases?
Well we’re independent, which means we’ve got to go and promote our records. Since TV doesn’t really play any independent music, we’ve gots’ to be on tour and it’s hard to record records when you are on tour. Even with all the technology, you’ve got to get into a creative space and be there for a while to make album. I mean you can make a bunch of songs on tour…but it kinda sounds like it when you get back home…do ya know what I’m sayin’. We have to concentrate on a project for it to be a cohesive thing. We’ve all have solo projects and there’s been a couple of Hiero albums, we also run our label, so it’s not really like how people think. Time doesn’t move in the same way for us. We tend to be on tour 150- 200 days a year, so there’s not a whole lot of time after that to sit and record a record.
You mentioned independence…Montezuma’s has been released on your own record label – Hiero Imperium Records – which has gained notoriety as inventing an impressive blueprint for independent releases…can you explain the basis of this?
It’s basically…make the record, audit the record, tour and make sure you have a cohesive presence. I think the blueprint is about the circuit we are rocking these shows on. These circuits didn’t exist when we first came out. You had to rock these big old venues, the mid range 500-1000 capacity weren’t doing Hip Hop shows at the time. The combination of touring, creating and maintaining a presence on a website. I mean we had a website before everybody – our website is now fifteen years old. Fifteen years ago, most people didn’t even have personal computers…
Souls of Mischief parted ways with their original label Jive Records because they were allegedly trying to turn you into more a commercial commodity…is this true?
The way they did it was like this. Here is your creative freedom, do whatever you want, but if we don’t like what you want, then we are not going to support it at all. So that means we are going to incur higher costs recording stuff, we’d be hooked up with corny producers to do softer versions of certain songs. I wasn’t like they said, ‘right, you guys need to start sounding more like Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’…it was more a case of ‘oh we don’t really hear any hits on this’. But we were only with them for two years in the end. They wanted us to do certain things, we basically didn’t, so in the end I guess we both won, because they dropped us, but we had our freedom and they didn’t have to spend any more money on us…
You’ve recently been out in Europe…which cities do you most enjoy visiting when you are in our part of the world?
Well I like London. I mean London is one of the most major cities. I also like Prague, Amsterdam as well. The reason these cities are known as big cities is for a reason. Usually they have everything, (laughs) well except good breakfasts. Erm…so I think Prague is a beautiful city and the people there are really nice. Amsterdam is Amsterdam and there’s nothing like that in the word. In fact I really like Copenhagen too…the Danish people are really accommodating. We don’t really get to go to Italy or Spain that much.
With being on the road a lot of the time…what are those essential tour items which keep you in good stead for these long jaunts?
Vitamins, you’ve got to bring some music so…a Walkman or a Laptop…(laughs) I’m really dating myself by saying Walkman. Man you’ve got to have some tunes when you are travelling that much. So…music and vitamin’s. There’s weed everywhere you go, so there’s no need to bring that with you…
You’ve also brought Deeprooted with you, an act which you have recently signed to your own ‘Clear Label’….what was it about this group that interested you so much?
We only brought Mr. Brady out with us. But Deeprooted is like six people, which with the US dollar being so bad, its financially inhibiting to try and take them all out. Trying to get six people out to Europe and still to come out with some money…its hard. They were on our US tour with us and they were really dope man. But with Deeprooted, man I like their format. Like they have a singer, two Emcees, a DJ and they all produce. It’s a very similar format to say Arrested Development or The Fugees – y’know what I’m sayin’. But their sound isn’t likely either of them, it’s completely different.
The sleeve artwork for the album is pretty cool…I believe it’s been done by Steven Lopez, an artist whom other than his work with Erykah Badu I know little about…can you tell me how you hooked up with him?
Well a friend of ours suggested we check out a website called ikeepmoving.com It’s just so vibrant. I actually have the original piece in the house. It’s crazy what he does, I mean its stylized but still close enough to become realistic. If you look at our first three records…they are all earth tones. As the trilogy is finished, this record is a whole new adventure for us…so decided we needed a different look and…
I have to ask…Hieroglyphics – what’s going on there?
Well we’ve got a new Hiero album coming out soon. We mad a studio meltdown. So there was a lot of stuff that we saved. We’re probably going to put that out to tide people over until there are some new records. I’ve got a new album coming out called ‘Rap Noir’, Opio has ‘Vulture’s Wisdom Volume Two’, Phesto is coming out with his album ‘Background Check’, Casuals got a couple of records. A Plus has a record due…and Del’s been dropping records like very three months…
Crudo is another project you are involved in with a real hero of mine – Mike Patton (Faith No More). Please tell me more about this?
Yeah yeah, I’m just really the hype man for Crudo, I just bring a little Hip Hop flavour to it. That’s really Dan the Automator & Mike’s brain child. It’s a lot of fun though. Prince Paul and Dan the Automater are really the funniest two guys I know in Hip Hop because they both have this dry sense of humour. And Mike Patton, he’s a real cool dude. He’s really professional as well though. He reminds me of Michael Jackson in the way that he layers his vocals. He’s got a lot of vocal ad lib effects he can ad to songs…he’s a genius. To be working with him and Automator and guys like Prince Paul…is a real dream come true for me.
Did you realise that next year will be 20th year anniversary for Souls of Mischief…within the contemporary music industry that’s a highly impressive achievement…definitely a milestone worth celebrating?
Yeah I guess so. Time goes by so quickly. We are doing the same thing that we were when we were seventeen. Apart from mortgage and tuition payments we really are doing the exact same thing. Although, time moves differently for us. So I don’t know, we don’t have anything really big planned.
Ok so this seems to be turning into a little bit of a nervous tick for me… as every time in the past 18 months that I’ve spoken to an American I seem unable to avoid the whole Barack Obama debate…so indulge me please and tell me how well you think he’s performed throughout his first year in office?
Well you’ve got to consider that the guy before him was the worst leader in the history of our entire nation. He might as well of been one of those Eastern block dictators. I can’t really call what Obama’s done so far. When you are starting at negative trillions…it’s kinda hard to dig out of that. But its business as usual. Hopefully he serves as an icon and inspiration to give people the belief to strive harder and change themselves. We are really spoiled over here. People don’t realise all of the resources that we have, because as Americans we don’t travel. 80% of Americans don’t even have passports. They think that the whole world is just some crazy savage place. But we don’t know because on the whole we don’t travel. Our world news is like an hour each day. I remember watching coverage of an incident in Palestine and the CNN news was completely different to the BBC report. So I thought, ok, we’re getting filtered news…in fact filtered everything. For me, I think the credits are rolling, we’re waiting for this last final scene. For me personally, I’ve got my education, I’m about to go back to school and then I’m getting out of here. I mean if you are not educating the kids, which you can’t blame Obama for, I mean you can’t even blame Bush for that…so if you are not educating them, then there’s no future or no hope for the future. All it means is we are not going to be able to compete as a nation worldwide. We are making a lot of people angry and resentful of everywhere else and now they’ve got a coloured scapegoat to blame it on even though a lot of this stuff was set in motion way back. He’s got a tough job with the owness of being a black guy on top of that. Although, he’s still a politician and I don’t think he’s that much different…I mean Clintons environmental policy wasn’t that much different to Bush’s…he didn’t clear up the air or anything…maybe we didn’t go to war with him, but environmentally he was one of the worst presidents. We need to be investing as a nation into Science and Education. I don’t see us being at the forefront of a lot of things we use on a regular basis. We’re a whole nation of consumers and customer service people rather than creators or manufacturers. There is still a whole lot of opportunity here so you’d have to be crazy to give up just yet. But on the same subject I’m still a bourgeois guy…so I can see why a lot of people are frustrated of all ages and races and backgrounds. Especially those with limited education and access to resources…
Finally I thought with you guys haling from Oakland I thought it might be interesting to ask your thoughts on undoubtedly one northern California’s finest ever exports – Tupac Shakur – what do you think he’d be doing now if he was still alive?
Maybe a political organiser. But really honestly I don’t think he’d be alive. If you look at all the guys who were viewed as a threat to the social fabric of this country they are all dead. I mean MLK was none violent. Malcolm X dead. Huey Newton dead. Bobby Hutton dead. Everyone who doesn’t assimilate and basically become a Republican, or doesn’t go crazy or isn’t in jail for the rest of their lives is dead. So I think Pac would have become a leader and they would have figured another way to kill him. Even Ghandi is dead…I mean its Ghandi…he wasn’t trying to fight anybody. Even JFK…we can go on and on…none of these guys are alive…so I don’t think Pac would have lived that much longer because he would have gotten more and more radical ‘cause there’s a lot of injustice out here. It’s not really the way they portray it to be out here…we got cops killing unarmed children out here. Anybody who has a voice which is not pro-system…they end up dead.