Souls of Mischief: Classically Trained

Collectively nudged by the inherent diversity and surge of thought which permeates the Bay, the Souls Of Mischief will always reverberate their love for Hip-Hop. This message is also heard, when they’re collaborating amongst the larger collective, Hieroglyphics. Each of the Souls’ members (Opio, Phesto, A-Plus and Tajai) are accomplished MCs; yet, it’s their genuine […]

Collectively nudged by the

inherent diversity and surge of thought which permeates the Bay, the

Souls Of Mischief will always reverberate their love for Hip-Hop. This

message is also heard, when they’re collaborating amongst the larger

collective, Hieroglyphics. Each of the Souls’ members (Opio, Phesto,

A-Plus and Tajai) are accomplished MCs; yet, it’s their genuine friendships

which supersedes the music, that has helped the group to remain intact

throughout the years. Defying any regional boundaries, their depth of

lyricism is their passport to worldwide acclaim; the globe stamps its

approval. Formed in the early ‘90’s, the SOM have built a solid

foundation that can withstand today’s Hip-Hop aftershocks. “Life

is ever changing and the art of survival within Hip-Hop comes from lyrically

evolving; we bring that to our art,” contends Opio. Souls

Of Mischief: Montezuma’s Revenge is one of the many things that

Tajai and Opio discuss in this exclusive interview.

The Bay boasts an array of MCs. There’s everyone from E-40, to San

Quinn, to Ras Ceylon, to The Frontline; where do Souls Of Mischief figure

into today’s Bay scene and the overall portrait of Hip-Hop? 

Tajai: We have the same

place that we’ve always had. As far as the Bay area, [it’s] between

us and Too Short [who] exposed

the Bay area to more people than any other group out there. That’s

not to get into a pissing contest or a chest-beating contest with anybody;

but, we brought the Bay area to the entire planet. When we [first] came

out, a lot of times cats were not checking for what came out of the

Bay…SOM, we brought Bay area real Rap to the entire world and we still

do. There’s nobody in the Bay who can tour like us…We really blazed

a path as the Hieroglyphics. We wouldn’t even be an underground tour

circuit of 100 to 200 shows every year that you can spot and you can

rock at all over the world.  

So, I don’t want to concentrate

it as a Bay thang; because, we’re universal artists. You can ask anybody

including MCs from Cali on the West coast, or whoever you ask who has

real lyrics, SOM or Hieroglyphics will show up in their top rappers.

It’s not just all, ‘They’re good to be out of the Bay; or, they’re

lyrical to be from the Bay. They ain’t rapping about the Bay.’ We’ve

never been pigeon-holed as Bay-area-rappers; because, we have a universal

sound. We grew up on everything from Too Short to Rakim…

Success sometimes leads to complacency; what circumstances led to the

creation of SOM: Montezuma’s Revenge?  


SOM, we’ve been together [for so long and] we tour so much that I

don’t even think that we realized that we were on a recording hiatus

until we made this record. The opportunity to come back like that with

Prince Paul to us that was like something that was worth picking up

the pen. The people that support us expect a lot from SOM and Hieroglyphics;

we had to come up with something. We were like, ‘this has to be the

dopest s### ever; it can be wack or subpar!’ Prince Paul is great;

he’s such a cornerstone of what we try to do in terms of being creative,

being different, and being avant-garde. 

Prince Paul, he laid the foundation

for us to explore those concepts, you know, he is the grand master.

He is the teacher. To sit there and work with him on equal footing is

an honor. It was a challenge; but, SOM, we endure those particular types

of situations. We enjoy those types of situations; because, we [exceed]

the challenge. It really gets our creative juices flowing. It’s enjoyable,

as far as, us being together, and working on a record with a guy that

we’ve mutually admired and have studied for so many years. I mean,

he [Prince Paul] has contributed to so many great albums. The key to

motivation and the key to staying active is to be creative like that.

The activity right there was crazy. We were excited about it! I ain’t

really felt that kind of excitement going into a record in a long time.

Bet, so it was rejuvenating; that’s beautiful. What’s the secret

to creating a track which boasts resonating lyricism and hypnotic production? 


Man, I think it starts with the beat, you know. The beat of it will

bring it out of you. You might have a concept for a song; but, you’re

not just going to write a whole song without hearing the beat that you’re

going to rock it to… It’s really finding a balance between fighting

a track and rolling with the track. A lot of people go hard on the South,

they dis’ the South; but, the cats in the South ride tracks better

than all rappers right now. They can out balance them and that starts

with the beat. A lot of dudes who consider themselves lyrical get into

a war with the track rather than riding it. They end up crashing. You

can’t fight the beat; because, the beat is what is driving it. But,

you also want to be able to show your skills. It’s kinda like surfing.

Have you ever seen a surfer wiping out; because, of the wrong technique

on the wave? You’re a surfer on the wave and the wave is the track.

If you hit it wrong you’re going to wipe out. That’s kinda like

the needed balance between those two. You want to use the track as a

background for you to display your skills without attacking the track

and wiping out.

Is SOM: Montezuma’s Revenge time capsule material? 


Really, I think the album is a time capsule. How can I explain it—everything

is disposable right now. We got little kids who were raised up on Red

Bull and hot chips and liquor store food.  They’re throwing processed

cheese on top of the hot chips and throwing some beef jerky in it and

they’re acting like that’s a full complete meal; that’s the same

with this Rap. I think our record, in general, is a time capsule. We’re

still young. There are people who are out there from Outkast to Pharrell

to Kanye—them dudes are our age or older. They’re from an era and

we’re from an era where Hip-Hop had vegetables and complete protein.

It had really good stuff to help you grow as a person and to help your

brain grow. We got all these kids that are in school who can’t pay

attention; because, they’re eating garbage every single morning and

that is the exact same thing it is— I don’t want to blame Hip-Hop

like Hip-Hop is wack. There are a lot of young dudes who grow up on

that good stuff. And we are that same thing.  

Our album is a time capsule.

I didn’t mean to hijack the question like that; but, I mean—Honestly,

you got a group of dudes who’s still young, who’s still rocking

shows everywhere, who’s still in the mix and still in the scene [because]

we grew up on good nutritious real Rap, like KRS [One], Rakim, [Big

Daddy] Kane, Scarface, you know, Cube—and [we] are able to spar. We

can still hop into the ring with all these youngsters who put out one

record and sold a billion Ringtones and think they’re the greatest

rapper alive. So, I think our record is a time capsule. If you listen

to that record you’re gonna be like ‘Oh, this is True School.’

It ain’t Old School, that I think why it’s doing so well. For the

young ones they’re like, ‘Oh, this is dope; this is different.’

The Old School dudes are like, ‘This is dope! It’s different from

what’s out now; but, I understand the vein that it’s coming from.’

So, this is true school? 

Tajai: True school,

it ain’t old school; it’s just classical. We’re sort of the last

classically trained Rap artists out there, you know what I’m saying?

It’s like, the way a musician looks at music—Like all these dudes

do is pick up a synthesizer and auto-tune and all of a sudden they’re

an R&B Lothario.  Though you can’t deny it, you can’t take

away from the music; there’s a lot of good music coming out by guys

who makes beats on computers and makes beats in beat machines. That’s

the same thing with guys who grew up and didn’t listen to Earth, Wind

& Fire, who didn’t listen to Stevie Wonder or Curtis Mayfield;

but, they are still phenomenal rappers. We grew up in a world where

Hip-Hop wasn’t even the main music; we had a Earth, Wind, & Fire,

and Kool & The Gang, and Curtis Mayfield and Prince and Tower of

Power.  We had all the Rock stuff and we had real rappers who were

really spitting knowledge and lyricism. That’s our classical training

in this field. I’m not going to blast Hip-Hop; because, it’s all

across the board. 

… We were lucky enough to

be born in the year where we’re old enough to understand the depth

of what the older dudes was kicking; but, we’re young enough to be

different from them and not want to do what they did. That’s kinda,

you know, what makes us this true school thing. There’s young rappers

and old rappers that are still doing it all over the world, man. Most

of the good stuff ain’t even getting exposure. But, when we go to

these different countries and go to different parts of the nation and

listen to the openers and stuff, it’s a lot of raw rappers. Hip-Hop

is alive and well, it’s just that what’s on the radio is mainly

like elevator Rap and copies of copies of copies of copies of copies,

you know. [erupts

with laughter] HA! Elevator rap, I love it! I wanted to touch on the

age disparity within Hip-Hop. Some of our MCs are maturing in age and

some of our MCs are straight out the womb. Is there a mutual respect

between these groups?  

Opio: Historically,

with anything you look at there’s always a battle between old and

new. There’s a new way of thinking verses the old way of thinking.

I think that that dialogue that happens between the two groups is healthy

for change in music. So, you need critiques, you need to have records

that kinda set people straight. And also, you have to have a revolutionary

spirit where you’re willing to do different things that you may have

felt that before you wasn’t capable of. You’re just a newer, better,

more improved generation; because, you’re building off the foundation

that they laid. It’s always healthy to have that dialogue between

old and new. I think that inevitably that the new is going to overwhelm

the old. To all my favorite young rappers coming up, if you don’t

listen to these older generals who’ve been through the war; you’ll

moan a lot. They can tell you the ins and outs of what’s going on,

you know what I’m saying? 

I always look beyond just Hip-Hop;

but, just black music in general. We have to study the history of black

music and you’ll have a lot more respect for the OG rappers. The competitive

nature of Hip-Hop lends itself to like, ‘I’m going to destroy this

guy’s career; or, I’m going to demolish this cat.’ You know, which

is cool; because, it keeps people on their toes. But, if you’re studying

black music, you know, you can’t destroy the blues, you can’t destroy

Chuck Berry, you can’t kill that with Rap. We’re an extension of

their energy. It’s been an issue for if you are a young lion that’s

gonna go hard. But, you have to understand that these other young lions

came before you. So, the power of black music and the history of black

music—I think Hip-Hop needs to start analyzing the history of black

music, more so than only just Rap. If we give respect to all these other

cats, Muddy Waters—if we’re taught more about that then we would

see our place in music. We would see how Melle Mel fits into that and

how Run-DMC fits into it that legacy. Hopefully, Hieroglyphics fits

into that legacy as well.

I want to thank you guys for sharing your time with me, is there anything

else for the public? 


We just want to thank everyone out there that’s been down with Souls

of Mischief

for all these years. People

really don’t see us coming out on every mainstream outlet; yet, still

somehow we just managed being relevant after all these years. That’s

just because the people that have supported us actually stood tall and

rode for us. It really can’t be just us in order for us to be successful.

So, everybody out there who’s supported us, I just want to say thank

you. Definitely, go cop that Montezuma’s Revenge. SOM and Prince

Paul coming together, that’s historic right there. If you love true

school Hip-Hop, that’s the perfect example right there. Be on the

lookout for the new solo projects that we got…