The Hieroglyphics: The B-Side

    It’s often difficult to understand knowing a collective just as much for its brilliant b-sides, remixes and rare tracks, as knowing them for its actual albums. Where most Hip-Hop artists struggle to remain relevant in a music market that is constantly pushing product, The Hieroglyphics are known for pushing their own product on their […]

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    It’s often difficult to understand knowing a collective just as much for its brilliant b-sides, remixes and rare tracks, as knowing them for its actual albums. Where most Hip-Hop artists struggle to remain relevant in a music market that is constantly pushing product, The Hieroglyphics are known for pushing their own product on their own terms.        Whether it’s from music solely released online through websites such as, or albums only available at shows, Hiero has made most of its fans dig for the group’s music, searching high and low for material that is often released without much advertising.       And the eight Hieroglyphics MCs, Del the Funky Homosapien, Domino, Peplove, Casual, Tajai, A+, Phesto and Opio, have produced a staggering amount of material over the past 10 years as independents on their own label, Hiero Imperium Records.        But what’s most significant of the group is its strict attention to the scriptures of old-school Hip-Hop. Not only are each of the member’s lyrics dripping with rhyme aesthetics and the art of emceeing, but they’ve created treasure-troves of material; not just throwaway freestyles or half-assed music, but song after song that is worthy of public release.         The group’s latest release, Over Time, is a testament to just some of the material Hieroglyphics has been holding on to, waiting for the right time to be released. But for the crew, Over Time isn’t simply a compilation album that should be stocked at the end of the hip-hop section. For them, it’s an album that bares equal weight to albums such as 1998’s 3rd Eye Vision and 2003’s Full Circle.In the first of a two-part series examining Hieroglyphics and the group’s pioneering career as a collective of MCs who’re just as popular for full album releases as they are b-sides, rarities and remixes, eight group members sat down with to discuss the concept behind compilation albums, what it means to be making extra material available for fans, how Over Time came together and what the release means for the group’s future. Sometimes compilation albums can be seen as “throw-together” albums or the extra tracks people had on the “cutting room floor.” But why is it good to release compilation albums?Del the Funky Homosapien: It’s some product. You can make a profit off of it with little to no effort. It’s already created; you just got to put it out. It’s the same reason record labels put out “best of” albums, or greatest hits. It’s an easy way to compile music from the artist. Also, for historic reasons, you’ve got to look at that too. The main reason, though, is for money; I will be straight up. Peplove: It’s good because it takes people back. Take, for instance, Mos Def’s old group UTD, they put out a record of their old stuff [2004’s Manifest Destiny]. I listen to that, and I’m like, “Oh, this gives me some foundation.” So I think releasing older music gives fans some foundation. People already have the Hiero Oldies [series released in 2003], which is obviously older than Over Time. It allows people to see how deep it [the music] goes with us. What does it do for a group like Hiero to release all this extra material for fans? What do you guys get out of it?Del: You want to be prolific at what you do. Look at 2Pac; he’s still got albums coming out. He’s still got full albums coming out; music that’s still being discovered. If you’ve got a hell of a body of work, it’s impressive. We do it for fun, and for the hell of it. But we’ve got a fat body of work, so you want people to know. And for fans, it’s something to grab on to. As a fan, I wish Parliament had more albums. I have all their stuff. But I want more. How does the Hiero group decide what goes on an album like Over Time?Domino: Actually it was my whole thing. I was thinking that we were between projects. And I wanted to get out something for people to hear. A couple of the songs we had only been previously available on vinyl. Take, for example, the “Phoney Phranchise” remix I did. To me, the remix had received a better response than the original. And a lot of people dug it. But I thought it would be cool to offer up a lot of those types of songs for people. There is always going to be a point where you couldn’t get songs only on 12” on actual albums. So I thought it would be good for those people who don’t buy vinyl to get some of these songs. As the former Head of A&R of Hiero Imperium, now replaced by Tajai, what has your role been in determining what made the cut for an album and what didn’t?Domino: I just really had a lot of songs to choose from. And we’ve got enough to where we can probably put out another album. But for me, it was songs that had gotten the most accolades. But there were also a couple of tracks I felt had been overlooked. Dan the Automator’s remix of “If You Must” would obviously be something people are interested in; “Phoney Phranchise” remix as well. “Battle of the Shadow” was a track no one had ever heard. There were a couple of songs that hadn’t even been on the b-side to anything, these were songs that had been licensed to small compilations. I wanted a mixture of what people had heard and hadn’t; where we’d be able to get to the people that didn’t have everything. What does the term “b-side” mean to you?Domino: I think back to Chuck D and Public Enemy, when they had “Rebel Without a Pause” [released in 1988], which was a b-side. That was a period in Hip-Hop where the music had trouble getting radio play. And the b-side to the commercial record would be the more underground track, though, not underground in the way we think it means today. But the concept for a b-side started with Del’s first record. “Mistadobalina” [from 1991’s I Wish My Brother George was Here] was the more commercial record. And if you ask Del, the a-sides were the singles that were more from Ice Cube’s thing, which was the more Funk stuff. But Del wanted to do the more “true stuff” that he’d been doing with his crew. Cube allowed Del to do whatever Del wanted to do on the b-sides. So, Del used them for what he was doing at home without Cube’s influence. “Eye Examination” and “Burnt” were two examples of those b-sides. Del started that mentality and Hiero took it for there. We’ve really taken the b-side as not the throw-away songs, but what the real heads want to check. For Hiero, what type of song/track do you consider “b-side” material?Peplove: I’d say that vinyl is good to put a new song on the b-side as a reason for people to buy the single. Usually we would do a song to show our skills on the b-side; lyrical, hardcore beats. The b-side is rarely a soft or love song. It’s penetrating and hard hitting.Phesto: It’s hard to put a finger on it. A lot of the stuff is music that’s slightly out of the box. What that means is something that doesn’t fit the mold of the album; it doesn’t slide in anywhere. What we do, it’s still a good song, but it doesn’t have the chemistry with the other songs. I like my stuff, not so much dark, but more like drum-driven or funky, with a hard-edge feel to it. Those songs make a good b-side.