Few groups in Hip Hop history have experienced the long-term success Souls of Mischief have. The Bay Area-based quartet attained acclaim early on a major label with their first album, 93 ‘til Infinity subsequently making waves paired with a series of self-proclaimed “blessings” they found go their way. Even after leaving Jive Records in 1995 the group’s following was still loyal, making their trek through the hallows of indie life easier and possibly more lucrative
And while Souls may have caught a few breaks, those breaks didn’t catch themselves. Their long-term success was laid on a foundation of friendship, something they claim is at the forefront of why they’ve been able to do the same thing they’ve been doing for over 22 years.
“Our friendship is where it all started,” Phesto said when asked about the group’s longevity. “That’s really the driving force behind our longevity, that’s what keeps us motivated, that’s what keeps us on that path.”
Twenty one years after the release of 93 ‘til Infinity, Souls of Mischief have reconvened to celebrate in the form of an album. Linking up with producer/composer Adrian Younge, the group consisting of A-Plus, Tajai, Phesto and Opio released their sixth studio album as Souls of Mischief dropping There Is Only Now on August 26. Extensive touring, solo releases and work with their umbrella affiliation, Hieroglyphics, Souls haven’t been able to release a strictly group effort in almost five years. And while it’s been a minute, getting back into the studio together is nothing that takes warming up to do.
How Lee Bannon & Twitter Factored Into “There Is Only Now”
HipHopDX: There Is Only Now is what Souls has been working on for a while. What can fans expect on this one as far as sound goes?
A-Plus: Well it’s produced by musician, producer, and composer Adrian Younge and what comes with that is everything is instrumentation. He plays all the instruments and composes all the music. I don’t want to say it’s a deviation, ‘cause it’s definitely going to be a Hip Hop album. But just the way it was made was different from anything has ever heard from us before, and anybody who’s familiar with him knows he has a very rich texture of production style. Basically it’s like a Hip Hop sampler’s dream. He makes what we all want to sample as producers, and that’s basically what we ended up rapping over. So it’s a new look for Souls, and we’re really proud of it. It sounds really good, and we’re getting really good feedback and encouraging words.
Phesto: We’re fans of Adrian Younge, and that’s really what I want to stress first. To be able to work with someone who we would listen to from afar and then you hear his work and go, “Wow, what is this guy doing?” And then you get to jump into it, and it’s a mutual respect thing going on. He was a fan of us.’93 ‘til Infinity and all the Souls records we’re some of his favorite records growing up, and so just the mutual respect factor was there from the very beginning, and that’s kind of how it came to fruition. With his style of production, nobody’s doing what he does. He sets himself apart from not just Hip Hop producers but producers of all music. He does everything from analog to two-inch reel, and he’s using all the mechanisms that we’re used to make our favorite records.
[We’re] avid fans of Soul, Jazz, Jazz-fusion, Rock, Reggae and we’re record diggers. He’s a person who studies the craft like we do, and he’s bringing something that nobody else is bringing. It was a no-brainer for us to want to work with him.
DX: Right, I know the mutual respect was something that made you want to work together on a project but how did you actually come together with Adrian Younge to do this one?
A-Plus: Well how it came together is kind of an interesting story. Souls of Mischief was coming up on our 20-year anniversary at the time, and we were anticipating it a little bit ahead of time, maybe like a year-and-a-half before it was time and we were figuring out what we were going to do so we ended up hooking up with my boy who we know through Del [Tha Funkee Homosapien]. He’s like a Hip Hop dude who we know from around the way…an amazing Hip Hop producer named Lee Bannon.
DX: Yeah, I’m definitely hip to him.
A-Plus: Yeah he’s crazy fucking talented. We ended up working with him for what became our 20-year anniversary, or how we celebrated our 20 years, and while we were recording we took a break. He ended up going on some crazy tour, and in the midst of that tour, he ended up moving to New York. He was like, “I still want to do the album, but I’ve relocated to New York.”
We still had our songs and stuff, but we were at a standstill about what we were going to do. Flash back a few years before that, and I just happened to be on Twitter. There was a Twitter feed that was talking about people who were wanting to work with Souls of Mischief via production. I followed it, and I seen Adrian Younge pop up. He was like, “I would fucking love to work with Souls.” This was a year-and-a-half before we ended up making anything. I saw that, and I was like, “Shoot dude, you would want to work with us? We want to work with you!” He was like, “Cool, lets make it happen,” and then we just fizzled out and never talked about it again.
So fast-forward again, in the midst of that Lee Bannon thing that didn’t end up getting completed, and I was like “Dude, I’m going to reach back out to Adrian and see if he’s still down to work with us ‘cause he said he was.” He was like, “Fuck yeah!” We met him a few weeks later, and next thing we know we flew out, and the rest is history. We really just started working. It was crazy how it happened, but it was just lightning in a bottle. We really didn’t know what we were going to do something for the anniversary, and it turned into something so much more. We couldn’t be more overjoyed. We really developed a real bond, and it’s really been special.
Phesto: It’s crazy ‘cause I remember when A-Plus first reached out to let the rest of the Souls know, and he was like, “Man, Adrian Younge wants to work with us.” To be honest with you, I had heard of him, and I had heard of the Black Dynamite soundtrack, but I wasn’t really up on him. It’s like how you would hear of Hiero, but you’re not really listening to us, but you know that we’re respected. So I was like, “Man, let me check him out.” Shortly after that, he had a show, and it was in the Bay Area on New Years Eve. We went to check his show out, and I was just like… I mean it’s one thing to hear it on record, but to see the band actually doing its thing is a whole different experience. So all of those things were like, “Wow, this is going to be something that we’ve never done. We’ve got to do this.”
A-Plus & Phesto Explain The Nine-Year Gap Between Albums
DX: Yeah. This will be your first album release in five years, since Montezuma’s Revenge. You had gone nine years previous to that without releasing a group studio album. Was it like getting into the studio together again as Souls of Mischief?
A-Plus: From a Souls of Mischief member point of view, it’s really trippy when I hear the numbers, ‘cause we work a lot and do stuff together more than putting out those albums. We tour literally non-stop, and we work on stuff like individual projects. We’re half of Hieroglyphics, so we’re always working on that stuff. Coming together to do a Souls album is the most familiar thing out of the process for me. It’s not even like, “Ah we got to do this.” It’s really just like, “This is what we do,” and it’s easy going. I guess it really has been that long, but we make music on an organic nature more than the regular record company schedule. That whole, “Everybody will forget about you if you don’t make an album every year” thing doesn’t really apply to us because we have a weird/cult following. It’s like, “Dude, whenever you put it out, I got you.”
We’ve been able to exist outside of those kinds of pressures. We’ve never oversaturated our fans with stuff because we really take the time to feel what we’re doing and we’re like artists, man. Getting together to do this album—granted it was a different kind of process than what we’re used to since we kept flying down to Adrian’s studio whenever we got a chance—but other than that, we just make music. We just get in a room together, start talking, and we just make shit happen.
It was really exciting because we were working out of Adrian’s studio, and we had motherfuckers like Snoop Dogg and William Hart from the Delfonics dropping through. I was geeked out ‘cause I’m a fan, and it was easygoing. It was just another day at the office.
Phesto: We’ve always made it a point as a collective to tour for our solo projects as well as a group. Sometimes members of a group will put out a solo project, and they just go out on their own. If you add those tours, each one of our solo tours along with the Hiero stuff, it keeps us really busy, and then of course recording.
When you said the numbers I was like, “Wow, nine years?” It’s not really like nine years of us just sleeping on the couch. I think in order to scratch your artistic itch, you have to do things outside of the normal paradigm and that comfort zone for us is Souls of Mischief. So it’s comfy to come back to it, but it’s also just as good to get away from it and kind of get a breath of fresh air, and then we always come back to the mothership.
DX: A-Plus, you mentioned Snoop Dogg. Actually what was even doper than the Snoop feature was Ali Shaheed Muhammad acting as deejay. Talk about the song, video and how you were putting it together.
A-Plus: How it came together was just amazing. We had the song, and we knew we had the character and the story of the album. We definitely wanted a West Coast, edgier-type person to play that part. How Snoop got into it was really a connection through Adrian Younge, and of course we’ve known Snoop over the years. We’re huge fans of his, and he’s a big Souls of Mischief fan, and we’ve got a lot of love for each other off the rip. It was just amazing he fit right in. He just came in, One-take Jake’d that shit and he’s a real powerful dude.
Phesto: Initially we were throwing ideas around about if we had different artists in the story, and I’m trying to think how do we as a group. How do we bring these characters to life that are involved in the storyline? And then we thought, “Wouldn’t it be dope to get certain guys to play certain parts or certain characters of the story,” and Snoop was one of the names that came up. [He came up] not necessarily as a character, but someone who would be involved in kind of telling the story from an outside perspective. We didn’t think it would happen. We just mentioned it, and it actually happened. That was just incredible for us, because we’re fans of him and have been for years.
As far as the video, it’s a period piece, and it’s supposed to be based at right after 93 ‘til Infinity with all these events occurring, so talking about ’94, ’95 around that time. We wanted to bring that to light in the video. We were in New York and filmed part of it there. We filmed part of it in L.A. We just wanted to capture that era with the clothing; we were rocking the Polo gear. The concept was already written by the song. The treatment just followed the storylines of the song. Adrian comes from the L.A. dance scene, so he wanted to capture some of that. We wanted to capture the b-boy essence and rocking the old Polo gear. The B-roll that you see in the video is telling that story, and it’s a piece of the larger story.
DX: Opio once said the key for you guys staying together for so long was because you were friends first before the music. Do you still feel that family connection and does that still hold true even after all these years?
Phesto: Absolutely, there’s no question about that. A-Plus and Tajai, you’ve known each other since what? Kindergarten? And that pretty much goes for everybody in Hiero. I came along a little later, but when I came along it wasn’t like I was joining a Rap crew. I came along as a friend, and then we figured out that we had this mutual interest in Hip Hop. Our friendship is where it all started. It’s more like a family now. These are literally like my brothers that I’m fortunately able to take this journey with. You can’t say enough about doing business with friends, but ultimately our friendship is what is our protective garment in this industry.
This industry is so fickle, and people are here one minute and gone the next. But when you have friends, people who you can trust by your side and people you love and care for, it makes a lot of those hurdles and obstacles a lot easier to take on. That’s really the driving force behind our longevity. That’s what keeps us motivated, and that’s what keeps us on that path. We don’t want to stop. It was kind of a self-prophecy about Souls of Mischief, and we really didn’t look at it like that at the time. It just sounded cool, but after the years had gone by we realized that we might have been on to something.
How Extreme Sports & The Tech Bubble Helped Souls Of Mischief
DX: Souls has always been a pillar for independent success. Can you talk about wanting to take it indie for what has been most of your career as Souls of Mischief?
A-Plus: For us, we’ve been very fortunate in the fact that for whatever reason… We’re real spiritual when it comes to our love of music. We do this from the heart, and we do this organically. That’s been our only motivation as artists these past years. First off, we were very fortunate to be on a major label that really put us out there to a large audience but even more fortunate to be able to… A lot of times people lose record deals because they weren’t successful, and that wasn’t the case with us.
Hip Hop was shaping and moving, and we happened to be in at a time when A&Rs and record companies were still taking chances on the more progressive side of creating Hip Hop and still trying to figure out where they could get money out of it and be artistic with it. Right after we came out, the big wigs found out the best way to make money out of Hip Hop is to either do it through some kind of violent music or more sex-oriented music. I’m not saying this as a hater. I’m just saying that’s what the fuck happened. I like some of that stuff too, but it’s just not what we do as artists. We were fortunate to be able to leave those situations and still have an audience in tact where we could reach out. When we ended up going independent, we reached back out to that fan base that we had created with a big record label.
With the rise of urban gladiator sports like skateboarding and snowboarding, at the time when those were just blowing up tremendously, a lot of those kids were just fans of more progressive types of Hip Hop. We were like the cool shit at the time. We ended up in skateboard videos and snowboard videos, and stuff like that has enabled us to always link with a younger audience and still maintain our OG audience. When I’m around the group, I always mention I’m so thankful for watching it happen. There’s no occurrence of this in Hip Hop history. We’ve been following Hip Hop since we first heard it in the ‘70s, and being a group like us, we just stuck to our guns, and we’re still here 20-plus years later with an underage show sold out. It’s alive for us, and we don’t have a point of reference to kind of compare it to, and we’re just really thankful to be able to be independent.
What’s trippy too was in like ’95, we were the first music group period to have a website…like period in the music business. At the time, we knew this dude who was a big-ass Hiero fan, and he was a tech dude too, and he built a website. This was when you didn’t have Internet in your home, and there was only AOL, and you only used that shit if you were a college student. It wasn’t like a regular thing. It was some oddball shit to even have an Internet connection. We’ve had a series of very fortunate things happen for us, and it’s been a fun-ass ride man.
DX: I can’t let you get out of here without talking about 93 ‘til Infinity. Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of it. Does it feel like it’s been that long?
Phesto: No [laughs]. It doesn’t not feel like 20 years at all. I guess when people think of 20 years, when people are younger you think of 20 years and you think, “20 years, it’s so long.” High school is four years, and that seems like an eternity. Just trying to imagine 20 years back then was unfathomable. As you get older, the pages fly off the calendar a little faster. To us it doesn’t seem like that, plus we’ve had a lot of fun along the way too.
DX: What were some of the best stories or best memories you had from making the album?
A-Plus: 93 ‘til Infinity that was just… I don’t know, man. We were just so go-getter about it and the process. I think we recorded it before we knew what the hell we were doing. We were just so gung ho. It would have been our dream to be in that position. We were never in there like, “We made it! Yeah!” That happened after. We were like we have a record and people like it. It was really like it was surreal, man.
My favorite memories was just so how weird it was to be so natural but brand new in that studio setting. We went in there and we went straight to work but we really didn’t take the time to really just breathe and be like, “Dude, we’re in a major recording studio recording a record.” We didn’t really blink about it. When I think about it now it’s just like wow, just a couple months before that we were like, “Man, we’re going to become rappers one day.” And then a few months later we’re in a fucking studio that costs over $100 an hour. It’s crazy that that’s the beginning of everything that we have right now as far as Souls of Mischief is concerned.
None of us really sit around and listen to that album. We perform it all the time, but just how it affects other people and how it brought people into our lives is really touching to think about from a personal standpoint. We’re doing the exact same shit we were doing 22 years ago, and it’s just fucking crazy, man. My parents are immigrants, and they worked hella hard they whole lives doing jobs they probably didn’t like so much, and I’ve spent my whole life doing the only think I like doing. I’m over the moon. Everyday is surreal. I’m humbled beyond belief.
DX: What’s next for you guys in the near future?
Phesto: We did the third annual Hiero Day this year. It’s a free event in our city. They did the proclamation last year, and it’s an actual day that’s been given to us by the city. More importantly, it’s us giving back to the city and to the fans. People from anywhere can come. If you a Hiero fan, if you a Souls of Mischief fan, if you’re a fan of Hip Hop, you can come out and enjoy free music, good food and good vibes. It’s like seven hours long. It’s a national holiday, and it’s been growing every year. The first year we did it, we had 7,000 and 8,000 people, and last year it was between 12,000 and 13,000, so we’re looking for continued growth as far as people there. I can’t say enough about Hiero Day, man. That’s probably the most amazing thing that you could arguably say we’ve done in our careers, just because it’s a whole family environment. The whole city comes out and it’s just the way a festival should be thrown from our perspective. To bring it to a place where were born and raised is just really amazing.
We’re also excited to tour off [There Is Only Now]. We have a record release party coming up at the beginning of next month so we’re definitely looking forward to that. We’ve done some spot stuff here and there but we’re looking forward to the record being out and people knowing the record and us performing it. I think I can speak for everybody in saying that we’re excited to bring this to a live platform and letting people see us in the flesh along with Adrian Younge.