It’s been 20 years since Tajai introduced his counterparts Phesto, A Plus, and Opio (aka The Souls Of Mischief) one by one over the intro to “From 93 Till Infinity.” Obviously, a lot of has changed since the days when Opio had dreads and Phesto was sporting that crisp Athletics’ Starter jersey. But one thing that has remained steadfast is the camaraderie and brotherly love within the Souls camp and, on a larger scale, the umbrella they’re under, The Hieroglyphics.
Despite being together longer than a lot of groups that have had recent Twitter spats and a never-ending cycle of break-ups to make-ups, Souls of Mischief are as close as ever in their everyday lives and still recording and touring as a group. No small feat considering we may never hear a new OutKast record ever again, Wu Tang Clan always seems to be on the verge of splitting up for good and let’s not even delve into the on-again-off-again Mobb Deep drama.
As the quartet awaits the premiere of their video helmed by Ghostface collaborator Adrian Younge (who is also the mastermind behind their upcoming release There Is Only Now) set to drop on the anniversary of their debut album, Souls sacrificed some of their downtime to chop it up about the importance of continuity, Old New York memories and why they could never really be mad at their old label, Jive. As promised they’re basically still chilling till infinity.
Oh man. The gang’s all here! It’s the 20th Anniversary of 93 Till Infinity. How are you guys looking to revisit that classic project?
Tajai: For the tour we’re rocking the whole record plus some obscure joints and some new joints. And then we also have a documentary about the making of the record and just us leading up to that album. Really we’re just trying to connect the younger generation with the older one. When we do these shows cats are bringing their kids and their kids are grown so it’s just new stuff for them to experience together.
Phesto: It’s not like this is a reunion or resurgence or a comeback or anything like that. It’s something where our loyal fans have been watching us every year grow and grow and grow. So we wanted to give the gift of 93 Till Infinity but at the same time keep it fresh and keep it connected to what’s new.
So where does Adrian Younge come into play?
A Plus: We wanted to do something poignant for the 20th anniversary. And what better person, really? We’re fans of his music; he’s a fan of ours. The chemistry was good and we had been planning on doing something special together for a while now. That’s how he came into the fold.
Phesto: Plus for our last album [Montezuma’s Revenge] that was our first time working with an outside producer. For that album pretty much we worked entirely with DJ Prince Paul. I think we all felt like that was a good look. So when A Plus talked to Adrian and came with that whole idea I think we were all like “Oh yeah. Last time it worked out well.” And Adrian is just doing a whole other thing with the live instrumentation so we were excited for something new like that.
I remember way back early on you guys were one of the first to have a website popping and using that to keep in contact with your fans. Do you guys feel like pioneers within that realm?
A Plus: Absolutely. Logistically alone we were the first music act to have a website. In hindsight that was some big shit. And at the time it just felt like a natural progression. It wasn’t like “Oh let’s do this because in the future…” Nah it just came together. Us and Naughty By Nature were the only guys to have anything on the Internet.
Wow. Can’t even imagine that nowadays.
Opio: Yeah, it’s hard to picture it, but that’s how it got started. Just wanting to keep the fans informed of what we were up to and how to obtain our merchandise and when we were going to be performing in their city. It was direct contact with them without the label or radio or anybody else.
So hailing from East Oakland how do you feel Oakland’s changed in 20 years? Brooklyn has changed drastically. Does Oakland still feel like Oakland?
Tajai: Oakland is like Brooklyn and Manhattan is like San Francisco. So I ask you: Brooklyn’s changed but is it not Brooklyn anymore though? You can still get it right? You can still catch it. That’s how Oakland is. It’s different, but it’s the same.
A Plus: Shit we were just walking down Marcus Garvey Blvd. earlier. You can tell you’re still in the hood.
Opio: New York has changed a lot though. We’ve been coming to New York since the early 1990s. We used to be drinking 40s and smoking weed all on the train.
Phesto: Yeah we spent the whole summer of I think 1994 in New York so we definitely feel and see the changes New York has undergone. Because in 1994 the face [of NYC] was just different. I remember that Mad Lion song “Take It Easy” was everywhere that summer in 1994 and people were in Phat Farm.
Oh man, that’s too funny. That was a dope summer actually. That was the Illmatic summer. Man it’s kind of dawning on me how far back your consistency dates.
Opio: We’ve always been able to stay together, that’s why. Because we’ve been together and down for each other we’ve developed a certain chemistry that you can’t get unless you’re together all the time. It’s no beef at all. We not like just here to do interview and get show money. We really fuck with each other. We’ve grown individually but also collectively as a group and as just people.
Phesto: I think that’s everything. None of us have been stagnant in our lives or our art. We’re always moving forward so any hurdle we’ve been faced with we’ve always been able to overcome somehow because of the momentum. Sometimes you take it for granted, but we’ve been blessed to have a team where every one brings something to the table and provides stability for the other members. Strength in numbers.
I really appreciate that aspect because some of my favorite groups have gone public with some of their inner strife, aring each other out on Twitter and that’s just a duo. You’ve got several personalities in the mix and you still manage to keep it civil. It’s really refreshing to see you guys still down for the cause.
A Plus: Yeah we still argue because we’re family, but we never put our business out there because that makes us all look bad.
Word. So tell me about the Hieroglyphics logo. How’d that come about?
A Plus: Oh that was Del. He came up with that before we even came out. And it had a lot of meanings on different levels…
Phesto: The Souls Of Mischief logo was pretty dope too.
A Plus: He’s just saying that because he designed the Souls’ logo.
Ha! Tell me about that, Phesto.
Phesto: Man that was just doodling in class. Writing the name over and over on my notebook in school. Then the record company took and cleaned it up some.
That was Jive, right? How was your relationship with them?
Tajai: Jive was cool. They were very professional. They were always about their business. So when they went from Too $hort, KRS One, Keith Murray and Tribe Called Quest to Britney Spears and The Back Street Boys their outlook on business changed, but it was still business. And we happened to be there during that whole change.
A Plus: So they wanted us to be a boy band. They were trying to hook us up with producers who did “Boom Shake The Room” for Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.
Tajai: But none of it was mean spirited. They were just trying to make their money. So we parted ways. They didn’t try to keep us or ruin our careers by not letting us go like you see a lot of these rap dudes do to other rappers. It was an amicable split. And, in their defense, they were very forward thinking for a while. I mean look who they had on the roster: KRS One, Tribe…
They even signed UGK.
Tajai: Exactly. They understood that there was rap outside New York and that it should be promoted on a high level. And they never tried to ruin ouR careers over a difference of opinion.
Opio: The fact of the matter is we’re here having this conversation because Jive invested money and manpower and created an audience for us and we’re forever grateful.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 24, 2013