With a new record and a whole new generation of fans, Oakland's Souls of Mischief take it back to the old school
When Hieroglyphics threw the first Hiero Day in 2012 — prompted by a Facebook fan who wrote online that, in honor of '93 Til Infinity, he wanted to introduce as many people as possible to Hieroglyphics on 9/3, Sept. 3 — something shifted. A roster of the Bay Area's hip-hop stars came out and played a free show in the streets that weekend, and roughly 10,000 people showed up. In 2013, it grew bigger, gaining sponsors, with Mayor Jean Quan naming it an official city holiday and referring to Hieroglyphics as a "bright spot" for Oakland.
This was a big change in tone from a city that hadn't formally done much to support hip-hop for 20 years.
But Souls of Mischief aren't looking for a medal. They're looking at fundraising models like Farm Aid. They want to be able to give away houses after Hiero Day. They talk all the time, they say, about buying a farm and building a commercial kitchen where Oakland kids can learn about agriculture and cooking, learn farm-to-table techniques.
"As far as hip-hop moving forward, my thing is that hip-hop used to give us what we needed intellectually. And if we can't feed people with it that way anymore, let's feed them physically," says Tajai. "You throw a weekend festival with 200,000 people, it should be an imperative to then go 'Where is this money going?' or 'We're gonna create this farm or this school.'
"That's the whole point of Hiero Day," he continues. "Use music to bring people together, bring people to local businesses, and then pool our resources and invest in the community so there's lasting effects beyond just a party."
"That's one of the most powerful tools for young people," says Opio. "It's 'OK, we're partying, this is fun,' and then you realize you can come together and do more than just party. You've seen the effects of that in the '60s. That leads to revolutions."
There are 15-year-olds becoming adults knowing only this version of Souls of Mischief. There's a whole subset of fans who were born in '93, in particular, who take Souls of Mischief lyrics straight to the chest. What will "old school" mean to their kids? Think for a second on the difference between infinity and there is only now.
"We're talking about how to turn hip-hop into a generator of what it used to generate for us," says Tajai. "I mean, we're here today because of rap music. Not dead, not strung out, because of rap music. As much as because of our parents, our homies, whatever. So we gotta give something back."
"Oh, right, and buy the record," he adds. A half-hearted laugh. "We are the worst fucking promoters."
Souls of Mischief play Hiero Day (alongside Zion I and some 28 other artists) Monday, Sept. 1 at the Linden Street Brewery Stage, 95 Linden, Oakl. More info: www.hieroday.com