Oakland, California-based underground hip-hop innovators Hieroglyphics aren’t resting on their considerable legacy. The entire eight-person collective is in the thick of a short East Coast tour, following last year’s release of The Kitchen, their first full-crew album in a decade. Hieroglyphics members Souls of Mischief, Left Coast legends in their own right, also have a couple dates lined up, and a new full-length, the Adrian Younge-produced There Is Only Now, due out August 26 (pre-order via iTunes or here).
In a phone interview with Wondering Sound, Hiero’s Del the Funky Homosapien and Tajai (also from Souls of Mischief) revealed the whole group has been working again on new music, recording two tracks this week at Red Bull Studios New York. They also talked about working with new Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes for There Is Only Now, hinted at a possible reunion between Del and his Gorillaz collaborator Damon Albarn and shared mixed feelings about the aftermath in Ferguson, Missouri. Del, who self-released the solo album Iller Than Most for free download at the start of the year, also discussed his admiration for Death Grips and how he ended up on former Das Racist member Kool A.D.’s late-2013 Not O.K. album.
Del, Tajai told me you’ve got two new Hieroglyphics songs done. What can you say about them?
Del: They’re sounding good. One was about celebration. The other one was more of a darker song. Really we’re just starting to do stuff.
How did “CNN,” your track with Kool A.D., come about?
Del: He’s from the Bay Area. I found out about that, and I reached out to him, and he hollered back. Ladybug Mecca (Digable Planets member and fellow “CNN” guest), I’m working with her on music, so she happened to be at my house. Kool A.D. and his boys came over, and we just buddied up in my living room. Love Kool A.D., man.
Del, while I’m asking you questions, it sounds like there was a bit of a Death Grips influence on your new album, Iller Than Most. Is that fair to say?
Del: Death Grips is dope! Yeah, I guess you could say that, but I’m interested in noise in music. Ever since I heard Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, that was it for me. They were using sounds that supposedly should not be used in music. And I always thought you could use anything in music, as long as you used it in a musical way. Public Enemy did that. Ever since then, that’s what I’ve been on.
Death Grips? Yeah, I like Death Grips. I like a lot of different music that’s out now. Because now, since electronic music is big, it just opens the doors for what’s possible as far as sound. Definitely they’re one of the groups I like. There’s others, too, though. What’s the dude’s name? Rustie. I like Rustie a lot, too.
And Rustie just did some exciting stuff with Danny Brown. Would you ever want to work with him?
Del: Oh, Skywalkr, too. I’m cool with Skywlkr. But yeah, I’d like to fool with Danny Brown, because he hella reminds me of me, too.
Tajai, you have the new Souls of Mischief album coming out on Tuesday. How did the Snoop Dogg collaboration happen?
Tajai: Man, we were just chilling in the studio, and there were certain characters on that record that we wanted different voices to go to. When you listen to the album, Snoop is the perfect voice. He’s kind of like the voice of reason. It’s a street story, so we wanted an O.G.-sounding guy. He reminds me of like in The Mack, when Goldie went to go see Pimp God. It’s like Pimp God talking to you.
Was it a similar kind of thing with Busta Rhymes?
Tajai: Fortunately, being in hip-hop so long, we’ve built up mutual respect and love from our peers. When you’re trying to put a voice to a character, the whole thing is open. So we’re like, “Well, who is this guy?” And when you listen to that song, who else could have played that besides Busta? I mean, literally, like the only other person I can think of is maybe Willie D, from the Geto Boys. Or O.D.B., or something. But he played it to a T, so it was awesome.
Did you actually go in the studio with those guys?
Tajai: We went in the studio with Snoop. Busta, man, he heard the beat and sent it back in a couple of hours. We didn’t even have time to get in the studio with him. He was a beast. Snoop came and chilled with us. He’s a good dude. He’s like everybody’s uncle in rap. You know? Cookout uncle. He’s fortunate because he just gets to be himself as his character.
A lot of people in hip-hop have been talking about what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri, and I know a few years back in Oakland you had that unarmed man who was shot by BART police. Do you guys have any thoughts on the Michael Brown situation and everything happening there?
Tajai: Shit. I hope the protests brings awareness to how cheap our lives have become. And I hope it also brings self-awareness.
Del: I’m kind of embarrassed, because I know other countries are looking at this, like, “OK” — it just looks like a big circus. It’s just terrible. You would think in this day and age of the social media and how quick stuff gets around on the internet, they would have some sense. But it just escalates every day, like, “Damn, are you that stupid?”
Killer Mike is out there talking about this a lot, and Talib Kweli is in Ferguson now.
Del: Like Tajai said, though, I hope it brings more awareness to things that have happened. I think a lot of people are seeing this, and it’s good that the social media and the internet is like that. You really can’t do nothing like that and it’s not gonna be seen. Before when it happened people would just sweep it under the rug. You can’t do that shit no more.
You said in one of the interviews with the Deltron 3030 album last year, “You want a better world? Start working on it.”
Tajai: What’s frustrating is that all the money being raised is going to legal fees and shit. So the system wins either way. On both sides. They’ve got people raising money for this cop’s defense, they’ve got people raising money for the case against it. In the end it just seems like the system’s going to eat that shit up. What’s the real day-to-day change that’s going to grow out of it? That’s what I’m hoping people focus on.
Anything that brings awareness to the fact that we’ve been getting gunned down by officers of the law for a century at least, that’s good. It’s just weird that it’s skewing along racial lines. But as long as it’s a topic of conversation, that’s better than talking about ass shots. The new Nicki Minaj video and shit.
So you weren’t a fan of the new Nicki Minaj video?
Tajai: No, man, she’s got skills. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying, if we are in a musical genre and it is the topic of conversation, consciousness-raising, then that’s better than the daily in-and-out BS.
Del, you self-released Iller Than Most for free. Why?
Del: Because I like playing. It’s fun to me. I make music all the time, so what good is it doing sitting in my house?
I should probably ask, too. Do you ever hear anything about any new Gorillaz happening?
Del: I’ve been out there, you know what I’m saying? I want to try to do some stuff.
You’ve been out there?
Del: Yeah, I’ve been out with Damon Albarn. I talked to him on the bus, and he was like — the Gorillaz stuff was almost accidental, so he was like, basically, “What if we really did it on purpose, what could we come up with?” He’s a cool dude. We were on the bus chatting or whatever, behind stage, before the show. We really like each other, so he was like, “Yeah, let’s try to hook up and do some stuff.” So yeah, that’s a big possibility.
Tajai, when we were talking about the Souls of Mischief album, I think it’s interesting that you’re working with Adrian Younge, who recently produced an album by Ghostface Killah. Wu-Tang Clan is another big collective, like Hiero, that’s been around a number of years. How do you keep in touch with what brought all eight of you together in the first place?
Tajai: It’s music. That’s the common interest. We’re friends and family beyond that, so of course we have regular connection in regular life. But our shared interest is music and we’re fortunate enough to have a business based out of that.