Looking To The Past, Shaping The Future: Souls of Mischief's forward-directed anniversary show at World Cafe Live - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
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In the fall of 1993, the rap music industry was in the midst of a creative and industrial growth spurt. Although hip-hop culture had long since reached all four corners of the globe, two cities — New York and Los Angeles — stood as the genre’s two primary centers of influence. A little under a year earlier, Dr. Dre’s watershed debut The Chronic was released to universal acclaim, signaling gangsta rap’s ascendance and the arrival of the west coast as a cultural and commercial rival to New York’s long reign of dominance in hip-hop. The west coast’s emergence not only provided a contrast to hardcore east coast groups like Wu-Tang Clan, Onyx, Black Moon, and Lords of The Underground, but it also opened up rap music’s cultural and philosophical possibilities. For the first time in rap’s history, it seemed as though Rakim’s famous dictum “It ain’t where ya’ from, it’s where ya’ at” would be taken seriously, and a set of new perspectives and styles would be allowed to flourish, regardless of the area code of the artists expressing them.

It was amongst this cultural landscape that East Oakland rap crew Souls of Mischief released their debut album, 93 til’ Infinity. As the core group of Oakland’s prodigiously talented Hieroglyphics crew, the quartet of Phesto D, A-Plus, Tajai, and Opio tempered their fierce lyrical virtuosity with catchy, relatable songs about life on the west coast. The album gave fans a look into the young group’s lifestyle of chilling, chasing girls, and joy of rhyming with your homeboys. Even though 93 til’ Infinity is packed with gems like the whiplashing wordplay of “Limitations” and the vivid hood parable “Live and Let Live,” the album’s crown jewel was its title track: “93 til Infinity.” The song was a hit when it came out, but its shelf life over the last 30 years has been remarkable. “93 til Infinity” still pops up on “Best of the 90s” lists and the song was even utilized as a bit of early 90s nostalgia in Randall Park and Ali Wong’s sweet 2019 rom-com Always Be My Maybe. Like many young acts signed to major labels at the time, Souls Of Mischief’s 1995 follow-up project No Man’s Land failed to match the success of 93 til Infinity and Souls — along with the entire Heiro crew — found themselves exiled from the major label system.

Souls of Mischief - 93 Til Infinity

Where most groups in this situation have faded into obscurity, Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics turned to the dedicated fanbase of skater kids, backpackers, and hip-hop aficionados that they had built during their time with the majors. One such fan was an 18-year old web developer and musician from Philly named Yameen Friedberg (aka StinkE) who had launched a site called tHa thReshHold in the summer of 1995. In addition to its coverage of graffiti art, skateboarding and video games, tHa thReshHold also included a page dedicated to StinkE’s favorite rap group, Hieroglyphics. In the nascent days of the internet, pages like tHa thReshHold were the only places where internet-savvy hip-hop fans could find online info about their favorite rap acts. That September, Tajai contacted StinkE with the offer that they work together to transform his fansite into Hiero’s official site. The Hiero site was one of the first big hip-hop hubs on the internet and it was through this site (now christened Hieroglyphics.com) that Souls of Mischief and Hiero built a lasting relationship with their fan base that has sustained the group to this day. On Tuesday night, Souls of Mischief came to World Cafe Live on the latest stop of a 93-date worldwide tour in celebration of the 30th anniversary of 93 til’ Infinity.

Grand Mantis | photo by Melissa Simpson for WXPN

Grand Mantis, the foursome of MCs Yikes the Zero and Osevere with DJ Skipmode and guitarist, Thaddeus Cole-Pepper got things going with a full set of rich, atmospheric beats and dexterous wordplay. Grand Mantis’ entire set was heady but there were definite standouts like “9 Planets” a heavy, apocalyptic tune where Skipmode deftly cuts up a slick Redman vocal sample.

Following a shortset by Raw Wattage, a fiery beat set by The Architect and a DJ set by crate digging legend, Breakbeat Lour Flores, Souls of Mischief took the stage and launched into a set where each 30 year old tune sounded fresh and energetic. The group’s stage presence and coordination is still as sharp as when I first saw them here at Club Space back in the late 90s. It was a joy to see these four childhood friends who developed a brotherhood centered around their supreme technical skill come together and do it all again live and direct.

Souls of Mischief | photo by Melissa Simpson for WXPN

For Tuesday’s set the group ripped through fan favorites like “Limitations” and hit us with rare cuts like the long unreleased cut “Cab Fare” and the early 90s demo cut “Step to my Girl.” When smooth opening electric piano chords that A-Plus sampled for “93 til’ Infinity” hit, the crowd went crazy. An established classic in rap music vast and ever-growing canon, the song cut through our  disparate ages and backgrounds. Like any classic song, “93 til Inifnity” creates a feeling of familiarity and shared experience whenever its played, and with 30 years under their belt, Souls of Mischief are still expanding rap’s possibilities.

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