“Our drive to be successful is not like a business, it’s more like what we are trying to do creatively to affect people’s lives in a positive way.”
Known to most as a monumental piece of hip hop history, Souls of Mischief have never stopped creating and impacting the music culture of today. Still going strong after 20 years, the guys have been keeping busy recently with the production of their new record, not to mention touring. Some might ask a seemingly foolish question (hell, I did) of how four guys can keep level-headed when working together for so long. Tajai explains it plainly: “What it comes down is we were friends before we made music, so we would be friends regardless as to whether we made music or not, and I think that spirit kind of permeates all of our feelings. Even when interactions are negative and we don’t agree on things it’s not like ‘Forget it, we’re not going to be homies no more’ or ‘I can’t talk to you’ sort of thing, it’s more like, ‘OK well, I’ll try back again, we’re not going anywhere’ – ya know? The interest and love for music, camaraderie and everything – but really we’re real friends, not a group that just came together.”
That brotherhood is what has really come through the music that these guys have put out throughout the years. An environment of growth and natural progression is embedded in the makeup of their creative process. Souls Of Mischief is undoubtedly most famous for their first real release, “93 ’til Infinity,” a song that has continuously gained ground and cultivated fans over all this time, however the Oakland group did not have the initial strike of fame that they ended up with over the years. In fact, there was a time where people didn’t always show their full appreciation. “We weren’t necessarily driven by fame, that was never our main goal. What we were trying to do was gain the respect of our peers. Two of our favourite groups of all time, Tribe Called Quest & De La Soul, asked us to come on tour (it was our first tour with [debut album] 93 ’til Infinity), and that was plain validation,” explains Opio. “Being around those guys and the passion they had for the music just made us feel like all the hard work we put in through the years was validated when they told us that they liked our music. That really was our main goal of having people say, ‘Man, Souls Of Mischief is dope.’”
On the topic of hip hop and their experiences early on as artists, the guys started to get into the whole conversation of hip hop today and the naysayers who continuously talk about how ‘hip hop is dead.’ Like always, words of wisdom spill from their lips. “We grew up in an era that had no hip hop so our intake was R&B, soul, funk, rock, reggae, you know? The guys who only listen to hip hop end up limiting their world view and musical chops. Being a purist is good when following the rules and composing jams, but as far as what we draw inspiration from, that comes from everywhere.” Sharing the same sentiment as Tajai, Opio drops in, “I’ve always been a fan of hip hop. Over the last 20 years, there has always been something incredible coming out. I think a lot of times it becomes trendy to say hip hop is wack or dead. It has never been that way. I can think back to the time when people would say, and they say it to this day, that Dilla is the greatest producer of all time. He was an incredibly talented person, we lost a lot, but at the height of his day, people were saying ‘hip hop is dead – hip hop is wack – it ain’t what is used to be.’ I mean, from MF Doom to Madlib, all these people were pushing the envelope and doing great music. Now you got TDE, The Underachievers and Pro Era and all these cats. I think it’s promoted that somehow hip hop is not what it used to be, but I just don’t feel like the artists that are pushing the envelope get their just due. Being a real head and where we come from, we always searched out music and we’re still huge fans to this day, we base it off of creative merit.”
The next few months are full for the guys, and that’s just the short term. Keep an eye out for their movie “To Infinity” (a retrospective on the creation of the record), a new Souls Of Mischief album that they’re hoping for a September release and a lot of other stuff that they’re keeping silent on right now, all the while continuing their tour: in a word, dedication.
Don’t miss the ’93 Til Infinity 20th Anniversary Tour, touching down at the Commonwealth Bar and Stage (Calgary) on Wednesday, August 21st and at the Venue Nightclub (Vancouver) on Thursday, August 22nd.
Also read sister publication Freq Magazine’s Q&A with Tajai.
By Jamie GoymanAB, Alberta, BC, British Columbia