Another old jawn, cuz I do wot I wawnt!
In 2005, when I first learned of The Hieroglyphics crew, I was amazed at these West Coast rappers whose lyrics were as intricate as my East Coast favorites. I knew nothing of Del’s history, his connection to Ice Cube (they’re cousins!), or Souls of Mischief’s classic 93 Til Infinity. Don’t crucify me please! I’ve since learned, but I continue to be amazed that they’re just as sharp now as then. While my favorites like Nas have arguably fallen off, Hiero is still dropping dope albums like 2013’s The Kitchen.
For those who don’t know, Hiero is an independent crew of Bay Area (most/all from Oakland I think) artists who had some mainstream success in the early 90s. They brought a lighthearted but sometimes socially-conscious vibe to hip-hop, and their rhymes were and are always on-point. After their various major label situations ended, they formed their own label and haven’t looked back. While The Kitchen is just their third album as a group, the individual artists and sub-groups have put out numerous other projects.
So I called The Kitchen dope two paragraphs ago, and I said their rhymes are always good. That may be enough for some people. If so, cool, go act accordingly. But some may need some more explanation: Hiero is a mixture of lyricism that I once thought only the East Coast possessed, with the carefree mood that the West’s women, weed, and weather seem to inescapably create. For an example of the lyrical deftness, peep Tajai on Indonesia:
we bum-rushing and crushing, snatching and taxing/
you cram to understand but your bandwidth lacking/
I could slow up the speed but that’ll hold up the fiends/
so I’mma show nuff procede, give ya fo what you need, indeed/
heed this speech, ingest it intravenously/
main line, I craft the tailor-made lines/
with a love for this craft that paper can’t buy/
Again, that may be enough for some people. Others may need assurances that the beats are good. They are.
Still need more? What, you don’t trust me?! sigh…ok.
Not everything here is a straight-up banger, especially due to that lighthearted vibe I mentioned, but most are good in their own ways. For instance, Indonesia, quoted above, seems to sample actual Indonesian music and is a very lowkey affair but I like it a lot. It has a guitar-type sound (sitar maybe?) that plays offbeat and is very annoying, but the rest of the song, including that quote above, are worth learning to ignore that sound. Like Indonesia, many of the beats use diverse samples that make the music much more than average hip-hop. A soul-based instrumental can easily sit next to something with sci-fi synths or traditional Middle Eastern sounds, and they’ll all be equally grounded in hip-hop by, if nothing else, their drums and tempo. But even with this variety, a few are too simple or conventional to do anything for me, like Passing Fads‘ beat, whose soul sample and construction are just too straightforward for me.
That’s usually where Hieroglyphics falters for me, when things get too conventional. So while the diversity shown in their selection of topics, ranging from stories of fast women and life on tour to real relationships and simply rocking the mic, can’t be overstated, a couple songs bored me. Such as Pep Love’s solo song about selling merchandise, aptly title That Merch. In theory, I’m all for rappers making music about their actual lives, hoping that it’ll inspire them more than rapping about selling drugs for the 15th straight year. But selling merch on tour? Nope, I don’t care, not one iota. Unless there’s a crazy story to go along with it, that is not an interesting topic for a song. And some songs like Livin It Up just felt too silly to me, like the fun vibe went too far. But Hiero normally gets it right, and by right I mean damn-near perfect. Believe me, The Kitchen is worth your time.
- Gun Fever
- Highway Five
- It’s Partly Me