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Q&A with Souls of Mischief

Going for Infinity

“Let me let you know something: Stop doing that old school shit,” a Morgan Freeman imitator says to Souls of Mischief during a skit on the Oakland hip-hop group’s new album, Montezuma’s Revenge. Tajai explains that the skit is about “the old versus the new,” an appropriate subject for a group — founding members of the storied Hieroglyphics crew — that hasn’t released an album in almost ten years. Souls of Mischief return to the stage on January 28th at Mezzanine. Tajai and Opio spoke with SF Station during a phone interview.

SFS: How was it getting back together as a group for Montezuma’s Revenge?

Tajai: We always work together as a group. As far as getting back in the studio together, that was fantastic. We do probably a 100 to 150 shows every year with each other, let alone another 100 on our own.

We do solo-projects, but we tour all those records as Souls of Mischief. For me personally, it has been an eye-opening experience to see how people react, “Man, Souls of Mischief got to get back together,” because it’s almost like we never were apart.

SFS: Being such a tight crew, how was it working with Prince Paul? Was it totally business, or were you guys all going out and getting burgers or something?

Tajai: A little bit of both, man. We isolated ourselves by moving to a house in the middle of nowhere. We were cooking and stuff together. We kicked it and everything, but when it came down to it we were together to make some great music.

SFS: Who was the cook in the group?

Opio: (Chuckles) Man, we were just using the microwave. It was our favorite cook.

SFS: You are a fixture in the Bay Area, but did you ever think of packing your bags and working in a bigger market like LA or NY?

Tajai: No, because you know part of what makes our music special is that it’s homegrown. I think moving from our home would change a lot. We’re not nomads. We are trying to build up our community.

SFS: How did you feel about the hyphy movement?

Tajai: I think any kind of exposure for the Bay is a great thing. I think they tried to turn it into a movie thing, rather than just letting it be what it is, which I think kind of killed it. The reason we are so hyphy is because we don’t have a club scene. It was for kids to get their energy out.

It sort of ate itself alive because we’re not like L.A., where cats will have all these great functions to jerk and dance. We don’t have those types of spaces for youth. Really, the kids don’t have anywhere to kick it so it’s hard for it to sustain itself. Hip hop is an expression, but when you start talking about a movement, a movement has to have a direction.

SFS: “93 Til Infinity” is your ubiquitous hit that people recognize. It’s gotten you fame, and given you a bar to step to. As you continue to try and grow from that single, is the song a blessing or a curse, or both?

Tajai: It can only be a blessing. How can that be bad? Anytime it comes on, it brings joy and makes people feel a certain way. It’s bigger than what we even intended.

If you look at our releases, the reason why there is time in between them is we are trying to craft exactly to that level. I think it’s a high bar, but I think we are matching it and even exceeding it as Souls of Mischief with Prince Paul.

Opio: We didn’t go out to make hits. We went out to make true hip hop. We accomplished that in a song. I think it’s more a classic record that has withstood the test of time, more so than a super-hit record that was a smash at one period in time that might have gone platinum.

SFS: On tracks like “Hiero HQ” or “Proper Aim” you bring battle raps, but unlike 50 Cent or Joe Budden you never really attack particular artist, why?

Tajai: Me personally, I don’t feel like there are any artists I feel that way about. If I’m trying to establish supremacy over everything, why focus on an individual? There isn’t anybody I feel that way about. It’s never been that way either.

SFS: I don’t want to get too much into, but with your whole “Mr. Freeman Skit,” why did you choose Webbie, Rich Boy and D4L?

Opio: That’s a comedy. Prince Paul creates these skits that are really funny.

Tajai: To me, when he said “I helped out Webbie” and then says “I helped your boy Beeda Weeda” — and that’s an artist I put out — basically, he’s talking about old versus new, not about what’s fresh or whatever. We we’re making fun of ourselves, too.

Opio: The spirit of competition is what we thrive off. Maybe some people do it for show, for record sales, or to increase their visibility, but for us it really is about the competition. All the other sideline hoopla, we don’t involve ourselves in that, especially living in Oakland. Talk about somebody here, you’re going to get approached. We live like that all the time.

Souls of Mischief perform at The Mezzanine on January 28th. Advance tickets are $15. Doors open at 8pm.