Examine hip-hop's 35-year trajectory and you'll
see that 1993 was a seminal year for the genre. Artists as diverse as Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg and Digable Planets released debut albums that defined their respective niches, while groundbreaking releases by 2Pac, A Tribe Called Quest and Cypress Hill forced hip-hop further onto the mainstream's musical radar.
But in Oakland, a relatively unknown quartet of laid-back, intelligent MCs — Phesto, A-Plus, Opio and Tajai, who went by the name Souls of Mischief and operated under the broader Hieroglyphics umbrella — recorded a single and an album titled "93 'til Infinity" that would both go down as the ultimate documentation and essential anthem of the 12-month period.
Though "93 'til Infinity" still stands as the Souls' best-selling and most critically acclaimed album, the group has persevered both individually and collectively, occupying an integral slice of hip-hop's underground movement. And this summer, the original foursome set out on an ambitious 50-date Still Infinity 20th Anniversary U.S. tour to celebrate their debut. Folio Weekly chatted with A-Plus and Opio about performing "93 'til Infinity" in its entirety and laying the groundwork for independent hip-hop.
Folio Weekly: How fun has it been for you guys to perform "93 'til Infinity" so far on this tour?
A-Plus: It's certainly exciting after all these years to do the whole album, which we've never done before… It's a challenge, but a positive and welcome one, and we've had a lot of fun with it.
F.W.: Each individual Souls of Mischief member has enjoyed a prolific solo career. Is it hard to balance the individual vs. group mentality?
Opio: We're actually in a group within a group — there's the Hieroglyphics crew, and inside that there's Souls of Mischief. But our solo stuff definitely flows pretty smoothly. It's just another outlet because it can be limiting working within the confines of a group. And every time one of us has branched out, we get support from Hiero and Souls. Really it's all one and the same.
F.W.: 1993 was such a seminal year for hip-hop. Did it feel that monumental at the time?
A-Plus: When we look back at that period, we're, like, "Wow — to be a part of a year when so much dope shit from East, West and all over the world came out is amazing." But at the time, we were just some greenhorn kids who loved hip-hop and were giving that album the best we had. As young guys fresh into the business, we knew it was a big opportunity. But we didn't have enough foresight to think 20 years into the future.
F.W.: So were you surprised at the response "93 'til Infinity" received?
A-Plus: Of course we wanted to put our stamp on hip-hop and have it be in the history books, but there was no way for us to see how important it was. It just knuckleballed us. That's what makes the anniversary so special. We made that album eyes blinded, and here we are 20 years later. It still thrills us to this day.
F.W.: You released that album and its follow-up on Jive Records before going independent with your own Hieroglyphics Imperium imprint. Do you wish you'd been self-sustaining from the start?
Opio: Starting off with that major-label exposure and then going independent is not something we would trade in. We earned greater creative and financial control, but that's not always necessarily the best thing for every artist — there's a give-and-take, you know? I think we'd be hard-pressed to do what we did then strictly by ourselves.
A-Plus: It's important to mention that when we went independent, the hip-hop world did not view that as a positive thing. It was a sign of failure or bad luck: "You lost your deal? You're going independent? You're falling off. You over — you gone. You suck!" Even though we had deals on the table from other record labels, we were so soured by our Jive experience and how they wanted us to turn into a pop group that our only option was, "Fuck that — we're gonna go independent."
F.W.: As rap game elders, how do you think the Souls of Mischief have influenced younger artists?
A-Plus: We're proud to have been part of that movement towards artists taking control of their destiny, their artistry and their monetary situations out of record executives' hands. We don't need any acclaim because we're in the books for that — we got 20 years in the game and 14 years with our label. So not only has our music affected people, but our business has also served as a template for future artists to start their own labels and go independent. In hindsight, you couldn't ask for much more.