When you approach a decade between albums, especially in a genre as fluid and fickle as Hip-Hop, you run the risk of falling into irrelevance. Hieroglyphics Imperium’s Souls of Mischief, however, isn’t worried about perception. They’re worried about putting out what they consider quality music on their time schedule.
This isn’t to say that the past nine years have been absent of new music for the crew. Opio and A-Plus have both released solo albums and Tajai has remained consistently busy with solo and collaboration projects. After the 2003 release of Hieroglyphic’s sophomore album, Full Circle, the rumors of a new Souls of Mischief album kept building, but nothing seemed to surface. Even after an early 2009 interview where Opio and Tajai mentioned plans for a new song for download every week from Hiero Imperium, the only news of new Souls was more rumor. After such a long hiatus, it wasn’t surprising to see the release date for the long-awaited album pushed from November 10th to December 2nd.
It’s worth the wait.
Sporting cover art from renowned artist Steven Lopez, Montezuma’s Revenge drops today and should provide a healthy reminder of why this crew has retained credibility and a solid fan base despite the lack of regular releases in the flavor of the month hip-hop industry. Cover art isn’t the only place they brought in talent though, and the results are fantastic.
You only need a minimum of knowledge of Hip-Hop to have heard the name Prince Paul. Over the past 20 years, he has carved out a spot as one of the innovators, creators and most well-known producers in the industry. He has participated in groups from the ’80s pioneer Stetsasonic to the horrorcore originators, the Gravediggaz. With Paul announced as the primary producer for the album, it was anyone’s guess what direction the sound might head towards.
Prince Paul has chosen to take the backbone of the Souls of Mischief sound and amplify it with his personal flourish. The heavy basslines, creeping melodies, kicked back beats and slick guitar and string loops the Hiero crew members favor are all here, combined with catchy hooks, clever samples and seamless production in vintage Paul fashion. The resulting tracks are audio canvases that provide Tajai, Opio, Phesto, and A-Plus room to roam lyrically while sounding completely at home. Under Paul’s production, the group finds a consistency and energy missing from their solo efforts and reminiscent of the debut album.
“Postal” offers a lush string background and uptempo beat as the group raps about heartbreak and break-up, effortlessly making a down topic into a head-nodder. “Proper Aim”‘s addictive and naked bass line follows the one rapper at a time format and makes a good introductory track to new listeners still attempting to attach voice to group member. “Dead Man Walking” utilizes the constant keys and scales of West Coast rap to back lyrics dealing with vengeance and the street.
“Home Game” is an old-school cruising track with music, weed, driving and women as focus, lyrics finding the blend of relaxed flow and taut tempo. The album closer “LaLaLa” features quick back and forth between the group members over a drum and guitar sample combination and interspersed tambourines. The quick jigsaw exposes the chemistry of these four, never missing a beat or word between complex rhyme schemes and multiple voices.
And in between all of these songs? Tracks that show Prince Paul boosting the rich history of sound and style native to Souls of Mischief while letting Souls of Mischief effortlessly demonstrate the tenacity, chemistry and complexity of lyricism that has been their calling card since ’93. This one could be around for a while too.