Hieroglyphics has been one of rap’s most consistent and entertaining crews since the early 90’s, always providing their unique West Coast flavor oblivious to passing fads. Next to Ice Cube’s hyper-talented and prolific cousin Del, the Souls of Mischief have been Hiero’s most recognized faces. Unlike Del, their past seems to have hindered their careers. Each of Del’s albums has been funky in a different way, and his artistic progression can be clearly mapped. Not that comparison would be fair, though… Del has never dropped such a period-defining classic as the Souls’ debut, ’93 ‘Til Infinity. That 14-track marvel, along with the previous year’s Pharcyde debut, ventured into theretofore-uncharted terrain in the rap world: peerless chemistry and fun-loving attitudes combined with the sharpest rhymes and flows imaginable. Excuse me, I’m rambling… the thing is, it’s easy for a die-hard Souls Of Mischief fan to retreat into nostalgia. Amid tales of label trouble, label trouble, and more label trouble, subsequent Souls releases have never had the same magic as their first. Older and wiser, the fearsome foursome of A-Plus, Tajai, Phesto, and Opio have regrouped in 2000 for the independent Hiero Imperium release of "Trilogy: Confict, Climax, Resolution." In ’93, they were playful even when aptly dealing with serious topics. This time around they paint a more sober picture, but the Souls of Mischief have proven that they still have the knack for imparting feelings over the course of a whole album.
From the very beginning, "Trilogy…" makes it known that these lovable rhymers are on some different shit. Some William Blake shit, to be exact… these are Songs of Experience. After an unremarkable intro, the title track aggressively leaps out at the listener. From behind a deliciously freaked horn riff and marching bass notes, the Souls of Mischief use their patented Hiero flows in unfamiliar (to me, at least) ways and spit with an authority beyond mere cockiness. The chanted chorus describes where they’re at: "We from a place that makes you want to leave your gold home/dangerous like the hole that’s up in the ozone/we be smokin’ on that Killa Cali home-grown/so strong, out of town chicks can’t keep they clothes on." The next song, "The Interrogation", features fellow posse member Pep Love. Although blessed with 5 emcees who’ve honed their skills to an exact science and a wailing, atmospheric sample, the drum track is rather boring and keeps me from getting into the song very much. Nevertheless, this song should be a crowd-pleaser. Speaking of crowds, the next track ("Last Night") sounds eerily like a commercial club hit. Although there’s nothing particularly wrong with the sparse yet groovy beat or the repeated chanting during the verses, it lacks the virtuoso lyricism that fans of SoM have come to expect.
The album continues to sound competent yet strangely dissatisfying over the course of its 17 tracks. That doesn’t mean it’s without its highlights though, for I don’t think these guys could make a wack album if they tried. One highly enjoyable song is "Danglin", where the Souls warn all fakes of the violent consequences their actions might garner them. "Medication", previously released on a 12", also features one of the album’s tightest beats and some especially clever lyrics. Special effort seems to have gone into the lyrics of "That Ain’t Life (Climax)", but don’t climax just yet… the beat is overly dramatic and distracts the listener from the point of the song. Still, refreshing lyrics such as these make the song well worth the listen: "it’s all radio music/corny as the rockettes/ mindless sex objects make the dick get/ rock hard, so you can’t concentrate or see what’s next/while they spray the pollutants/and lock down your district and send in lieutenants/ shootin’ up your boulevard while you was watchin’ MTV". Indeed, the lyrics never disappoint throughout the album, but that only makes it more puzzling as to why they’re so often over such lackluster beats.
Luckily for us, the joint picks up towards the end. "Fucked in the Industry" sees our heroes on the storytelling tip, describing what’s indicated in the title over a cinematic soundscape that includes an absolutely enchanting vocal sample. Next up is a collaboration with the prolific Evidence (of Dilated Peoples fame), and the corresponding beat does not disappoint. The flows are on point too; as Opio says, "it’s in my chromosomes to hold my own". "Supdoder" is a rather entertaining joint about the ladies, and both "Airborne Rangers" and "Enemy Minds" have undeniably funky beats (the former employing perhaps some of the best tambourine use in rap since Nothin’ But A G Thang).
"Stick to jackin’ the penis of your label exec/ cuz you ain’t able to rep, or able to wreck/I’m claimin’ respect with rappin’ that’ll strangle your neck/ claim you a vet, but still I’m making you jet" – from Airborn Rangers. Souls of Mischief are back, and they won’t let their skills be ignored. Their newest effort can’t live up to their debut masterpiece, but I don’t think that’s what they were aiming for. Still, the beats just don’t have the charisma to match these four gifted rhymers, and this detracts from the amazing chemistry they have passing the mic. We can see the flashes of brilliance that this group will always display, but overall this is just another hip-hop album to come and go with heads’ whims.