There aren’t many groups in the history of hip-hop that can say they’ve known each other as long as Souls of Mischief. But with more than two decades since the release of their classic debut album ’93 Til Infinity, the Oakland icons are still going strong. Los Angeles-based producer/composer Adrian Younge brought some of his ingenious signature soul to the group’s sixth album release There Is Only Now, and along with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, they have crafted the perfect package of old school hip-hop with a complex, conscious narrative. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble caught up with Adrian Younge and the Souls of Mischief crew before their signing at Rough Trade NYC in Brooklyn on Tuesday, August 26 (the day the album dropped). Between intense rounds of ping pong, complete with carefully choreographed serving skills, the guys shared how they all came together and their excitement about the record.
BR: You’re here at Rough Trade NYC to kickoff the release of your sixth album There is Only Now. How did the collaboration with Adrian come together?
A-Plus: The collaboration with Adrian came together because Souls of Mischief were trying to do something special for our twentieth year anniversary, and our prior plans that we had with another producer fell through. Adrian had already expressed interest in the Souls, and of course we already knew who he was, and I had met him on Twitter. Basically, we were just chatting back and forth, and a couple years after that, we just decided to see if we really wanted to work together. And it just happened from there. So, we all met up together and really vibed with each other and had a real connection and a unified vision on us being able to do something dope.
Adrian: Yeah, just going on what A-Plus said. I’ve always been big fans of them since ’93 Til was released in ’93. And to me, it was just a dream to always work with them, and it finally came true, especially after we spoke. I feel like it was something that was meant to happen, and after hearing the finished results, I’m convinced it was meant to happen.
BR: Adrian, speaking with Wax Poetics, you listed ten records that influenced your creative process from Tribe’s Low End Theory to Idris Muhammad’s Power of Soul. What did you pull from these albums?
Adrian: Basically, I pulled what golden era producers like A-Plus or like Q-Tip or the Bomb Squad – the stuff that they pulled out from these records. And basically what it is, is focusing on that bottom end and mid-range of these old late 60s, early 70s jazz-funk, psych-soul albums and intertwining that with the compositional perspectives of golden era hip-hop in the 90s. So, it’s like being a 90s producer going back to, like I said, the late 60s, early 70s to refocus that sound and make something more modern. And that’s what I pulled out of each of these records. So, for example, in Low End Theory, you could just focus on the bottom end and the mid-range, but you could also focus on the styles of composition they chose to sample. And then going through that source material, really listening to what they were doing to create that kind of music and studying the science of that sound and just bringing that composition and that sonic palette forward.
BR: How did Ali Shaheed Muhammad get involved, and in what way did his and Adrian’s contributions affect the final product?
Adrian: They’ve known A Tribe Called Quest, I mean, that was probably their first tour in ’93, so they’ve always had a long relationship. I had just met Ali a couple years ago on a tour that I was on for my Ghostface album, and when we met, we really hit it off. I asked him. I said, “Would you want to be part of this album?” And he said, “Hell yeah – love to be part of the album.” I mean, the rest is history. It’s literally that simple. I mean his contribution to the album – he just really helped to set a foundation, and the kind of foundation that we were looking for was something that gave the feeling of being back in the golden era. Not saying that we’re trying to bring that back as far as that music, but there is a definite innate feeling that people got when hearing that kind of music for the first time. And Ali is one of the icons of that whole era and movement, so having him on this album, along with these golden era all-stars, helped just recapture that feeling again and purvey that in a new way.
BR: What other notable collaborations can one hear on the album?
Tajai: We got William Hart from The Delfonics on there. We’ve got Busta Rhymes. We’ve got Snoop Dogg. We’ve also got Scarub from The Living Legends. So aside from Ali, there’s a lot of dope dudes who have been putting it down for a lot of years who played their roles very well on this album.
BR: Where did the title There Is Only Now come from?
Phesto: It came from a song. It was a song. I believe we had the title of the song before we had the title of the album. There’s a song on the record called “There Is Only Now” that features Snoop Dogg. So to be honest with you, I think I came in on the late end of that song. When I got there, the hook was already there. I don’t know who wrote it, but….[Tajai nods his head]
Phesto: Yeah, I figured it was Tajai since he was the one who vocalized it.
BR: Adrian, what can you tell readers about Linear Labs Records?
Adrian: Linear Labs Records is a new label, and this is our first release for this label. Basically, it’s a label based on the concept of making artists and hand-crafted music. So, it’s something that’s kind of going back to the essence. It’s like custom music for a custom audience. But that audience is an audience that’s just looking for something that’s a little more cultivated, a little more gentile. It goes back to the days where music was based on capturing raw, human performance with errors, but the beautiful errors. So, if I’m playing live drums, and I’m a little off, and the bass is a little off, and then the vocals are a little off, but we’re all in tune, we’re all playing within this syncopation, and there’s a feeling. It’s organic. Everything’s all hardware-based, analog, two-inch tape-based, and that’s what I want consumers to expect when they hear music from the label. And this is our premiere record on the label. This is our introduction to this sound.
BR: Before the album release party in L.A. on September 4, you’re performing at Le Poisson Rouge in New York on Thursday. What can fans expect from the show?
Opio: They can expect something crazy. I mean, Souls of Mischief has a dope energy on stage if anybody’s ever seen us, and what we bring is we have this chemistry that we’ve had for so many years. And performing on stage is kind of like the sixth sense we have with each other, and it’s fun for us to perform, so I feel like if we’re having fun, then the crowd is having fun. And obviously, it’s an energy exchange. But it’s going to be something different with us performing with a live band. And Venice Dawn – Adrian Younge’s band – they’re all incredible musicians in their own right. So, bringing the two powerhouses together, it’s dope. For me, I’m excited.
Adrian: There may be some special guests also….
BR: Is there a tour in the works to promote the album?
Adrian: Basically, there is a tour in the works, but we’re trying to do something bigger than just us touring together. Right now, we’re currently putting an event together with different artists that I’m working with and just different like-minded artists. So, we want to view this as more of an event and showcase this as more of an event as opposed to just playing the music. And we all have other people that are likeminded and are kind of doing the same things. And I personally feel like it’s better for us to do that all together, so without me saying anything to try to make that something formidable before we start. Basically, event-based performances opposed to just performances. So, it’s like how in Los Angeles, we have this big bill with all these different people. I want to do things like that, but we want to do that internationally. And that’s what we’re trying to put together now.
BR: It’s been more than two decades since your debut ’93 Til Infinity. How do you feel your sound has evolved over the years?
A-Plus: How would be a hard question to answer being that we all, as individuals in the group, have evolved immensely in completely different ways the same way anyone else would evolve. Making music is a culmination of your life experiences directed in a musical way, and after coming out and having records out and going around the world and just having this beautiful, crazy life and job, it changes you. And everybody, we all have different experiences, so we all evolved according to those experiences. So, it’s hard to say how because it’s so different for everybody, but I can say definitively that we all have, undoubtedly.
BR: Who or what would you name as your key influences or inspirations?
Opio: Growing up in Oakland and just our relationship with hip-hop music and music in general – we all grew up in houses where our parents played music and exposed us to all different types of….I mean I could go on and on. But it was our life experiences as young kids growing up in Oakland as hip-hop was kind of emerging as this new force. It was youth culture, and we were young, and we were captivated by the whole culture: graffiti, breakdancing – not just being an emcee. DJs were like the biggest thing coming, and coming up in that era with all that music and having this kind of unique perspective. I think from growing up in Oakland, which is different from a lot of artists that you normally hear, whether they’re from L.A. or from New York, it’s like there is a common thread with all of those artists that all lived there. We’re from kind of like this small, little place that has all these immensely talented people. I think our perspective is a little different.
BR: You guys have all known each other since you were very young, correct?
Opio: Yes. We all grew up together. I mean, Tajai and A-Plus, these guys have known each other since kindergarten. Not just Souls of Mischief, Hieroglyphics – we all have known each other since we were kids.
BR: Is there anything else you guys would like to add or promote?
Tajai: Hiero Day is coming up September 1. The universe has recognized Hiero Day as always 9/3 – September 3. But September 1, we’re having a huge celebration on Labor Day. It’s going to be a huge, free party – twenty-eight bands. It’s in Oakland at Linden Street Brewery. Phesto’s new album Infrared Rum is out. Opio, the next day after Hiero Day, dropping a Red XX tapes…
Opio: Red X 2.
Tajai: Red XX. It’s Red with two X’s. A-Plus just dropped Molly’s Dirty Water. And I’ve got an album coming out called Rap Noir, so we’ve got a lot of stuff coming. So, we’re always trying to scheme on the next one and get some adventures in out here in New York.
A-Plus: I wanna say, go get that album There Is Only Now! It’s out right nowwww! And thank you to anyone who supported us out there, whether it was twenty years ago or tomorrow or yesterday. Thank you.
Catch Souls of Mischief with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad at Le Poisson Rouge at 158 Bleecker Street in NYC tonight!