Souls of Mischief
This year marks hip-hop's 40th anniversary. It also marks the 20th anniversary of one of hip-hop's greatest albums, Souls of Mischief's 93 'til Infinity. The title track has been rapped over by everyone from Kanye West to Freddie Gibbs. And though they aren't often mentioned in the 'greatest hip-hop group ever' conversation, their influence, along with that of their Hieroglyphics crew, is undeniable.
Friday night at the ever-regal El Rey -- wall-to-wall burgundy carpet and countless chandeliers -- we went to see if the album still makes heads nod in 2013. We also wanted to know if each member of the Oakland-bred quartet (A-Plus, Opio, Phesto, and Tajai), all of whom were in their late teens when the work came out on Jive in 1993, was still able to bring it live now that they're nearing 40 themselves.
See also: our gallery of the show.
Openers The Black Opera kicked things off. The duo came out with a ton of energy and some of the strangest masks we've ever seen. They were circular and white with a white maze-like pattern -- their logo. They later switched to black Phantom of the Opera masks. Then they put on dashikis and African medallions. There were more costume changes, but at a certain point we couldn't keep track.
While The Black Opera were competent MCs with a well-rehearsed show, we have to say that the constant costume changes in front of the audience interrupted the flow of the set. We get that the words "opera" and drama go hand in hand, but the guys could benefit from less of the latter. And changing in front of the audience is a lot like a magician showing you how he pulled the rabbit out of the hat, no?
After their set the four Souls of Mischief MCs took the stage and launched into "Let 'Em Know," the first track from 93 'til Infinity.
The youthful exuberance that courses through 93 'til Infinity was evident from jump. The group's energy only seemed to ramp up with every track, and by the end of the night there wasn't one member without a drenched t-shirt. Each syllable was electric.
As Souls jumped from one track on 93 'til Infinity to the next, it became clear just how much of an impact the album had. There was never a moment when a majority of the crowd didn't know the hook, never a second when someone next us wasn't flawlessly rapping along.
One of the standouts was "Anything Can Happen." Perhaps one of the best rap narratives seldom discussed, it's a captivating story of revenge told from beginning to end from four different points of view. It's a testament to the group's writing ability.
Though the focus was on their debut, Souls also performed other hits from their catalog. Each member rapped his verse on the A-Plus produced "You Never Knew," off of Hieroglyphics' fantastic 1998 debut 3rd Eye Vision. They also performed the diehard fan favorite "Cab Fare" off of their 1992 demo. A mellow and catchy cut, hopefully one day someone will clear the sample (the theme to late '70s sitcom Taxi) and the song will be widely released.
By the middle of the set, anticipation for "93 'Til Infinity" was palpable. After brief speeches from A-Plus and Opio about the group and the their appreciation for the fans, it was finally time.
Once the first notes came out of the speakers, some audience members jumped up and down and some rushed the stage. Everyone put three fingers in the air.
Each member of the group beamed throughout the song. It was almost as if you could see how fondly they remembered the studio session when they created it, and the teens they once were.
Personal Bias: We've listened to 93 'til Infinity for years.
The Crowd: Thugs, backpackers, hipsters, and everyone in between.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!