Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Longevity in the hip-hop game has proven an elusive goal for countless artists across the genre’s storied, four-decades-plus history. Granted, more than a handful of acts that emerged during hip-hop’s halcyon golden age of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s are still making music today.
But quite a sizable number of them have either succumbed to commercial demands or run out of fresh ideas altogether, with the quality and purity of their music suffering as a result. Indeed, only a select few veteran artists have survived with their creative integrity fully intact. East coast icons De La Soul, Nas, The Roots, and the Wu-Tang Clan unequivocally qualify.
On the west coast, it’s tougher to pinpoint artists that fulfill the same criteria. But a hyper-gifted collective that first blossomed nearly twenty-five years ago in Oakland, California most immediately comes to mind. Comprised of Del the Funky Homosapien, Souls of Mischief (A-Plus, Opio, Phesto & Tajai), Casual, Domino, Pep Love, and DJ Toure, the Hieroglyphics crew have rather remarkably translated their underground sensibility into an enduring local, national, and international constituency of loyal devotees.
Placing a heavy premium on lyrical dexterity, compelling narratives, and innovative sonics, the Hiero squad have curated one of the finest recorded repertoires in hip-hop, all while preserving the original, unfettered essence of hip-hop music and culture. Not to mention that they remain one of hip-hop's most captivating live acts and their entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well through their ever-evolving Hiero Imperium label and online store. Moreover, they’ve remained prominently involved in their native community of Oakland through their Hiero Day festival, which celebrated its fifth year this past September.
“We’re just always trying to be creative, and to be different than everything else that’s going on,” Opio recently explained to Hiero's longtime champion and friend Sway, who co-hosts SiriusXM's Sway in the Morning and The World Famous Wake Up Show. “A lot of people would say that there’s a lot of mimicking going on now, and people sounding like someone. For us, standing apart from that and always finding that creative space where we can separate ourselves from the pack, that’s what’s been working for us forever. So in a way it’s like sticking to our guns, but we’re constantly evolving, constantly trying to advance our style.”
To celebrate the Hiero crew’s prolific run of recordings, we’ve compiled a playlist that spans their 25-year career and features more than 100 tracks, including a handful of remixes and rarities. The collection features standout tunes from classic albums like Del’s No Need for Alarm (1993), Souls of Mischief’s debut 93 ‘til Infinity (1993), and Casual’s first LP Fear Itself (1994), plus a bevy of more recent tracks that some of our readers may not be as immediately familiar with.
While the mix is comprehensive and broadly representative of Hiero’s outstanding oeuvre, Extra Prolific’s excellent 1994 debut Like It Should Be is unfortunately omitted due to its conspicuous absence on Spotify (we’ve included a few of the group’s videos below the playlist for good measure).
So without further ado, enjoy the playlist below, and if you like what you hear, be sure to dig deeper into Hieroglyphics’ discography and check out the goodies at the Hiero Imperium store.