Hieroglyphics Performs With Full Lineup, Pays Respects to Phife Dawg

Oakland-based hip-hop legends Hieroglyphics will be performing as a complete group this Saturday, March 26. All eight members (including those of auxiliary group Souls of Mischief) began a short Colorado run this week. Husband-and-wife duo the ReMINDers will also perform, promising an energetic evening for Denver hip-hop fans.

Hieroglyphics is one of the longest-running hip-hop groups. With its career now spanning twenty-plus years, the collective is considered by many to be both pioneering and heavily influential in the genre.

In the wake of the tragic passing of Phife Dawg this week, the opportunity to experience the group as a collective comes at a timely and comforting moment for a lot of fans.

Big Samir and Aja, of the ReMINDers (who also perform Saturday with Hieroglyphics), had these words to share on the passing of Phife, "THE 5 FOOT ASSASSIN. He was one of the best to ever do it. Phife was truly in a lane of his own lyrically. We will always be some of his biggest fans. We are so grateful to have witnessed him, listened to him and to have shared many stages with him. Thank you, brother, for your genuine love and for being a constant inspiration. May your soul rest peacefully in the most beautiful paradise. You will be heavily missed."

Hip-hop (and the world) lost the well-respected artist and founding member of A Tribe Called Quest on Tuesday, March 22. Taylor, just 45 years old, reportedly suffered complications resulting from his long battle with Diabetes type 1. Many would consider Hiero and Tribe to be cut from the same groundbreaking cloth; Hieroglyphics collaborated with A Tribe Called Quest. Specifically, Souls of Mischief members were featured as part of Tribe's iconic Midnight Marauders album-cover art.

Co-founding member of Hieroglyphics Jonathan "Casual" Owens spoke with Westword prior to the loss of Phife Dawg, and our conversation focused on the present and future. We asked Casual how the group decided to spend its current mini-tour in Colorado. The MC said, "We decided we'd do short runs in different locations. In Colorado, we have a nice following, and it'd be good to visit. Performing in those locations, we've sold out shows. Ecstatic fans always make for a good return. Sometimes it's a no-brainer."

Although the group does get together frequently in Oakland, Casual said, "Just our schedules can keep us apart. But the last time we did a full run together, it had be 2008. But then again, we get together annually for our 'Hiero Night.' But out on the road, it's been a while."

Casual added, “It has a lot to do with growing and having families. And also everyone having their individual careers to cater to. So it turns out that we are all individually out on the road at the same time, and it makes it hard to go out as a collective."

Set to a backdrop of simple yet iconic beats, Hieroglyphics elects to rap about intellectual concepts and cultural comparison. The crew's lyrics are both witty and cerebral. Songs such as "You Never Know," from sophomore album 3rd Eye Vision, have become archetypal to the genre. The video (below) demonstrates the close relationship among the members of the group.

Known for his aggressive and energetic style of rap, Casual is a strong proponent of competition among MCs. “We are about to launch a new battle league, called the Danger Room. We wanna set it up as a long-running paid rap-battle league to gain some artists exposure," he said.

“We’re doing a lot of things with Hieroglyphics," Casual continued. "We’re about to relaunch our website with a whole bunch of parts for MC and fans to partake in. Check us out!”

In addition to performing regularly, Casual is also an active philanthropist. Noticing disparities in wealth between hip-hop artists and distribution moguls, the rapper has begun a program that he believes will provide the necessary tools for young hip-hop artists to better manage, market and monetize their own art. It's called Madjai A.R.C.H.E.R.S. Explained Casual, "It stands for Academics, Research, Charity, Housing, Economics, Resources and Security. These are things that we need to be focusing on as far as community renovation and culture beautification are concerned, especially for the demographic of hip-hop." 

Making reference to influential organizations Zulu Nation and Black Watch, Casual expressed hope in continuing their legacy of empowering black artists: "[We're] trying to teach innocent youth, who need to know about standard things that other people know out the gate — about production, distribution and consumption, and how we can take control of the products that we produce."

Hieroglyphics, including Casual, Del The Funky Homosapien, Pep Love, Domino and A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai of Souls of Mischief, will perform all together on Saturday, March 26, at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom. 

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