Souls of Mischief

93 'Til Infinity

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One of hip-hop's great lost masterpieces, 93 'Til Infinity is the best single album to come out of Oakland's Hieroglyphics camp, and ranks as a seminal early classic of the West Coast underground. The Souls of Mischief weren't even out of their teens when they completely redefined the art of lyrical technique for the West Coast, along with fellow standard-bearers Freestyle Fellowship, the Pharcyde, and Hiero founder Del tha Funkee Homosapien. The Souls come off as four brash young MCs who are too smart for their own good, yet they're so full of youthful exuberance that it's impossible to dislike them for it. They're also excellent storytellers, punctuating their tales with a wry wit and clever asides; still, they're able to take on the grittier subjects of violence and death with a worldliness beyond their years. The production -- all by various core Hieroglyphics members -- is just as good as the raps, driven by complex beats, unpredictable basslines, and samples drawn from spacy fusion records and East Coast jazz-rap crews. Main Source and Gang Starr both provide track foundations here, and it's possible to hear the intricately constructed loops of the former and the lean attack of the latter (circa Step in the Arena) in the record's overall style. A better comparison, though, would be to the effortless flow and telepathic trade-offs of A Tribe Called Quest. In fact, 93 'Til Infinity seems to actively aspire to the fluidity of the best Tribe albums; tracks often segue directly into one another without pause -- and the transitions are seamless. Although the title cut is an underappreciated classic, 93 'Til Infinity makes its greatest impression through its stunning consistency, not individual highlights. Put it all together, and you've got one of the most slept-on records of the '90s.

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