Hiero Oldies

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Hiero Oldies is a cassette-only, online-only collection of oldies from before Hieroglyphics were famous. Hieroglyphics were famous? No, but they should have been. Made up of a loose aggregation of Bay Area friends including the Souls of Mischief crew and various solo acts, the most successful and idiosyncratic being Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Hieroglyphics have consistently cranked out hip-hop that is alternately mellow-funky and kaleidoscopically loopy, eschewing hardcore posturing and street-tough poetics for something much sunnier and lyrically intricate, but still hard-hitting. Such optimism does not necessarily arise out of a more suburban -- as opposed to urban -- environment; it seems far more likely to be a conscious attempt to stretch possibilities, like a trippy hip-hop version of psychedelia that spins a brightly hued, luminous urbanity out of the ashen surroundings of the city (even a Californian one). So the results are thick, gurgling basslines and clever samples that would never show up on, say, a Wu-Tang Clan record. Instead, there are inspired interpolations of theme music (from Taxi on the Souls' opening "Cab Fare," remixed by Domino, and from Mr. Rogers on Del's, you guessed it, "Neighborhood"), burping electric keyboards, and blaxploitation guitar, all done with a buoyancy that is infectious. And all done without devolving into out-and-out goofiness; instead, the various lyrical approaches, even at this early stake in the game (most of the songs are from the 1991-1992 era when only a few group members were just beginning to hit wax), were compelling and intensely fun, but that sense of enjoyment does not prohibit the Hieroglyphics crew from being insightful, sometimes etching a cutting portrait of urban life, recounting psychological stress (Del's "Crazy Del Song," which, even with its serious theme, comes with a wink), or tearing into stagnant MCs, which, more than most, it has a right to. Mostly, however, the crew is both playful and soulful, neither characteristic as prevalent in hip-hop as testosterone. Not every song is equally strong, but nearly every song shines in some way, and each member (the aforementioned chaps as well as Casual, Extra Prolific, Pep Love, Jay-Biz, Opio, Reckless, and Hush) steps up to the plate and delivers lyrically or production-wise. The Hiero crew would grow more incisive as the decade progressed (and even on the second side here), but Hiero Oldies proves that even before they had established their vision, Hieroglyphics were something special.