Do you really want to know the answer to that? Yesterday was the last day of a month-long tour. I’ve been driving and flying all day and I’m still not home. I haven’t taken a shower since before the show last night because our schedule has been so hectic. I’m in Denver now and getting back to Oakland. You can imagine how I feel right now.
My Last Good Deed is your first solo album. What was it like working on that?
It was a lot different from what I’m used to. I’ve been with a group most of my career. I had to approach this a little bit differently and shake some of my group mentality. I had to get a little advice from people who know me real good. It was certainly a different process from any other project I’ve done.
Some artists have trouble writing full songs when they’re used to always writing and recording in a group. Was writing full songs a challenge for you?
I would say it wasn’t a challenge. To me, it wasn’t difficult like, ‘How am I going to do this?” It was more looking at the format of the whole thing. It was completely feasible. It’s like going to a different team and learning a different offense. You still roll with it. There was no time when that was going to be something that hindered my progress. I just had to get in the right zone and get my close friends’ opinions.
Is your first solo album overdue?
No. Not at all. I’m not a solo artist. I’m in Souls of Mischief. We could have gone on forever and never had solo albums and we would have been fine. There’s no timetable on when it’s the right time to branch off from your group and make a solo album. Whenever it happens, it happens and I’m glad at how it happened. I wouldn’t change this way that it happened. This is great.
Why the title, My Last Good Deed, mean to you?
It goes with transformation, growth, revelation, epiphany…all those different words can go into that way of thinking. That’s pretty much the whole concept. It’s not any specific direction or take on things. It’s about transformation and growth. Sometimes when you wake up, you see the world differently. It’s hard to explain what that means for every individual person. They will continue to see the world differently and that’s why the world revelations are so powerful – they just happen. You can’t pinpoint when it happens. It could be something that has accumulated all throughout the years and then just struck a chord in your head one day.
In the intro, you say, “It was written with love despite the circumstances.” Can you explain that?
I’m going to leave that one for the listener. It’s different for everybody. What I’m talking about isn’t really the issue or whatever I could be talking about isn’t the issue. It’s the adversity of the situation that I’m trying to display in that line, not a specific situation. It’s about information and change and whatever makes a person want to do that is specific to the individual. The point of the line was change and transformation, not why it’s happening.
What inspired “A Beautiful Thing” with Casual?
My brother Aagee, who I did a lot of the production with on the album (under the name Compound7), had started that track. I was already in the middle of the album and he played this for me and told me, “I really think you’re going to like this song.” I heard it and I liked it. As I was figuring out what to do with it. I think I was in Jamaica when I wrote that. I was looking at what I had on my album so far and I didn’t have Casual on it. I told him what to rap about and that was it. I played him the song before he got on it and he knew what his take on it would be. I already had it in mind that I would have all of Hiero on my album. When we got to that point on the album, he was still not on the album. I think that was the last cameo that I recorded for the album.
On the song “My Last Good Deed,” you talk about how you have credibility everywhere. How did that happen?
I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I’ve just been like that from growing up and from when I first came to Oakland. The nerds liked me and the gangsters liked me. The girls liked me. I’m a well-rounded person and everybody likes me. I have a good aura and a good vibe. I’m not going to bullshit you for too long either. I don’t have time for that. People feel that. I establish rapports with people and I go all over the world and I have people who will vouch for me. That’s a good feeling and I’m certainly proud and happy that my life turned out that way.
I know people that don’t have credibility in their own town or with their family and I’m glad that the way I’ve lived my life has allowed me to have what I have. I’m going to raise my son the same way. He’s already on his way. People gravitate towards him. As a grown-up and all my life, I never wanted to be remembered as a dickhead or an asshole. Everybody’s different. To some people, that doesn’t matter to them. That mattered to me. That’s something that has always been very important to me and I think it also has to do with my parents. They’re immigrants and we didn’t really have the typical American way of thinking in my household. I’m proud to say that because it’s true and I have dawgs all over the world that can feel that. I’m Goodtime Charlie. I would rather have a good time. If I have any influence on the situation, more than likely it’s going to be a good time.
Looking at that, do you feel you have to cater to anybody?
I don’t have to cater to anybody. I don’t even think about that when I’m making my album. I’m thinking about how I sound. I’m certainly not trying to do anything for certain people and I’m not trying to make certain songs. I make music for the people who are going to listen to it. The people who don’t listen to my album, they don’t matter in my music. Why are you going to make music for people who aren’t going to listen? Certainly after all these years and being blessed with all these Hiero fans, I’m going to continue to make the music I’ve been making as long as Hiero fans support it. If they tell me I’m wack, then I might have to do it another way. But the way I’ve been doing things has been working for me. I’ve been making beats since ’87 and peeps have been liking them and I’ve been rapping since ’82 and peeps have been liking that. Being independent, I have no pressures on me. That’s the world I’m in. I just make music the way I like to make it and I’m blessed for all the people who like it.
On “My Last Good Deed,” you also talked about how you could have gone platinum by lying. Could you have enjoyed that success?
Not necessarily. It was more so a statement about how you can only get certain marketing dollars behind you on what companies think will sell. A lot of music is cookie-cutter. People are working with a paradigm and what I’m working with doesn’t fall under the paradigm. A lot of people are making bullshit and I buy it and enjoy it, but I’m not going to say that it’s the truth. Motherfuckers are lying their asses off. If you listen to it, it can’t be true. They’d be on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. It’s just not true. I’m just doing me. I’m not doing me for the sake of being underground and being anti-commercial. I’m being me and there are no lies on my album. It just so happens that it’s not the most popular genre of hip-hop right now, but it’s me and my fans know that. That’s cool with me, especially being an independent. You don’t have to move the same amount of units to enjoy monetary success. That’s why the indie game ended up working for us.
What’s it like for you working with your brother Aagee as the production duo Compound7?
It’s easy. And my sister executive-produced the album. I kept it in-family. It’s an in-family affair. It’s easier to work with family than somebody who’s not, to me, if your family is in tact and everybody is standing on their mores. My family is solid. We empower each other by working with each other. My whole family is a very musical family. My brother, my sister and my mother all play multiple instruments. My father doesn’t play anything, but he’s such a music lover that it’s ridiculous. My parents liked all the good music out of every genre of music. There’s good and bad shit in every genre of music. That’s what I hate about hip-hop. People think it’s wack because it’s a different genre. That’s wack. That’s bullshit. There is good and bad stuff in every genre. 90% of underground shit right now is horrible. It’s canned. We just try to stay wide open with our shit.
Would you say your family knows your sound better than anybody else?
Definitely, or at least my potential. They’ll be able to tell me if an experiment is going bad. Your family’s good for that. Yes-men aren’t really good for that because they don’t know you like that. Motivation plays a lot in what people say to you as well. With relatives, that’s never the case.
What was it like recording “Right Quik” with your Souls of Mischief brethren Opio and Tajai?
It was fun. That was another one of the songs that came towards the end. I wanted to do the Souls of Mischief song like a Souls of Mischief song. I wanted these guys to be on my album as a Souls song, so I got all my solo stuff out of the way and was able to concentrate on this one as a Souls of Mischief song. This song was so easy to make. It was so easy. We have chemistry. We’ve been friends since high school. Working with them is like clockwork. Plus I had that beat lying around and I wanted to use it. For some reason, I liked that beat a lot. I think what happened is I played a couple of tracks for the guys and that was the one they liked the most.
Over the years, has it ever been hard staying on the same page with Opio and Tajai?
It’s not hard because we’re family. But being that we’re older and we all have lives with kids and we’ve moved from where we used to live and we have responsibilities, the only thing we have to get right is the timing. When we were younger, all we did was sit around and make music. Now we’re grown men. But when we get together, we just work. It’s like clockwork. Our pattern is set and our system is set for us.
How’s the new Souls of Mischief album coming?
It’s done. It’s being mixed. We’re having a tentative release in the first quarter of next year.
How has the Souls of Mischief sound changed from ’93 ‘Til Infinity to now?
One thing about the Souls of Mischief sound is that it’s always going to change. We never made music for the sake of being different. We just sit down to make music. That’s how it is with Hiero. We’re always trying to push the envelope. Line all of Casual’s albums up and they’ll all sound different, including his new one with Jake One that he’s working on. We’re trying to make what we want to make and you can expect them to sound different. Our sound is continuously changing and it always will. We’re always growing as artists. We’re not complacent when it comes to the artistry of this music. We’re always trying to push each other and to get better. Our beats come out sounding different and even though we have our own Hiero sound that sounds different, it still sounds different on all our works. We’ve made classics, depending on who you talk to, and both Hiero albums sound different. That’s just how we do it.
Is there any way you can measure Souls of Mischief’s impact on hip-hop?
We don’t lean on that. Maybe when it’s all over, maybe I’ll answer that question. As of right now, I’m fully in the game. We can do it again and again. We’re just living in it right now. When it’s all said and done and we’ve all hung up our mics, then we can answer that question. We’re the first hip-hop group with an official website and we’re pretty much the template for underground indie groups and the whole industry, not to mention that the world didn’t think there was anything but gangsta rap on the West Coast until Del and Souls came out. We’re not done affecting shit. Look at our link between our music and extreme sports. A lot of people in extreme sports, the first song they ever liked was a Hiero song. And we’re not changing. We’re still young men. We have a lot more shining to do and a lot more influence to share.
What is it about Hiero that allows you to crossover to the skateboarding and snowboarding crowd?
I don’t know. I can’t call it. I don’t know. Extreme sports are a progressive thing and the people who do it were underground for so long. They had their own following and we had our own following. The people who are into it are really into it. We’ve been going through a lot of the same issues. I learned how to snowboard from having snowboarder fans. That’s a beautiful thing. I don’t know how it happened but it’s great that we can touch so many different walks of life. We have a plethora of different kinds of fans.
Are you guys working on a new Hiero album?
It’s already being made. It’s in the process of being made already.
You have Sunspot Jonz of the Living Legends on “Far Away.” Did the Living Legends benefit from the Hiero mold?
Absolutely! They know it too. We took them on their first tour and they patterned a lot of their business after us. We introduced them to their booking agent and our old distributor. Everybody has to come up with someone. I love those guys.
How are you gauging the success of My Last Good Deed?
The success is that it’s out and that it’s done. It’s a personal achievement and a success at once. I’ve been through this before with Opio and Tajai releasing albums. It helps Souls of Mischief every time we release an album. I’m glad to have made my contribution and I’m glad at the reviews I’m getting. That’s how I measure success. I’m not on a sales craze. Being on an independent, we can’t worry about that. We have a couple of albums where we’ve sold over 200,000, but that’s nothing on a major. That’ll get you fired on a major, but that makes us very wealthy. I can’t use the same sale scale for success as the rest of the industry. We’re in a different situation and that’s how I’m going to address it. I’m going to judge the success by what the people say to me on the street and what non-Hiero fans say to me. I already feel successful.
Are you going to release more solo albums in the future?
Who knows? We never say never, but it’s certainly more possible now. I’m riding the wave.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to be touring a lot. The time I’m not touring, I’m going to be spending my time with my kids and making music. That’s what I do. I spend time with my kids, make music and am on the road for three months out of the year. When I’m at home, I’m on my job and making music.
What advice would you offer to independent artists?
There’s no such thing as enough grinding because it’s harder now than it ever was and it’s going to get harder because of the shifts in the music business now. If you have dreams and aspirations to get out, there’s no such thing as enough hard work. There’s no such thing as enough grind. And there’s certainly no such thing as enough music. And you have to compete with every other hungry cat out there.
What do you want to say to everybody?
To everybody out there, first, if you have in any way been supportive of Hiero through the years, I sincerely thank you. To all the young kids out there who rip shit online for free, y’all are killing the art. Believe it or not, you are killing the art. And if anybody wants to sit down and have a conversation with me about it, I have the facts. And shout out to all the real fans that will still buy the album and read the credits. Shout out to the few that are still out there…