Hieroglyphics is an Oakland based hip-hop collective that has always thrive to dismantle music by tackling the social consciousness through their scrupulous wordplay. With their extensive knowledge of hip-hop, Hieroglyphics focused more on the lyrical flow rather than the gangster life and always positioned themselves as the alternative to the mainstream and this is best exemplified with their first studio album, 3rd Eye Vision.
Recorded in 1998 by Hieroglyphics’ independent recording studio, Hieroglyphics Imperium Recording, the album aimed to bring to the forefront themes such as temporary-ism, power struggle against the wealthy elite, the illusion of power, and combating stereotypes. The album is also a reflection of the collective ability to work as one The members: Souls of Mischief, DJ Toure, A-Plus, Phesto, Tajai, Del the Funky Homosapien, Pep Love, Opio, Causal and Domino, delivers a unique point of view that is tied together by their ability to share the mic, creating a dynamic force in each song. There are 22 songs are this albums, with several songs dedicated to each member of the collective. Even though this is an acclaimed album, there are several songs that are worth special recognition as it touches among the essence of traditional, or old school, underground hip-hop as well as embodiment of Hieroglyphics as a collective.
“At the helm”
Hieroglyphics never saw themselves as gangster or drug dealers nor rapped about surface musical themes like sex and getting money. Rather, they focused on the craft of creating good lyrics that had more intellectual substance than your average rapper. This is best exemplified in Del the Funky Homosapien’s song, “At the Helm.” Del the Funky Homosapien is one of the most distinguished members of Hieroglyphics appearing in the Gorillaz's smash hit, “Feel Good Inc”
The song holds a dual purpose as Del both educates wannabe rappers on the craft of rapping as well as articulating his points with his infectious wordplay. The song starts out with the line, “Life is a blast when you known what you’re doin. Best to know what you’re doin’ ‘fore your life get ruined / Life is a thrill when your skill is developed, if you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the hell up” indicating that if you do not have any flow, that you should not have any business rapping. Del also sees that rappers do not understand what rap is really about in lyrics, “Rap ain’t about busting caps and fucking bitches/ It's about fluency with rhyming ingenuity.” In the second verse, Del targets wannabe rappers that really do not understand where rap comes from and criticizes them for doing so, “ You got no respect for hip-hop, and you tryin to rhyme.”
A good rapper exemplifies the ability to craft a story while maintaining a rhythmic flow and this whole true for Hieroglyphics MCs Opio and Pep Love in, “All Things.”
Many rappers discuss their encounters with law enforcement, tackling the issue from various angles, but for Opio and Pep Love, they use their skillful witticisms to create a warning message that tells listeners to watch their back even if they are minding their own business.
The lyrics starts with Opio witnessing a meeting between powerful figureheads all tied to freemasonry and recognizing secret handshakes and ultimately realizes that he has equal amount of power in his own community, stating, “But to me y’all famous, and I got game just the same // Man it floods my brain. Ya can’t frame us. “
The chorus, “They got plans, plots and schemes, like a dope fiend tryin to get that ice cream cola // My nigga hold up, things is not as they see // You get washed; even if you’re way too clean” indicates the similarities between the elite and the life in the street. Even though they see the elite for who they are, they are not different than the junkies in the street. The only difference between you and them is power.
The second verse is Pep Love steering the conversation inwards as the concept of freedom of black people is question, “the pen is an inkwell, niggas is slaves, even if we not locked up, we on our way.” This line is in reference to the institutional racism. Even though black people are free by law, the black community is still targeted by many an institutionally racist system.
He then goes into a tale of both MCs riding in his car with cash in his pocket and a “pocket full of cabbage” (weed). They then get pulled over and looted by the cops before getting arrested, “One time did a search and found we had scratch itched it and took us downtown.”
The next verse sentiments Opio lyrical superiority as he crafely explains to us how easily he was wrongly accused of a crime, “They test me and eyewitness fingered out Pep, So the next logical step was: I drove the getaway accessory to murder, court date set for May.”
Opio also added his own bon mot, referencing how easy you can buy your freedom if you have money,
“And since I’m not Orenthal J., I can’t pay Shapiro the dinero to get away clean, a nigga got twenty years though, know what I mean?”
The song ends with a speech by Eldridge Cleaver, who was a prominent leader in the Black Panther movement, “Does anybody know what the situation is? Do you know what we can do and what we can’t do?”
Perhaps one of best examples of Hieroglyphics rhyming together on a track is, “The Who.” This song features several of Hieroglyphics heavy MCs, Del, Pep Love, Opio and Phesto Dee, as they switch back and forth, verse to verse, blending their sounds together, stating that “we fuse together like Bruticus.” referencing the transformer that was a combination of all the transformers.
The album has several songs that showcase the collectiveness like “You Never Know,” “Oakland Blackouts,” “Off the Records”, “One Life One Love.”
To say Hieroglyphics is understated is an understatement in itself, for they are among the pioneers of alternative hip-hop. Before Chance the Rapper was turning down major labels to stay independent, Hieroglyphics consciously took it upon themselves to create their own recording studio so they could continue to stay independent. Hieroglyphics flip the script by bringing to the forefront themes that spearhead the surface problems plaguing America and penetrated our deeper consciousness by attacking the root of true evil that is happening in the black community. 3rd Eye Vision is Hieroglyphics’ vision of true freedom to express oneself through the medium of hip-hop.