Records Revisited: Souls Of Mischief – 93 ’til Infinity (1993)

At the same time as G-Funk was ushering in the gangster era, Souls Of Mischief were defining alternative hip-hop as a complex soundtrack to the realities of adolescence. Three decades later, they are still at the top of their game.

Who’s ready to admit that they ride the hype train? No one. And yet many will be the first to jump into the first carriage when money and fame call. So in September 1993, when four Oakland MCs refused to succumb to the emerging G-funk hype, sections of hip-hop culture ridiculed them for their age. In contrast, however, the arts pages and friends of the refined and original style of spoken song were, and still are, in awe. For Tajai, Opio, Phesto and A-Plus, things were clear from the start: consumerism, avarice and pistol-touting posturing have no place in their music. Instead, they were all about the existential boredom of the Western miracle of affluence, and weed, books, a passion for music and the suffering of everyday life. What makes Souls of Mischief’s debut »93 ’til Infinity« timeless to this day is the often disregarded material written by authentic lyricists at the time. 

In the early days of the collective, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were just establishing their iconic status on the East Coast, and with works like »3 Feet High And Rising« (1989) and »The Low End Theory« (1991), they also had a huge influence on what was happening on the West Coast. The sample base was oriented more towards the cool jazz, blues and psychedelic rock of the 1970s, with instrumentation like that of small combos framed by beats. In this milieu, Souls Of Mischief were among the first to master how to translate this consistently into musical form. Beyond any image projection – without a »claim« – they refined the idea of a collective of MCs, slipping into the role of observers of an attitude to life in the 1990s that was marked by social inequality, the disastrous effects of Reagonomics, but also the dialectic between innovation and tradition, as well as the seminal awakenings of new subcultures that emancipated themselves from the status of underground music and eventually mutated into the mainstream. 

An album as a friend for life 

The Souls had an enormous influence on rap formations as a result, not least in Germany. Likewise with Absolute Beginners, Fettes Brot, Dynamite Deluxe and Freundeskreis, the whole thing was never about the expensive cars, naked girls and threatening gangs of alleged »brothers«. The word »shit« was rarely used as an expletive either. The original impetus for rap music as a disruptive moment in youth culture continued to resonate in these groups – the Souls were the godfathers of it all. At the same time, commercially viable variations of the genre were emerging, but the style that came to be known as conscious rap developed a cultural relevance among those who needed rap to cope with their everyday lives rather than consume it as entertainment. It’s something that hasn’t changed to this day. 

At the same time, the depth of content was accompanied by a more refined language, relying on internal rhymes and expanding complex bars to two, three and four levels of interpretation.

As a result, the album is conceptually rooted in the social and cultural realities the quartet faced in the early nineties. The underground scene on the West Coast was still in its infancy. Crews like Freestyle Fellowship or Hieroglyphics, to which the four belonged, but also fellow artists of the calibre of The Pharcyde or Hiero founder Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, were striving to find their own style, enjoyed little attention from MTV and were free to experiment. They contributed beats and became important friends during the process of making »93 ’til Infinity«. 

At the same time, the depth of content was accompanied by a more refined language, relying on internal rhymes and expanding complex bars to two, three and four levels of interpretation. Yet, none of the members of the quartet were out of their teens when «93 ’til Infinity« was released. The fact that some of them had known each other since pre-school and primary school definitely contributed to the album’s laid-back vibe, where the lyrics on «What A Way To Go Out« or «Make Your Mind Up«, for example, often seem like stories between good friends. The legendary title track «93 «til Infinity« also harks back to this, although producer A-Plus made the original version slower and more emotional. His fellow artists then succeeded in turning him into a sunnier and more carefree character – and the underlying theme found its musical expression: lifelong friendship.