Souls Of Mischief’s 93 ’til Infinity 20 Years Later (Food For Thought)
My biggest gripe with the cliché-use of the word “classic” is the freshness in which it’s pulled out. In order to be a classic, you must endure the tendency to forget, overlook, and turn the page.
The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Baritz is classic—with its long lines, razor-sharp edges and dazzling chrome. Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America is classic—an era-less look at love with comedic riffs that can never be antiquated. The Ray Ban Wayfarer. Thriller. Levi’s. Catcher In The Rye. The Stan Smith Adidas. The list of tried-and-true classics is expansive in any subculture. However, in Hip-Hop, we often throw it around before the proverbial paint has dried, and who really suffers?
I rarely hear the Souls Of Mischief debut album 93 ‘til Infinity revered as a classic. Recently, a friend of mine reported that the quartet’s anniversary tour stopped in North Carolina, only to be met with a few tickets sold, and a crowd that could not match the energy on stage of Tajai, Opio, Phesto and A-Plus—all backed by a live band.
The Jive Records LP, released 20 years ago this month did not score a gold or platinum plaque, and its hit single may’ve been exclusively a hit to the Heads—not even breaking the Top 10 of the genre’s charts. However, this year, there is not an album—new or old—that I’ve listened to more, or greater benefited from. At a time when I (like so many of us) want to go back to the basics, this LP reclaims my aural virginity to the Hip-Hop that I love, and the culture and attitudes that I plan on sharing with my children when they’re still in diapers. 93 ‘til Infinity lives up to its name 20 years later
The Single: “93 ‘til Infinity”
Unlike Rock and Soul music, Hip-Hop has never thrived on the title track. Sure, there’s Boogie Down Productions domineering “Criminal Minded,” 2Pac’s fame-trodden “All Eyez On Me,” Biggie’s eerie “Ready To Die” and Common’s pensive “Resurrection,” but few songs ever eclipse the albums they come from. “93 ‘til…” may be the exception. While it’s not deserved (the eclipse), this A-Plus-produced concoction is at the zeitgeist of the early ‘90s glory in Hip-Hop.
In my teenage years, I grew to be obsessed with Jazz. My best friend and I would attend concerts by the likes of Herbie Mann, Monty Alexander, Idris Muhammad and Bob James. I recall one snowy rust-belt matinee show with Bob James—architect of so many samples to Heads’ anthems. The crowd was crippled from the snowfall, but we made it. With a limited audience, Bob asked for requests. A teenager, I chirped out “Nautilus.” Bob replied, “I knew you were a Hip-Hop guy. Why else would you be here?” Although he didn’t have the proper instruments to do the song Dennis Coles and his brother-in-law Robert Diggs re-popularized in 1996, he was right. Hip-Hop made me learn the (literal) players. “93 ‘til Infinity” did as well, as it taught me what a visionary Billy Cobham is.
It is a tucked-away moment in Cobham’s dreamy 1974 Crosswinds cut “Heather” that matched beautifully against the Souls’ lyrics about skirt-chasing and ‘cess that makes you feel the high. The tingles I’ve felt in my body when the song breaks match that of being stoned. It’s uplifting, it conquers all stresses, and it delivers you back to every crush, every carefree moment of your adolescent youth—sheer euphoria.
What’s more, “93 ‘til” is neither Jazz-Rap or Weed-Rap. While label-mates A Tribe Called Quest were focusing their songs on the elder genre and Oakland counterparts Tha Luniz were making indie anthems on chipping in on a bag, Souls Of Mischief were looser in their songwriting. Perhaps that’s what hurt these records in time—they can drift from Battle Rap, to stream of consciousness lyricism, to Relationship-Rap, but they never can be cornered in a song.
93 ’til Infinity: The Overlooked Album Of The Same Name
The whole 93 ‘til Infinity album is dynamic. Like Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde 10 months earlier, the LP is an exercise in flow, with some cool Everyman song concepts. “Live And Let Live” exemplifies this. Tajai rapped, “Trust the fact I’m friendly and you’ll Plus see / I love humans, they hate me / I’d love to live and let live, but no one’s D.” The song is driven by the delivery from each member, but the message of coexistence is particularly interesting in the face of Doggystyle’s cutthroat street tales the same year. This was cool spiritual commentary on humanity. Another Northern California act was clearly listening, with Blackalicious’ brilliant “Swan Lake” effort coming within the next 12 months. “What A Way To Go Out” is not unlike Kendrick Lamar’s “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” illustrating the ill effects of living the Gangsta Rap fan’s paradise. However, unlike K.Dot, the group’s fiction was clear, and the scratching, chorus and animated deliveries may have been lost on those who took the lyrics of “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” too seriously.
Other songs are simple battle-raps at anybody. The evocative “93 ‘Til” single was backed with “That’s When Ya Lost,” a record that had more in common with the attitude and message of Buckshot and 5FT than Fatlip and Booty Brown. “Battling Practice” predictably (by title) follows suit. “Anything Can Happen” also has that backpacker-with-a-gun-in-it attitude (to quote the BDI Thug). Storytelling, but still a a convincing group from the era where you might get tested off the mic.
One of the things I find truly great about 93 ‘til is the improvisational ensemble. Like the Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album that would release six weeks later, this album has that family, basement vibe. Tajai told me this year in a passing conversation that much of the LP was directly lifted or re-recorded with minor adjustment from the group’s demos of 1991 and 1992. You can pretty much hear it. One verse goes into the next. The chemistry is there, but not in a Freestyle Fellowship or Jurassic 5 harmonious way. It’s very much a jammy sensibility (see “Limitations”). To me, this was something that was very organic in 1993—certainly apparent on Enta Da Stage and Wu’s debut. However, with Souls, it’s just warmer, more like a cipher than a posse attacking the mic (or “swarming”).
Along with the lyricism and themes, the production of this album is perhaps the most overlooked element of greatness. Following Del The Funkee Homosapien’s strong 1991 debut, I Wish My Brother George Was Here, which boasted Ice Cube and DJ Pooh on the boards, the clique from the Turf really harvested a sound that best suited them. It was sample-heavy, always-changing, and was completely in-house. Sadly, A-Plus is one of the most overlooked self-producers in Hip-Hop, with an arsenal of sounds. Del, Domino and Jay Biz supported A in creating an album that was as successfully cohesive (despite being a la carte) as the archetype: Illmatic. The LP relied on Jive’s sample budget (for a group who was never able to clear gems like “Cab Fare” (cue: Bob James) or “Step To My Girl”).
The Souls Of Mischief’s 93 ’til Infinity album is a strange hybrid of timeless and a walk-back-in-time. That said, to me and a few of my respected peers, it most certainly is a classic. The album and its title track fail to sound dated, but feel human, organic and tangible in an era where everything has some digital component. The album seems to be one of the more euphoric listens in an era of screw-faces.
The fact that I’ve listened to 93 ’til more than Yeezus or Magna Carta Holy Grail is not a slight of what’s happening in the present day. Rather, the Souls Of Mischief created a place in time that I refuse to let go of. Like looking at Mona Lisa’s smile, I cannot seem to not interpret the lyrics, the sampling, the vibe differently each time. But in a year when I feel musically starving for something that improves my life and makes me strut when I walk, this is classic material.