Man, everything's good. We just rocked a show in D.C. We’re on our way to Montreal right now. We’re getting ready for a fall push with all of our projects.
The last Hiero project was A-Plus’ My Last Good Deed. How’s that album doing today?
Man, that’s doing cool. He’s about to go on tour with Del in Canada and he’s about to do a fall tour with Del and Devin the Dude throughout the US. We’re just excited right now. It’s an exciting time. There’s a lot of stuff going on. We’re trying to make the best of it.
Did people respond to A-Plus’ album the way you wanted them to?
I mean, really, it’s about keeping them aware. We still have to work on videos and getting him out there. The best way to market is through touring. We do probably 120 shows a year. His touring just started. He’s been out with Souls for about 30 dates and he’s going to go out with Del for about 50. There just needs to be more awareness. Cats are asking about this A-Plus record every day on tour, so that’s a good look.
What’s the best way for you guys to market your projects in today’s changing game?
Really, it’s like radio is over. It’s a wrap. In order to get a song to be a hit in every radio market, it’s going to take $500,000. It takes between $200,000 to $500,000 to blow a song up. We’re independent. We’re not going to spend that money. That’s our marketing budget for six or seven records. With video, it’s the same thing. There’s one company that owns the major TV stations and if you’re not in bed with them and you’re not buying advertising or you’re not using your clout with your R&B and rock bands to force them to play a video, then you’re not going to be visual. That’s a hard thing because we have to rely on the internet and going out on the road. I love interacting with the fans, so I can’t complain, but in regards to mainstream radio and video play, the field is not level at all. It’s controlled by $500,000 campaigns.
Just how important is touring to Hieroglyphics?
Without that, people would have no idea about what we’re doing and that we have projects out. That’s the most essential and key part to us. The internet helps us a lot, but at this point, not everyone is online and has a computer. You can send out blasts, but that’s only to your fans. It’s harder to hit the people that don’t know about you.
The Hieroglyphics recently dropped Over Time, featuring b-sides and remixes. How did that project do for you guys?
That did really well for us, especially digitally. I think the format is switching from CD to digital. That was really just to keep the legacy going until we have a new project out. We have vaults of music and if we can package it to the point where it can be good to the fans, then it’s worth it.
Hiero as a brand is expanding in more ways than one. You just signed metal group A Band Called Pain. What’s going on with them?
They’re sick, dude. We’re trying to represent independent music. Independent hip-hop is great, but it’s not everything. We want to represent anybody that feels they want to get their shine on because that music can compete with anything out. The album is out now and it’s soulful and I think it can speak to anybody that’s had life experience. I didn’t come up on just hip-hop. We came up on Metallica and Black Sabbath and David Bowie as well as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. So it’s not as odd to us to have a heavy metal band on our label. Nowadays kids have that option to only listen to hip-hop and they take that approach, which I think is extremely limited, and they think it’s weird that some hip-hoppers would have a thrash metal group on their label. Malcolm McClaren made “Buffalo Gals”!
Do you have to change your marketing approach when promoting a metal band?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. We have a whole different PR company because it’s completely different marketing. They’re getting in motorcycle magazines. They’re in Dane Cook’s video for Tourgasm. It’s definitely a different marketing strategy, but it’s still just as costly! (laughs) But our fans are very open-minded. We have jeans, hotels and hostels coming. We’re just trying to have people know that the Hiero logo is a symbol for quality across all lines.
Do Hiero fans support everything you do?
It depends. We rocked a show in Amsterdam and cats were coming up to me asking me, “Where’s Beeda Weeda at?” That’s some very street shit. Other people ask me, “Where’s A Band Called Pain?” I think the average Hiero listener isn’t just a hip-hop fan. Even the hardcore Hiero fans listen to some Black Flag. I think that because they know they we have diversity in our tastes and that we are diverse as a group, they embrace that stuff too.
I can’t be mad if they don’t. A lot of fans want the typical Hiero stuff, and that’s fine too because we have that. We’re a music group, but Hiero Imperium has a 10-year running stamp of quality. So when we put our stamp on anything, whether it’s an event or the hotel we’re trying to open, it’s quality. For instance, the Hiero jeans are not hip-hop jeans. They’re not hella baggy and they don’t have writing all over them. They’re for a jeans connoisseur. A Band Called Pain is the shit. They make you want to mosh when you get to the club. We want to bring you quality products. I’m not just a rapper. I don’t walk around moonwalking all day. I’m a father and I’m an athlete. I’m all kinds of things. I want men and women who do all types of things to have something from Hiero to personalize and customize their day.
You recently signed Musab, who’s dropping his album in late September. How’s his project coming?
He came at us. We’ve been messing with Musab for a long time. Siddiq and all those dudes at Rhymesayers are great fans of us and great colleagues. Whenever we go out to Minneapolis, they put us up and we go to their store and they put us up on shows. I think they took some of our blueprint for this independent thing and blew up with it. I wish them all the best. I think Musab was comfortable with us and with the relationship that we formed to where he felt comfortable coming to us. He’s a real lyricist and he has depth because he’s talking about life and a different part of the game. It was a better match, I think, with our label because we have everyone from Del to Phesto Dee to Casual just in one group. His record is incredible and it’s getting great reviews. Right now it’s just a matter of getting the word out and let cats know that Musab is coming.
Where would independent hip-hop be if Hiero didn’t lay down the blueprint?
Man, I shudder to think about that. Luckily, we’re in the Bay Area and we get all the ideas of all the people coming in and we’re in the middle of Silicon Valley. When Steve Jobs unveiled iTunes, he called Hiero Imperium to come down and check it out. We’re lucky and blessed with our location. I just think that we were the right people and we were in the right place at the right time. I met StinkE, who did the first Hiero site, 13, 14 years ago when I was at Stanford. I just think that we were in the right place at the right time and we took the initiative to do things. I’m just glad that Def Jux and Quannum and other labels were able to take our blueprint and build off of it. But you also have to look at what Too Short and E-40 and all those guys started. We’re in the Bay Area and it’s a very diverse place and we’re always on the cutting edge with technology. It’s just us building on the legacy that previous artists left.
How did Hiero Denim come about?
If you look at our videos and all that type of stuff, I don’t think you’ll ever see any outfits on us that are super-trendy. You’ll never see us rocking no cross-colors or any outlandish hats. And that’s not to diss others, but we’ve always been on kind of a classic, universal style. For example, I’ve been rocking Vans since I was in elementary school because we’re in the Bay Area and we’re on the West Coast and we have skaters and surfers. We’ve always cut across genres and lifestyles and we wanted to provide gear that we would rock. Right now, I think a lot of the stuff is going on stylistically because they feel that hip-hop or whatever genre they’re in, they’re thinking it’s a cash cow and they’re not thinking or looking outside of it. I’m looking at Levis as a competitor, not Red Monkey or Rocawear. Look at Phat Farm clothing – a 40 year-old guy or a kid in elementary school could wear them. That’s what our clothes are going to be. You can dress them up and you can dress them down. You can wear them to a hip-hop show or you can wear them casually. We’re making the clothes that we want to wear.
How’s the new Souls of Mischief album coming?
Oh, man, it’s pretty much done. We’re just pretty much putting the finishing touches on it. It’s sick. I’m extremely impressed with it. I don’t even like listening to my own music, really. But this music, I really like listening to it. I think it’s because we brought in an outside producer who brought so much of his own dimension to it that it’s entertaining for me to watch it come together. But it’s pretty much done, man. We’re working on another album after that. Then we’re trying to get Phesto Dee’s album out and tour after that.
It’s been awhile since the last Souls of Mischief album. Was the chemistry still there?
We’re with each other all the time. We do 100-something shows a year. We’re with each other 100 days, 24 hours a day. We’re also at the Hiero Compound all of the time together. Between 2000 and now, we’ve dropped two Hiero albums, a Tajai album, an Opio album and an A-Plus album. That’s five albums, and we recorded this new one. We’ve pretty much been busy recording this stuff. The flame doesn’t go out. When we’re not touring, we’re thinking of new concepts and new albums. It’s just that some records we record end up on a Hiero record and some end up on a Souls album and some end up on a solo album. I don’t think we can ever lose our chemistry. Hiero is with each other pretty much every day. We have a meeting on our jeans twice a week. Everybody has their own room for production in the Hiero Compound. I might be working late in the office and go downstairs and see Opio working. It’s like we’re together all of the time. A lot of crews are maybe made up of separate entities that’s not really based on the music shit. But our kids play together and we go to the clubs together. It's not that we’re never not on the same page. On top of that, we’re musicians so the majority of our interactions are based on concepts and what we may be listening to and things like that.
’93 ‘Til Infinity is widely regarded as a hip-hop classic. How do you feel about that album today?
It’s crazy. But when you’re on the inside looking out, you don’t know that you’re making history because history is being made all of the time. But it’s great to have that under our belts. I think a lot of times that overshadows other stuff that we’re making. ’93 is great, but I think that our greatest achievement was creating Hiero Imperium. We took our fanbase from ’93 and built Hiero Imperium. We were able to create a legacy and control it financially and with our own vision. ’93 ‘Til Infinity is like our roots. Del’s No Need For Alarm changed the whole canon for West Coast hip-hop. Although I do think our future efforts are overshadowed because our first works set the bar so high. And as our fans get older and pick up records that they maybe didn’t pick up at the time because maybe they didn’t get the right press or because it wasn’t ’93 ‘Til, they’ll pick it up and be like, ‘Oh, shit, this is a great album!’ We’re trying to make classics and that’s why we find artists like Knobody and Prince Ali. We were 17, 18 years-old when we first made ’93 ‘Til Infinity. That I still get the same feeling to freestyle when I hear the beats on ’93 ‘Til, that’s a great thing.
Are you working on a follow-up to your first solo album The Power Movement?
Yeah, man. I have hella tracks. A-Plus and Aagee have a production crew called Compound7. They’re making EPs for everybody. They got one for Del called LED. Mine is THC. Opio’s is coming. We’re trying to make one for everybody in the clique. That’s pretty much done. I have a new album coming out. That’s called Rap Noir. That’s coming out whenever I finish it. There’s just a bunch of projects in the works. As a solo artist, I just try to really be about the music. You probably won’t see any Tajai music videos, but that’s cool. I don’t want to spend a lot of marketing money so I don’t feel forced to get my money back through the sales.
It’s like a graphic novel versus a comic book. You may buy the X-Men every week, but sometimes a sick graphic novel comes out that not everybody has.
What are your goals for your label, Clear Label Records?
Man, there’s not a single artist on Clear Label that’s the same. First of all, there’s Tajai. That’s boom-bap rap and some lyricism. Then there’s Beeda Weeda. That’s lyrical and on some street shit. I listened to BDP, Ice Cube and Scarface and I wanted something like that. These guys are musicians that happened to live that lifestyle. Their music reflects their love for hip-hop. Then I have Baby Jaymes, who’s more soul R&B, sort of like a Raphael Siddiq or a Bilal. It’s like some R&B, but it’s kind of dirtied up. Then I have Chris Marsol. He’s more pop. He makes music like a Lenny Kravitz or Fall Out Boy. Then there’s ISBS. He’s in Germany right now. He’s got dubbed-out, funked-out instrumental-type music that I think cats would like to skateboard to or throw the frisbee around to. Then there’s Shake Da Mayor. I don’t want to say he’s like 50 Cent. It’s street shit and it’s pop, sort of like a Fabolous. With Clear Label, what I’m trying to do is create a real good diversity. Everybody on Hiero is a lyric head. With Clear Label, I’m trying to sign artists from all walks of life, with quality, of course. If you go to my MySpace and pick up some music, I don’t think you would be disappointed and you would have music for all the different things in your life. It’s a whole variety-type thing that I’m going for.
How’s Del’s new album The 11th Hour coming?
Man, the album is sick, dude. It should hopefully be out in October. The fans are going to be waiting up for it. We’re just trying to hammer out all the details. You won’t be disappointed, man. Del’s going to come back with a vengeance.
Are you guys working on a new Hiero album?
This year is one of our biggest years for releases and next year, we have Casual and Jake One’s album The Return of the Backpack, Phesto Dee’s album Critical Mass, a new Souls of Mischief album, a Hiero album and a Hiero DVD of all our videos, like 26 videos. Then there’s Pep Love’s Reconstruction. We’re trying to give our fans an alternative of quality hip-hop. I think in the past, the only thing our fans have been able to complain about is that we haven’t come out with enough albums. It’s all in the works, dude. But as a CEO, I don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver. I want to underpromise and overdeliver.
What’s the next move for Tajai?
Getting in the office and doing the work. I want to make sure that when Phesto Dee’s album comes out, it gets the same push as A-Plus’ record. When we go out on tour, I want to make sure that we bring everybody. I want to make sure that the business is taken care of. The business and creative side are really in two separate hemispheres in your brain. When I’m in a creative mode, I want to knock out songs. Other times when I’m in my business mode, I want to mp3 songs and get things straight. I feel that I have the best roster. I’m not trying to be on some bravado shit, but of course I’m not being objective. But I’m working with some of the greatest artists of our contemporary time and if I can just give them the same push that all of these other artists are getting, then there’s no question that these guys won’t be on top. And on top of all that, we’re trying to start a hotel chain and clothing line and I’m sitting in the middle of D.C. traffic, coming from one show and about to go to another show. I can only do so much from a hotel room. I think sitting in the office, I can be much more effective. That’s really what’s on my plate right now.
What advice would you offer to independent labels and artists trying to make it themselves without a major label behind them?
Concentrate on being original and believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, you at least have one fan. Then you have to look at why you believe in yourself and make other people believe in you. And with the way technology is, there’s no reason you can’t make an album on your own. Invest your money into your venture and don’t sacrifice your quality. And if you can’t do something, know that and get somebody who can. I can’t do PR, so I have somebody to do that. I’m not a designer, so we have a designer. The things that you can’t do yourself, know that you can’t do it yourself and get the best people that you have access to to do that. And believe in yourself. If you can combine all of that, I believe you will have success.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Look for that Hiero Imperium symbol. I’m putting my name on the line right now. Anything that you pick up with the Hiero symbol, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. Pick up the Hiero jeans. We’re trying to represent Hiero as a lifestyle. Thank you for supporting us the past 20 years. We came into the game at 15, 16 years-old and now we’re just as old as most of the people coming up in the game that are brand new. Man, we got a lot of good years and good material up ahead of us. I thank you for the support and please, continue to support. We’re not going to disappoint you.