Reviews

Hieroglyphics + Encore

Luke Stiles
Hieroglyphics + Encore

Hieroglyphics + Encore

City: New York
Venue: S.O.B's
Date: 2003-10-08
The S.O.B.'s crowd had been prepped nicely by Encore and then Little Brother when Hiero finally took the stage. Encore had given an excellent West Coast take on what an East Coast underground emcee sounds like. Very skilled and a good performer, Encore's South Bay address may be the only thing holding him back. If he was even in South Jersey he'd probably be much better off. Little Brother's energetic performance kept things going as front men Big Pooh and Phonte worked the stage tirelessly rapping, dancing, singing, and mugging it up all over. Hiero got right into it with "That's When You Lost" and showed why they still pack a house more than 10 years after they coalesced as a crew. And Del wasn't even on stage yet. He entered on the third song looking like he hadn't changed since the photo shoot for the cover of Hiero's new album, Full Circle. He also looked like he was barely with the audience, only opening his eyes all the way for the occasional accent to a rhyme. His performance was the prototype for the evening -- a few solo numbers from any one of the talented crew members or sub-crew Souls of Mischief followed by a few selections done by fuller compliment of the Hiero crew. There weren't nearly enough microphones for everyone on stage, which necessitated this approach. On the few occasions there was song where everyone had a verse, microphones were graciously shared. Del rocked it, performing joints from a career spanning more than a decade, From "Funkee?" off his latest album Both Sides of the Brain to "Cowboys" from super-star collaboration Gorrilaz he also reached all the way back to his first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here. The format was the same for each song -- Del would spit a few verses and then follow up with a freestyle in place the other unremembered verses. After leading a few numbers, Del retired to the corned of the stage with his head hung over, enjoying whatever it was he had used to get himself through the evening. Pep Love took the honor of the second-most powerful player of the evening. He was a tireless presence, on stage for the entire evening, performing more than his share of solo numbers and backing up almost every other emcee. Pep Love has an impeccable flow and crisp voice laced with just the right amount of Oakland twang to set him apart from other well-practiced emcees. Easily one of the most talented members of the group; what he lacks in raw talent relative to Del, he more than makes up for with his superior work ethic. Unfortunately, being a superior emcee doesn't mean that you can hold the stage as well as Del. Pep Love is best appreciated by true hip hop heads, lacking the raw charisma that a natural performer like Del possesses. Hiero does not suffer from the same problems that plague most oversized posses. All members are skilled and experienced emcees, and everyone is very professional. They expertly avoided the problems with most hip hop posse sets: every idiot on stage climbs over each other in an attempt to inexpertly shout a nursery school rhyme into any available mic. There were none of the usual superfluous shout outs or microphone hogging. Not only did everyone wait their turn, but if someone had a verse and their mic was under-performing, the suspect mic was quickly and quietly swapped with someone else on stage. Next were more selections from the Hiero full-lengths Third Eye and Full Circle as well as the Hiero-heavy soundtrack to hip hop drug/road trip flick One Big Trip. After a turn with the full Hiero crew, Souls of Mischief convened at the front of the stage to drop a bunch of their own jams. Hiero is such a big crew that its crews have crews. And so the show continued unpacking like a Russian doll, Del perked up from the corner of the stage to return to the center of stage to deliver Mista Dobalina and a few other choice classics from his back catalog. Casual was next to shine. He showed once again that he is the most slept on member of the Hiero crew. Del is a star and all the rest are nice, but his full length from 2001 stayed way too far under the radar. A full array of Souls was unpacked to finish off the sub-set superstars of Hiero. Tajai and Opio had dominated the Souls offerings up until this finale, but now Phesto and A Plus got their due with a full piece of the action, and not just a verse or two. Graciously all other members faded to the back of the stage. Well delivered, but without their hit "'93 'Til Infinity" or a speculated reprise "2K3 'Til Infinity". My roommate and I have the lyrics all worked out, so when Souls is ready to revisit and update that classic, we'll be waiting. This chapter marked the climax of the evening, with the last few songs continuing the showcase format, but without the same cohesion and energy. The set faded out as one talented member after another did his thing, but without a single narrator keeping things moving or consistent narrative structure, the set didn't have the sense of dynamic and never gelled into the sort of narrative that makes a good performance.

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