The beauty of having a large crew, posse, family, collective (other synonyms here) is that you don’t need any guests or features on your album, because with a distinct group of nine contributors, everyone will get the opportunity to shine, especially over a beefy serving of 17 tracks.. (Quick mental challenge: Name the nine members of the Hieroglyphics family. And in the spirit of transparency, I was able to name six. Check below for the answer.) These Oakland underground legends embody this philosophy.
For their first studio album in 10 years, Hieroglyphics enlisted the help of Sacramento-based producers Sleeprockers. The album, entitled The Kitchen (cue the ridiculous food-inspired puns here), is a whole mess of different ingredients that was recorded over the last nine years. Because of this, the album’s 17 tracks can feel a little disjointed, but Hiero never ceases to be fun or interesting.
Where else would the album begin but with a witty verse from Del the Funky Homosapien? Nowhere. Del kicks off the party on “Livin’ It Up”. He offers, “Me and my crew we respect the dues/You can’t count that, can’t begin to clown that.” That boastful statement of fact sets the tone for the whole project. And for the hook, Del tells us, “We got one life, we be livin’ it up.” That’s the Hiero mantra. What makes these guys so entertaining and enjoyable is how they share the spotlight.
The album continues with “The Mayor”, which stands as another example of the group’s artful boasting. They proceed to creatively tell us that they are the best, and while the audience (or the competition) is nodding its collective head to the bouncy beat, we come to realization that this is indeed correct. You can see that Pep Love compares himself to Buddha or when Tajai tells us that, “Measurement ain’t even relevant or evident.”
There is more boasting (“Golden”, “Shores Galore” or “Immortals”). There is some socially conscious teaching on tracks like “Gun Fever”. And there are relationship tales told from a distinct Hieroglyphics perspective (“Partly Me”). All of these efforts pale in comparison to previous Hiero masterpieces like “Powers That Be”, but that’s fine. While this new entry in the Hiero canon doesn’t live up to some of the group’s previous highs over their first two collective albums and individual releases, it is a welcome sight for those of us who appreciate the Hiero brand of Oakland hip-hop.
This album is an appetizer. It’s pleasant, it’s fun, it’s Hiero. We waited 10 years for another album, hopefully we won’t have to wait 10 more. This year is shaping up to be a banner one for the West Coast legends as Deltron 3030 will the release of Deltron Event II later this year (a follow-up that is 13 years in the making). This year is also 20th anniversary of Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘Til Infinity, Del’s No Need for Alarm, and Casual’s Fear Itself (technically released in 1994). So as the title of this collective album would suggest, we should be in store for another Hiero renaissance.
3.5 out of 5
Purchase The Kitchen on Amazon.
(Pop quiz answer from above: Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love, Domino, and Souls of Mischief – Phesto, A-Plus, Opio, and Tajai.)