The house that Hiero built - Page 2

The veteran rappers of Hieroglyphics open their doors to young street crews PTB and Livewire
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Beeda Weeda, Tajai, and J-Stalin
Photo by Alexander Warnow

Even bringing up other acts like Knobody or Musab, who are on the same tip as Hiero — our fans want Hiero music," Massey said, in reference to Hiero Imperium artists and the group's demanding backpacker following. "So we'll give it to them, and let Clear Label be the outlet for other acts, especially my relationship with PTB/Livewire."

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Oakland hip-hop converges on the Hiero HQ. Photos by Alexander Warnow

It helps, Massey continued, that J-Moe, the CEO of PTB, has a vision. "That dude is a genius," the Clear Label honcho said. "He's called the Machine, because he's always working." With an uncanny ability to spot new talent — like 17-year-old phenom Yung Moses, who J-Moe dubs "the future face of the franchise" — the Machine is a crucial part of the evolution of Clear Label.

But Clear isn't just a "street label," Massey continued. He's working with a "rock 'n' roll" dude, Chris Maarsol, as well as League 510, which he describes as working in "really a new genre." Hailing from East Oakland, 510 blends lyrical, positive rap and house-influenced grooves in a mix the group calls "Town Techno." "It's like bridging the hyphy movement and the alternative crowd," Massey said. "I know they'll do well in cities like Miami, Chicago — where they have a house scene — and in Europe."

Interestingly, according to Massey, European fans have been more receptive to Hiero's new connections than the domestic audience. "It's crazy," he said with a laugh. Among other acts, Massey also scooped up Baby Jaymes, digitally re-releasing his 2005 debut, The Baby Jaymes Record (Ghetto Retro), and dropping a new single, "The Bizness," including Turf Talk. "Baby Jaymes is huge in Germany and Belgium, even Australia," Massey added. "I'm in Amsterdam and people are like, 'Where's Beeda Weeda?' Out there people understand the association, whereas in Oakland, they have no idea. It's odd how Europeans look deeper into it, and it's a whole different language."

'WE ALL FROM OAKLAND'

Perhaps it isn't so odd. The language barrier may even facilitate European acceptance, because despite the differences between Hiero's conscious lyricism and PTB/Livewire's grimy topics, the musical bond is already there.

"There are more similarities than differences," Opio told me. "We all from Oakland. Hiero looked to Too $hort and E-40 when we began our independent hustle."

Though he admittedly can't keep track of the crews' ever-expanding rosters, former Hiero Imperium head Domino — who, after helming the organization from its mid-'90s inception, stepped down in 2006 to concentrate on production — also welcomes the influx of young talent. "As you get older," he said, "there's not the same excitement as an artist. You can't totally get it back, but you can feed off their new energy."

Beyond their shared approval, members of Hiero have already begun to collaborate with PTB/Livewire. Souls member A-Plus, for example, produced the dancehall-inspired opener, "Da Town," on Beeda's new all-original mixtape, Talk Shit Swallow Spit possibly the hottest Bay Area disc this year — while Casual appears on Beeda's forthcoming album, tentatively titled Turf Radio. PTB, moreover, has added a more conscious lyricist, Tre Styles, upsetting what Opio describes as "the boxes the corporate market puts people in."

Massey agrees. "Look at Beeda or Shady. Their mentality isn't 'go dumb, go stupid,'<0x2009>" he noted.

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