The Hieroglyphics’ Opio anchors a five-part hip-hop bill on Cannery Row.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
As Monterey County hip-hop architects attempt to establish a foundation to build upon, it’s fitting that local MC/producer/promoter Erik “Esik” Melland is bringing in groundbreaking artist Opio.
The Oakland-based MC and producer has played an imperative part in the underground hip-hop scene since the early ’90s, when he formed Souls of Mischief with Tajai, A Plus and MC Phesto Dee. The group’s first LP, 93 ’Til Infinity, debuted at 14 on Billboard’s R&B charts and has since become regarded as a hip-hop classic. When the album was cut, Opio was only 17.
That record – along with albums like Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm – helped lay the early groundwork for what has become known as “backpack rap.”
A pack of rappers will join Opio this Saturday: Esik’s hefty Blue Fin lineup also features Ghambit, IQ, Projekt S.E.E.R. and The Saurus.
A few years after Souls of Mischief ignited the scene, Opio aligned with Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, Domino and Pep Love to form the wildly successful hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics. The brainy lyrics and catchy beats of Hiero’s 1998 debut Third Eye Vision have a vibe comparable to must-have hip-hop albums like Black Star’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star and Common’s Be.
The appeal of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics can also be attributed to the musicality of its players. Opio grew up listening to all kinds of music, and that versatile education comes out in his songwriting and producing.
“I used to be hella into reggae, really,” Opio told Evolving Music. “Yellowman is one of my favorites, obviously Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, they had the swagger that got me on rap. My parents were really into music, so through them I heard Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, stuff like that. When I first really started to hear rap, I heard ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ Grandmaster Flash.”
Another key to Opio’s achievements in the hip-hop world is his ability to avoid transforming his music into a prolonged commercial. On his self-produced “Dream… But Don’t Stop,” Opio spits: “Money might interest you, but it shouldn’t be integral/ Keep your physical in balance with your spiritual.”
The San Jose hip-hop collective Projekt S.E.E.R., featuring Esik, Simplemente, EdgeWize and Rahman Jamaal, carries a hip-hop philosophy similar to Opio’s, saying they came together to “revolutionize the mind, body and soul” through their music.
On June 19, Projekt S.E.E.R. played at the Blue Fin, opening for Scarub of the Living Legends crew, and Rahman Jamaal dazzled listeners with lyrical cocktails evocative of slam poet master Saul Williams.
And, as the Weekly’s Walter Ryce spotlighted with his recent cover story “Beating the Rap,” Esik stormed from the stage out into the audience and banged on the patio doors to get the attention of the smokers. But beyond the songwriting and powerful delivery, S.E.E.R. demonstrates a surprising knowledge and appreciation of all genres. The group even samples the Frank Zappa album Joe’s Garage on its tune “Love Is.”
As Esik helps local audiences discover more of what hip-hop love is (and can be), that song represents another fitting ingredient in an eventful and energized evening.