Hieroglyphics Holiday: Indie Hip-Hop Ringleaders Throw a Free Party

Start looking and you'll see the logo everywhere, especially here in the Bay Area. It's one thick circle, a short straight line, and three dots, which together form an abstract face with a third eye. In total the image is maybe 50 percent empty space, with zero words. By now it's been sewed, printed, pressed, and stitched. Stickers of it have been slapped onto the toll booths of the Bay Bridge. Plenty of people have tattoos of it.

The ubiquity is somewhat surprising, considering that this ludicrously simple third-eye image represents Hieroglyphics, a loose, long-established crew of brainy rappers and musicians from Oakland. The crew's 10 members include the entirety of the hip-hop quartet Souls of Mischief, as well as the rappers Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Casual, and Pep Love. They've been banded together for a decade and a half, recording, touring the world, and having sporadic brushes with mainstream notoriety, as Del did with Gorillaz's breakout hit "Clint Eastwood." ("I never thought it would get this big," the rapper told SF Weekly in 2007 about the logo he invented.) But one could argue that the most powerful illustration of the Hieroglyphics crew's resilient popularity came only last year.

After a fan suggested the idea of a Hieroglyphics holiday to Casual, the group decided to throw a free block party in Oakland last year, both as a sort of celebration of itself and as a thank-you to the community that birthed it. With the Sept. 3 date chosen for its echoes of "'93 'til Infinity," the Souls of Mischief signature tune and Bay Area rap anthem, "Hiero Day" was billed as a party for everyone (not just the sort of people who would normally go to a rap concert), with two stages, children's activities, skateboarding demos, a long bill of performers, and plenty of food and art vendors. The party was to be held on San Pablo Avenue in Downtown Oakland, where one half of the divided street would be shut down for most of a day. Tim House, who manages the crew, expected that perhaps 1,500 people would come out, maybe even a few thousand.

Instead, according to House's estimate, nearly 10,000 people showed up. A couple of hours into Hiero Day, the northbound half of San Pablo was also blocked off by the crowd, which House says stretched for two city blocks. All in all it went off with the kind of success you rarely hear associated with the troubled city these days. There was one fight, long after most of the crowd had gone home, which House personally broke up. "To see Oakland come out and represent in such a positive way, to see the smiles and see everyone happy ... I was probably riding a high for two weeks after that," House says. "I've been in music for 18 years now, and that was easily the most special and beautiful event that I've ever had anything to do with."

Naturally, then, Hiero Day is happening again. The Sept. 2 date this year isn't as neatly resonant, but there are other things to celebrate — and preparations seem a bit more thorough. The party will be held at the Linden Street Brewery, which is near downtown Oakland. It's still free, but attendees will need to get tickets in advance, rather than just showing up. The family-friendly elements have been retained. And since they're holding the event at a brewery, Linden Street is brewing up a special beer just for Hiero Day.

It's the music that's driven the Hieroglyphics logo to ubiquity, and which will be the main draw on Monday. In July, the group of solo artists released The Kitchen, a new joint mixtape, which should see a public airing this weekend. Souls of Mischief will be performing the entirety of their seminal debut album 93 'til Infinity, complete with a live band — a performance that hasn't been done in the Bay Area yet. The album and the song turn 20 years old at the end of September, so expect the group's Hiero Day set to be something of a rousing memorial. House says another Oakland success story, the sultry singer and Hieroglyphics collaborator Goapele, is expected to make an appearance. Further performers include Adrian Younge (who is producing Souls of Mischief's next album, due in 2014), Dan the Automator, Erk Tha Jerk, and the Hundreds. The host will be Chuy Gomez, the recently fired 20-year veteran DJ of local hip-hop station KMEL, whose sudden dismissal outraged many fans.

Hieroglyphics has always made a big deal out of its global presence. "I've traveled the canals of Venice/And aroused crowds in São Paulo with a single sentence," Pep Love raps memorably on "Make Your Move," from the 2003 landmark Full Circle. But even House, the Hieroglyphics crew's manager, is impressed by the enthusiasm its members can elicit at home. Iconic logos plastered everywhere are one thing, but how many groups would have the audacity to take a fan's fawning idea — starting a holiday for the group — and then do it? "Every segment of the Bay Area I saw come out there and represent," House says of the first Hiero Day. "To see the inspiration and the effect they've had on such a large scale has been amazing."

 
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