On Sept. 5, hundreds of people of all ages will flock to the bowels of West Oakland. In between railroad tracks and old factory buildings, stages and tents will be erected and food carts wheeled in for one of the Bay Area’s best new Labor Day weekend traditions: Hiero Day.
Hiero Day was born in 2012 when then-Oakland Mayor Jean Quan proclaimed Sept. 3 a city-wide holiday in honor of Hieroglyphics, the almost three-decades-old hip-hop crew that includes rappers Pep Love, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Casual; producers Domino and DJ Toure; and Phesto, A-Plus, Opio, and Tajai of the group Souls of Mischief. Known for its laidback, old-school flair and penchant for jazzy, funkified instrumentals, Hieroglyphics has become, over the years, more than just a rap collective: It’s a Bay Area institution.
Aside from making music, the crew’s main goal is to support and promote local rising artists, which they accomplish every year by throwing their Hiero Day event that provides up-and-comers with a chance to perform.
“When you get to this point in your career, you start focusing on giving back,” Casual says. “What can you do to help other people who are like you? What things can you offer that you wish you’d had earlier in your career?”
As a platform, Hiero Day, which is held in the South Prescott neighborhood of West Oakland, has welcomed a slew of artists, from Bay Area-based newcomers — A-1, Azure, Jay Ant, and Kool John — to established local legends, such as Mistah F.A.B and Locksmith.
Not to mention, the event has also seen appearances from musicians that have since broken into the mainstream, like Oakland Grammy Award nominee Kehlani, recent Dr. Dre signee Anderson .Paak, Odd Future member Domo Genesis, and Inglewood rapper Casey Veggies. While the event has never positioned itself specifically as a springboard for talent, the mix of fresh faces with longtime favorites cultivates an atmosphere that draws in performers from across the rap — and occasionally R&B — spectrum and brings them together for one exceptional day.
“We always try to make sure we break a few genre barriers within hip hop,” Casual says, “to make sure people know that we enjoy a little bit of everything.”
For the 2016 edition, Louisiana throwback Juvenile (of “Back That Thang Up” fame) will share the stage with superstar producer Just Blaze (who has worked with Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z) and favorites like Murs and Too $hort. Of special note is Siri, a 19-year-old Oakland wordsmith who also happens to be Tajai’s daughter.
“Siri is dope,” her father confirms. “She has a lot of good music. It took a while to get into it, but I actually like her music.”
Oftentimes, the biggest hurdle facing newcomers, like Siri, can be finding a venue that will book them and that is safe.
“Young people have nowhere to go, and that’s frustrating,” Tajai says. “They just killed a kid this weekend.”
The shooting he’s referring to — a birthday party at an Oakland art gallery that left two young men dead from multiple gunshot wounds — is a stark reminder of what Hiero Day is all about.
“Really, we’re just pushing for a chill party vibe,” Tajai adds. “As a kid, we used to sneak into warehouse parties and stuff like that, but there’s never been a place where it’s just like all-ages or 18 and up. A place that’s safe. That’s what we want to do with Hiero Day.”
Last year, the crew introduced another change to Hiero Day: After being completely free for its first three years, a ticket price of $10 was added for the 2015 edition. This year, the price is set at $19.93 (get it?). In discussing the addition of a ticket to the event, Tajai contrasts Hiero Day with more mainstream music festivals.
“[Other festivals] are always trying to push something on you, trying to sell something,” he says. “The tickets are like $100, so you’re kind of forced to get your fun out of it — your fun value per dollar. We’re trying to give you way more.”
Eight hours of fun for under $20 seems reasonable enough, especially in light of the fact that proceeds from the event will be used to fund programs for local housing and support independent businesses. Whatever Hiero Day positions itself to be — a concert, a party, a platform — it is, most importantly, a celebration of an immensely resilient community and city, just like the music of its namesakes.
“Oakland produced us,” Tajai says. “It’s produced a lot of positive stuff. I understand that now Oakland is hip and cool because the rest of the world has figured it out, but we’ve always tried to represent the positive.”
Hiero Day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 5, at Third and Chestnut streets in West Oakland. $19.93-$199.30; hieroday.com.