The Hieroglyphics Crew featuring Casual , Del The Funky Homosapien , Souls of Mischief and Pep Love with Little Brother and Encore at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (October 11), 6 pm. $24.50. 416-760-3332. Rating: NNNNN
The member artists of Oakland's Hieroglyphics hiphop consortium have been to hell and back. Member rapper Casual got his first taste of what he calls "corporate bullshit" when he released his Fear Itself debut disc back in 1993. "When I was on Jive Records, I had a song of mine remixed by a guy I've never met in my life," drawls Casual over his cellphone while chilling on the Hieros' tour bus somewhere outside of Charleston, South Carolina. "This cat down at the studio got him to go in and remix one of my songs, and then they charged me for it."
But Casual quickly discovered the mysterious remixing was just the start of the label woes that would eventually lead to his exit.
His fellow Hiero constituents, Souls of Mischief, Domino, Pep Love and Del the Funky Homosapien - Ice Cube's conscious cousin - would all find themselves in the same boat sailing up a river of corporate bullshit without a paddle. Each of them was dropped from major record labels between 95 and 97.
Since then, Casual and crew have been enjoying the benefits of working independently and releasing music through their own Hiero Imperium label, launched with Third Eye Vision, their first record as a collective.
They've been thriving individually and as a tightly-knit unit ever since. "It goes Hiero album, solo album, Hiero album, solo album," Casual explains.
Now, six years on, they've reunited to present Full Circle. The album isn't groundbreaking, but it's reassuring to taste the flava of their last album, Third Eye Vision, again. The style of beats is updated, and while Del is scarce, Pep Love shines brightly enough to cover for him. And the group's chemistry is still explosive.
"We all met in Venice, California, during the summer of 2002, and we got a lot of material done together down there. We had to do that because it's so hard to get everyone on one thing long enough to complete an album.
"We've matured as artists. We're wiser now. We've come full circle as the Hieroglyphics and balanced, just as we were."
Combine their efforts and there's a load of classic solo albums on their collective resume. They've toured with KRS, Wu-Tang, Roots, Tribe, De La and Common. And in keeping with the pattern, the Hieros have four new solo albums on the way.
While Casual is optimistic about the future of independent hiphop, he can see the potential for problems ahead. "It's growing bigger and bigger. Soon it's going to become extremely corporate."
Yet considering the options, he's still convinced that the independent route is the way to go. He's standing by the Hieroglyphics.
"The bottom line is that corporations can't go into the studios and make our songs. We're the artists, and the artists have full control."