When Hiero Day debuted in 2012, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience: an entire day dedicated to Oakland’s hometown hip-hop heroes, complete with live performances, vendors, skateboarders, live graffiti-style painting and a festival-like atmosphere, all of it for free. By the time Hieroglyphics took the stage, toward the end of the afternoon, the crowd had swelled to fill two entire city blocks. Conservative estimates put the crowd at 7,000, but there may have been as many as 10,000 or more folks there, many proudly sporting Hiero logos – on t-shirts, hoodies, or even tattoos. It was a special, history-making occasion.

Make that a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. For 2013, Hiero Day moved to a new location—Linden St. Brewery—and grew to encompass three stages, named “Infinity,” “Imperium,” and “3rd Eye Vision.” It was an ambitious undertaking, to be sure.

Holly Saucy and the Licorice Pimps

Holly Saucy and the Licorice Pimps

Yet it still felt special — Linden even brewed a “Hiero Glo” beer for the occasion. Not only was it still free, but it maintained its distinction of being that rare, family-friendly hip-hop festival. With 34 performers in all, plus hosts Chuy Gomez, Sway Calloway, Sake One, D-Sharp, Mistah F.A.B., and Mr. E, Hiero Day was a miniature “Rock the Bells,” minus the ticket fees and with a less corporate, more organic vibe. Hiero members strolled through the crowd all afternoon, emphasizing  the hip-hop collective’s close relationship with their fanbase. And like RTB, there was so much going on, it was impossible to see it all, unless you were able to be in three places at once.

Mistah F.A.B. surveys the crowd

Mistah F.A.B. surveys the crowd

Highlights included Holly Saucy, the rapper-turned-singer, performing with a live rock band, the Licorice Pimps; Richmond rapper/producer Erk Tha Jerk, who was joined onstage by Mistah F.A.B.; hip-hop queens Mystic and CMG (who brought out an unannounced Keak Da Sneak onstage during her set); DJ sets by Deltron 3030 producer Dan the Automator and Hiero beatsmiths Domino and Toure; alternative hip-hoppers Murs & Fashawn and Latyrx;  old-school NYC emcee Craig G; and a host of up-and-coming acts, including The Seshen, The Black Opera, Davinci, Knobody, Patrick Sexx, and Adrian Younge & Venice Dawn. About the only person missing was Hiero founder Del the Funky Homosapien, who was on tour in Brazil.

Keak Da Sneak

Keak Da Sneak

Backstage, former music industry A&R Dante Ross, who signed Del to Elektra way back in the days and introduced Domino to the crew, talked about what made Hiero—and Hiero Day—special.

“The Bay Area’s very supportive of cultural arts, so I think it’s indicative of that,” Ross said. “It’s beautiful to see my homeboys 20 years later–really 23 years later, because I met them in 1990—get a day declared to them, and to come and celebrate all this love with 10,000 people. It’s an amazing feat. It’s kind of spiritual, in a way.”

Dante Ross and Domino

Dante Ross and Domino

An event like Hiero Day, could probably never happen in New York, Ross continued. “It’s not the same social climate [as Oakland]. It’s not as liberal and not as forward-thinking. The Black Panthers started here. It’s the most politically-advanced and progressive place in the whole nation.”

CMG in the area!

CMG in the area!

23 years ago, when Ross first heard Hiero, “it was like a West Coast Native Tongues,” he said. “I’d never heard a collective of guys rap that good, other than the Native Tongues.”

He recalled coming out to Oakland back in the day, going to a club with Hiero, and ending up at Opio’s house, where they freestyled for about two hours straight. “It was just incredible to be in that room. It was all the Souls, Del, Casual, I think Pep [Love] was there too. Seven or eight guys just spitting like that was incredible. That was something I’d really never seen before, outside of Native Tongues. To see that energy with a different slant, a different context, to see it coming out of the East Bay, was mind-boggling to me. I’d never seen so much talent at such a young age before.”

The crowd at Hiero Day

The crowd at Hiero Day

Two decades later, Ross said, Hiero’s impact has resonated culturally in an organic, non- contrived way. Besides branding their iconic symbol among “people from all walks of life,” the collective were different from the “pimped-out, 808-driven” style identified with Too $hort. “They showed that the Bay Area had lyricism and dudes who were spitters on the level of New York cats.”

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

In phone interviews conducted in the days leading up to Hiero Day, group members reflected on what it meant to them. “We achieved something a little greater,” Del said, adding “I know the influence is there… I’m not hella cognizant of it.” The festival, Domino said, is something tangible that people can embrace, adding, “we’re here because of the fanbase.” Tajai noted the occasion represented “another feather in the cap of the Bay Area spirit of independence.” Casual said it was “obviously an honor,” noting the paucity of times the full crew has played Oakland in the past two decades. Pep Love picked up the theme of validation: “when we were younger, people didn’t get it.”

Opio spits a flow

Opio spits a flow

By the time Hieroglyphics’ headlining set arrived, it was clear that the 10,000 or so people in attendance got it. Sway Calloway held up the official proclamation announcing Hiero Day by the City of Oakland, setting the stage for a killer performance, backed by a live band which included Toure on drums and Kev Choice on keyboards. The show relied heavily on material from Souls of Mischief’s classic debut album 93 til Infinity, which was totally appropriate since 2013 marks that album’s 20th anniversary. It’s kind of awesome to think that some of the fans attending Hiero Day hadn’t even been born yet when 93 Til dropped, which kind of puts the day—and Hiero’s cultural legacy—into perspective.

Sway reads the official Hiero Day proclamation

Sway reads the official Hiero Day proclamation

Over the past two decades, they’ve remained a constant—a beacon of hip-hop artistry, a symbol of cultural authenticity, and a paragon of underground independence. The fact that their cult following encompasses several generations of fans and is made up of one of the most diverse, multicultural demographics of any hip-hop group, ever, is a testament to all they’ve accomplished.

If Hiero Day was a way for the group to give something back, gratis, the feeling was certainly mutual. It’s hard to imagine a more peaceful vibe at any hip-hop show and, though the phrase “positive” sounds like a cliché, in this case, it holds true. Songs like “Never No More,” “What a Way to Go Out,” “Tour Stories,” and “You Never Knew” sounded even better than the recorded versions, thanks to the live instrumentation. Hiero closed out the evening with a long vamp which flowed into a spirited rendition of the song “93 til Infinity,” resulting in a sea of hands which stretched down Third Street, all the way from Filbert to Chestnut. As the sun set on this year’s Hiero Day, it was evident that history had been made, once again.

"this is how we chill..."

“this is how we chill…”

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One of the most buzzworthy local artists in recent memory is Adrian Marcel, a baby-faced R&B singer with a retro-modern appeal, whose lyrics combine street-smart bravado with emotional vulnerability. A few months ago, Oakulture chopped it up with Marcel during an appearance at Old Oakland watering hole Liege. Since then, his early buzz has gotten louder, culminating with a recent appearance on BET’s “106th and Park,” where he sang his hit “My Life.”

 

Adrian Marcel at Monday Soul

Adrian Marcel at Monday Soul

Marcel headlined the return of Monday Soul, a live showcase for local urban R&B acts which began at the Air Lounge before moving to the New Parish, then disappearing for a few months. Folks apparently missed the night, because the New Parish was nearly filled to capacity. Some of that turnout, however, could be chalked up to the hype on Marcel, which raised expectations as to whether his live show would justify all the attention.

A flock of swooning, moon-eyed female fans ringed the front of the stage for Marcel’s set, and the atmosphere inside the room was electric. Marcel’s stage presence demonstrated a confidence more apropos of a crafty veteran than a fresh-faced newcomer,  as he swaggered through the smoke-weed anthem “Killa,” then showed a more tender side on “My Life.” R&B heartthrobs are a dime a dozen, but many of them rely heavily on slick production and gimmicks like Auto-Tune. Yet Marcel’s vocal chops proved up to the task as well, particularly during ad-libbed a cappella sections which showed his talent was genuine. It wouldn’t surprise Oakulture at all if Marcel’s buzz becomes even more deafening in the weeks, months, and years to come.
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This week’s picks:

Eriq Riebeek and Kadir Berry Art Reception, 9/4, 7pm, SoMar, 1727 Telegraph Ave.

Reggae vs. Cumbia, 9/4, 9pm, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.

“Is It Love or Desire?” Betti Ono 3rd Anniversary, 9/6, 6-9pm, Betti Ono, 1427 Broadway.

Eve With Her Live Band, 9/6, 8pm, $25, Grand Live, 420 14th.

Oakland Massive w/ DJs Chuy Gomez, Davey-D, Leydis, Steelo, Mr. E, Julicio, 9/6, 9pm, free before 1030p, the New Parish, 579 18th.

 

 

 

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