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30 Years of “93 ‘Til Infinity”: Oakland’s Souls of Mischief’s unique contribution to the hip-hop genre

90s rap is known for its famous rivalry: Tupac (West Coast) vs. Biggie Smalls (East Coast). Even though the Notorious B.I.G. is the most well-known of New York rappers, other hip-hop legends from the area include the witty Wu Tang Clan (Staten Island), the jazzy A Tribe Called Quest (Queens), the legendary Nas (Brooklyn), the abrasive Gravediggaz (Long Island) and the lyrical Big L (Harlem). These hip hop legends, among many others, build upon New York’s rich and vibrant musical heritage, and have defined hip-hop. But often overlooked are the contributions of talented West Coast groups to the genre— relatively lesser known groups such as the whimsical The Pharcyde (Los Angeles), the innovative Cypress Hill (South Gate), the sing-songy Ice Cube (Los Angeles), and the mighty Souls of Mischief (Oakland) bring a distinctly West Coast sound that’s pleasant, interesting, and original.

Thirty years ago, A-Plus, Opio, Tajai, and Phesto, the four Souls of Mischief, released their effervescent, lively, and complex debut album “93 ‘Til Infinity”. At 18 years old, these four young men had exploded onto the Oakland rap scene as members of the Hieroglyphics, the Oakland rap collective still active today. (Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Ice Cube’s cousin, was one of the earliest members of the Hieroglyphics, emerging in 1991 with the release of “Mistadobalina”.)

Prior to the release of “93 ‘Til Infinity”, West Coast rap was thought of as a more smooth, chill gangster flow, while East Coast (especially New York) rap was more focused on jazzy, lyrical wordplay. The Souls of Mischief changed that impression, with their refreshing, lyrical music full of complicated rhyme schemes and infectious rhythms.

Though the entire album is great, and I certainly recommend listening to it all the way through, its titular piece stands out as something truly special. Unlike the somewhat darker themes of mainstream modern hip-hop, this song is a fun yet touching ode to friendship. The Souls had been working on the song for two years before its release, and it had started out as a very slow and mellow song, serving as a nostalgic, somewhat melancholic tribute to friendship. Listening to its final version, you hear anything but that.

“93 ‘Til Infinity” is an upbeat song, bright yet ethereal. The listener gets a strong sense of the group’s connection to each other, their wish to always stay friends. (In fact, they have been friends since elementary school.) The very beginning of “93 ‘Til Infinity” is an introduction from Tajai: “…We hailin’ from East Oakland, California/ And, um, sometimes it gets a little hectic out there/ But right now, yo, we gonna up you on how we just chill”. The rest of the song jumps off of that, with the central theme being a celebration of just chilling.

“I love the lyrics, specifically how laid back they are, which adds to the overall pleasantness of the song. It’s calming and feels easy to listen to,” said Sashi Nallapati, a Souls of Mischief fan. “It’s a refreshing change from other rap songs I’m familiar with.”

The rhyme scheme is thick, but fun. The Souls combine intra-line rhyming as well as rhyming between different lines. In a verse about going to the movies with a girl, Tajai says, “Hey Miss! Who’s there, I’m through there/ No time to do hair; the flick’s at eight, so get straight/ You look great”. The fast paced rhythm and the many similar sounding words (there, there, hair; eight, straight, great) create an interesting flow.

Probably the best example of their rhyming capabilities is in one of Opio’s verses: “Greenbacks in stacks, don’t even ask [axe]/ Who got fat sacks? We can max pumpin fat tracks/ Exchangin’ facts about impacts, cause in facts/ My freestyle talent overpowers, brothers can’t hack it/ They lack wit, we got the mack shit/ ‘93 Til Infinity, kill all that wack shit!”

“Every time they get to the chorus, the Souls change their tone when they sing ‘this is how we chill from ‘93 til’. This makes the song feel more personal, and the talking with the back track makes the artists seem more accessible, like they’re conversing with the listeners,” said Nallapati.

It would be an error not to watch the music video, shot mostly in Yosemite but also including scenes from Oakland— a pool bar, a parking lot. At the time, much of the hip-hop genre focused on street life (with notable exceptions, such as the light-hearted Pharcyde) and the music videos often depicted gritty urban areas. The Souls of Mischief departed from that, using mostly scenes from nature— tumbling streams and verdant forests with the stark mountains and cliff faces cutting against the bright blue sky, evoking a euphoric, magical feeling. The Souls were rethinking the nature of the genre itself.

Though some of their lyrics acknowledge that life isn’t perfect, the Souls didn’t want “93 ‘Til Infinity” to be a song in which to complain; they wanted to do something distinctly different than their peers. In an interview with NPR, Opio said, “We listened to so many different [types of rap]… we respected it all but we wanted to be different from everything. We didn’t want to sound like anybody else.”

Though the mighty Souls of Mischief might not be well known to non-aficionados, they’re greatly respected within the hip-hop community. Their work has been sampled countless times by modern greats like Tyga and J. Cole.

The Souls were also some of the first major artists to have a serious impact on skate, snowboard, and surf culture. And they’re still pillars of the Oakland hip-hop scene, bringing an eclectic, jazzy, unique, and indispensable style.