by The People’s Minister of Information JR
The story of Souls of Mischief and their crew Hieroglyphics is a legendary one that is as important to Hip Hop as the story of John Coltrane is to Jazz or the story of Satchell Paige is to Black baseball. It is a story that encompasses the birth of the Bay Area into the world’s most popular form of music.
It is the story of how Oakland became respected for its lyricism in a genre that was dominated by East Coast wordsmiths. It is a story told by Shomari Smith in his new documentary, “’Til Infinity,” which is about the 20th anniversary of the Souls of Mischief classic album.
“’Til Infinity” will be premiering at the Oakland International Film Fest on April 6 at 9 p.m. at the Black Rep Theatre, 3201 Adeline in Berkeley. Check out Shomari Smith in his own words and make sure you get your tickets early because this is one of the headliners of the festival.
M.O.I. JR: When did you become interested in cinema? When and how did you become a filmmaker?
Shomari: I’ve always had an interest in cinema and storytelling from a very early age. I saw films like “Let’s Do it Again” with Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier or “Which Way Is Up” with Richard Pryor and really felt a connection there.
I spent a number of years working on the sets of other local Bay Area film directors like Mario Bobino, who taught me everything about funding a project independently and creating your own vision. I also learned a lot about storytelling and visual aesthetics under filmmaker Ashley James at the City of Oakland’s government channel, KTOP.
I took those lessons and applied them toward my own visions. With my background being rooted in the arts, I see filmmaking as another tool to express my creativity. “’Til Infinity” is my first film, but I have had filmmaking in my heart for as long as I can remember.
“’Til Infinity” will be premiering at the Oakland International Film Fest on April 6 at 9 p.m. at the Black Rep Theatre.
M.O.I. JR: When did you approach Hiero about the idea for this film? How did they respond?
Shomari: The idea for the film happened very organically. The Souls of Mischief were approached by the Rock the Bells Concert Festival to perform their debut album, “’93 ‘Til Infinity” in its entirety in 2011. The guys approached me to film the San Francisco show, and I was happy to do it.
Phesto Dee (of The Souls) and I were throwing around ideas about how to approach shooting the show and we thought it would be cool to talk to some of the other emcees, djs and producers performing that day. The interviews and show footage came out great the day of the event and I realized we had something more. I shared my idea about a full length documentary with the guys and they were excited to do it.
M.O.I. JR: What was your creative process like? How and why did you narrow the topic down to the Souls of Mischief debut album “’93 ‘Til Infinity”?
Shomari: My creative process was fueled by my love for Hip Hop music as a fan and my admiration for what the Souls and Hiero have been able to accomplish thus far. I graduated from Skyline High in 1993, so I really hold that period in my life as a special time.
I wanted the film to embody the excitement and enthusiasm we had as young people during that time, so the graphics, the old photos and the slang were all an inspiration for my creative choices. I built ideas from conversations and old magazines from that time period as well.
The story of Hieroglyphics is an incredible one that has many avenues. Each member of the Hiero collective deserves their own film in my opinion. There are too many important accomplishments that could get lost in a full Hiero crew doc.
This documentary was fueled by the 20-year anniversary of the Souls’ debut album that was fast approaching when we began shooting. The idea really came out of those first Rock the Bells performances of the entire album.
The story of Hieroglyphics is an incredible one that has many avenues.
I don’t believe they had performed the album in order from top to bottom including the outro and “Cab Fare” ever before. We thought it would be great to have the stories around their journey accompany the album 20 years later.
M.O.I. JR: What were you doing with your life when this classic album came out?
Shomari: When “’93 ‘Til Infinity” was released in September of 1993, I had just begun as a freshman at the California College of Arts in Oakland. I was entering art school with no real idea of what I wanted to do professionally, but I knew I wanted to be in a creative field and I had a huge love for drawing and painting.
“’93 ‘Til Infinity” was the soundtrack and a creative source for this new stage in my life. I remember going to Leopold’s in Berkeley and buying the “Blue Tape.” It stayed in my Alpine pullout cassette deck on non-stop rotation. It was great to see the guys, who were from my same city and neighborhood, making their dreams a reality.
M.O.I. JR: After talking to Hip Hop luminaries like Yasiin Bey, Too Short, E-40, De La Soul, Redman and the Pharcyde, what does Hiero and Souls mean to Bay Area Hip Hop and Hip Hop in general?
Shomari: The most consistent message I gathered from talking to so many Hip-Hop greats about the Souls and Hiero was how respected they are for creating their own lane within the genre. There’s a tendency amongst the fans and the media to categorize the music they hear.
When Hieroglyphics came along, they were hard to define because of their originality. The Souls and Hiero came along during a time where West Coast emcees weren’t getting the respect they deserved for being great lyricists.
The most consistent message I gathered from talking to so many Hip-Hop greats about the Souls and Hiero was how respected they are for creating their own lane within the genre.
Once they hit the scene it was undeniable. They hold the torch for being lyrical giants and they encouraged emcees from all regions to be comfortable in their own skin and be themselves.
M.O.I. JR: You even got Del in the film, and most feel like he is an artistic recluse. What was it like working with him?
Shomari: Working with Del was amazing. Del was a big part of the Souls development early on. He had a huge influence on their lyrical styles, and he produced a number of tracks for “’93 ‘Til infinity.”
Del had countless stories about watching the Souls experiment and explore different approaches to the music. His childhood home was a hub for all of Hiero to hang out and make tracks.
Working with Del was amazing. Del was a big part of the Souls development early on. He had a huge influence on their lyrical styles, and he produced a number of tracks for “’93 ‘Til infinity.”
He would take A-Plus and Tajai to Los Angeles as teenagers to make demos with his cousin Ice Cube and Sir Jinx. He seemed to be really proud of the Souls, like a proud big brother.
M.O.I. JR: What is the importance of Oakland and the Bay recording its own Hip Hop history and history in general?
Shomari: It is very important for Oakland and the Bay Area to tell our own stories because the essential people and elements that contribute to a movement can be lost when told by someone from the outside. “’Til Infinity” is special because the stories are being told by the individuals who lived it.
We have to take control of the images and messages that come out of our communities and not allow any outside entities to define us. We also have to understand that our stories have value.
M.O.I. JR: Why do you think that it is important for cities to have film festivals like the Oakland International Film Fest?
Shomari: An event like the Oakland International Film Festival is important for our area because it’s an opportunity to invite those from other places to come and share as well as experience creative arts from different regions. The creative process to me is a non-stop flow of energy that is passed from one individual to the next, inspiring that next great piece of art. Our communities need an outlet that supports the arts in this way and creates an environment where people can come together and exchange ideas.
M.O.I. JR: When and where will “’Til Infinity” be playing during the Oakland International Film Fest?
Shomari: “’Til Infinity” will be screening on Sunday, April 6, at 9 p.m. at the Black Repertory Theater, 3201 Adeline St., Berkeley, as a part of the Oakland International Film Festival.
M.O.I. JR: How do people keep up with you online?
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.