“I’ll tell you one thing: /
You’ll never catch me fronting /
As I proceed to give the people what they wanting.”
So rapped A-Plus on Hieroglyphics’ 1998 track “You Never Know.” To be from the Bay Area is to know that no one will hand you anything; what you desire you must yourself make real. In the dawn of the ’90s hip-hop age, that’s what a group of Skyline High School kids did, and the Hieroglyphics collective was born.
Comprised of the Souls of Mischief foursome A-Plus, Opio, Phesto and Tajai and the rappers Casual, Del the Funky Homosapien and Pep Love; producer Domino; and DJs Jay-Biz and Toure, Hieroglyphics would go on to found its own record label, play shows around the world, brand themselves with one of music’s most enduring logos and, most recently, herald their own Oakland-based holiday and festival around Sept. 3, known as Hiero Day.
“We had no idea it was going to be huge like it is,” says Souls of Mischief’s Tajai Massey. “Hiero Day is an alternative to corporate events. … Our curation is not about who’s got the juice; it’s about what good music is out here, and how we can elevate that to the level of Kool G and Keyshia Cole. [It’s] as grown and sexy as it can possibly be!”
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This year, Hiero Day looks quite a bit different from its conception a decade ago as a free block party of local, independent musical artists in a time where simply taking up space on an East Bay street was precarious.
Now in its 10th edition, Hiero Day is a weekend, with multiple days of DJ sets, rap cameos, comedy shows, literary events and food. This all culminates in an eponymous performance on Monday, couched in a lineup of stars with local roots, including Keyshia Cole, Kool G Rap and The Mekanix.
With the main event on Labor Day situated just off Jack London Square expected to swell with tens of thousands of attendees, fans can find something to do from Friday to Monday. There’s the Friday kickoff party at the Moxy, then an inaugural fashion show at HiiiWav Studios (formerly Zoo Labs) on Saturday in collaboration with HipHopTV and a Sunday stand-up show for underground comedians at The Athletic Club.
“At the core of Hiero Day is community. If [you’re] looking for something made of Oakland, this is that,” event director Candy Albert says. “It’s been so cool to see Hiero Day grow from being a festival to being a weekend event. We’re only getting bigger.”
But more than the headliners, Hiero Day is a space for the people making and consuming music for the Bay. Most of the dozens of artists playing across four days are Baydestrians themselves, like Stunnaman02, Equipto’s group Justin’s Case and The Click’s Suga-T, with a few East Coast outliers, whose mellifluous works resonate beyond social media and streaming platforms. Albert is particularly juiced about AG Club and Zair Williams, both homegrown acts.
And in staying loyal to the soil, there will also be a tribute to East Oakland rapper and community activist Zumbi of Zion I, who passed away last August.
Whatever your tastes, whatever your schedule, you’re going to find a piece of yourself here. You may know someone in the lineup, or heard them bumped on BART or through car windows. We are increasingly, Tajai says, at a crossroads. Do we let the Bay succumb to corporate interests, or do we turn a party into a movement? We’re going to go dumb either way.
The Hiero Day 2022 block party takes place 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday at Third Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland. Single-day tickets are $40, $65 for those who want to bring their roller skates and participate in the Sk8-Fever pop-up rink. Tickets for all four days of Hiero Day festivities are $75-$300. Covered events include the kickoff party 4-11 p.m. Friday at the Moxy, 2225 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; the fashion show 3-8 p.m. Saturday at HiiiWav Studios, 1035 Seventh St., Oakland; the stand-up comedy show 7 p.m. Sunday at The Athletic Club, 59 Grand Ave., Oakland; and more. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.hieroday.com/.