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Four reasons to catch veteran Bay Area hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics

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Hieroglyphics hits Brooklyn Bowl on May 26.
Courtesy
M.T. Richards

1. It’s proof there’s life after major-label purgatory. Not many rap groups can claim to have been forged in rejection, but Hieroglyphics can. When its members first linked up, they were all casualties of the major-label system. They’d been forced into involuntary free agency by an industry where orotund syntax and bleary, minimalist beats had long since fallen out of fashion.

Casual and Del the Funky Homosapien would’ve gathered their bearings eventually—by that point they already had several great solo albums between them—but they’re more viable as a unit than they ever were as individuals. Let this be a lesson to discouraged young rappers: There is strength in numbers.

2. Debut album 3rd Eye Vision will delight fans of a more writerly persuasion. In hindsight, these guys were clairvoyant: They predicted a future in which lovably dweeby, syllabically generous misfits were free to rap to their hearts’ desire. There’s a tremendous amount of linguistic jujitsu and gamesmanship on 3rd Eye Vision. That strategy wasn’t fashionable in 1998, a time when brawn was prioritized over high verbal IQ, but Hieroglyphics had to compensate for its lack of toughness somehow. And compensate it did, circling the field and lapping it twice. It helps that the production on 3rd Eye Vision is resplendent, too.

3. It made the Bay Area safe for wonky esotericists. When Hieroglyphics debuted, the state of play across its home region was furrow-browed befuddlement. Who were these overread yahoos with florid vocabularies, rapping about Newton and David Horowitz? The Bay was a very different place then; its bailiwick was party-hearty, frolicsome pimp rap (C-Bo, Dru Down).

In its time, Hieroglyphics was accepted as a fringe disrupter; today it’s revered not just by pasty neophytes in cargo shorts but at home, too. E-40, the most august and admired rapper in the Bay Area, even recruited the group for his 2012 track “40 & Hiero.”

4. It has blessed us with possibly the fiercest trio in underground hip-hop. As a producer, A-Plus is A1. You could remove the vocals from Souls of Mischief’s 93 til Infinity (a founding document of the Hieroglyphics era) and still be left with a perfectly lovely record thanks to A-Plus’ intimate arrangements. Casual is the most instinctually confident of the bunch, a master of rhythm (listen to “Turkey & Dressing,” where he becomes one with Dante Ross’ piano loop). And Del has the stentorian voice of a news anchor but is as ticklishly funny as any comedian.

HIEROGLYPHICS with Rap Noir, Stoney Hawk, Hi All, Mike Wird, S.A.V.E.1. May 26, 8 p.m., $27-$30. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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