Signs point up

Hieroglyphics’ Pep Love shares a few words about the present and future of hip-hop

Call him Mr. Love.

Call him Mr. Love.

photo courtesy of Ineffable Music


The Hiero Imperium Summer Tour, featuring Pep Love, Souls of Mischief and Casual, stops at the El Rey Theatre, Friday, Aug. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15, available at
El Rey Theatre
230 W. Second St.

As with many underground hip-hop acts, Hieroglyphics has long stood in sharp contrast to mainstream rap. Since its debut album in 1998, the Oakland-based collective has represented the artistic end of the hip-hop spectrum, offering a high-minded alternative to the boisterous millionaires in fur coats on MTV. The CN&R discussed Hiero’s legacy, the state of hip-hop and what it means to be an artist with founding member Pep Love, who released his fifth solo album, Rigmarole, in March, and who will be at the El Rey Theatre Friday, Aug. 3, when the Hiero Imperium Summer Tour hits town.

CN&R: What’s the inspiration for Rigmarole?

Pep Love: Ideally, the end result would give people a message of perseverance rather than frustration. A lot of times, the word “rigmarole” denotes frustration, but it’s also the process—if you want to get in shape, you’ve got to work out. The rigmarole is going to the gym, eating right and doing what it takes to be healthy and achieve a goal. That’s really the message the album conveys. My particular field is music, so I related to that throughout my record.

So what do you consider “rigmarole” as an artist?

I record, I work on music. It’s not a perfect process, I’m still refining it and steadily trying to get better and maintaining music as my focus—whether it be writing and recording or more the business side of stuff, trying to get projects completed or just visualizing the moves we want to make next. It’s all part of the rigmarole of being a performer, an entertainer, a recording artist, a rapper.

The Hieroglyphics are considered legendary in some circles. How do you react to that?

“Legendary” is something defined by your full body of work, and I don’t even think we have achieved what we set out to or what we could potentially achieve. And for me, personally, I still have a lot of goals—I want to record many more albums and really make my contribution to hip-hop and its prestige, to uphold what it means to be a highly skilled practitioner of this art form. “Legendary,” especially for someone who is still around and writing, is a way to say, “Maybe it’s time for you to cash in your chips.” It’s nowhere near that time for us, and hip-hop as a culture and art form is entering into a whole new phase. Hip-hop has been around for a long time, and it’s just now showing it can be mature—now I think hip-hop artists can be celebrated as high-caliber artists like Miles Davis or John Coltrane.

How important is live performance for hip-hop?

It’s important to not let hip-hop get totally bastardized and watered down, to lose its potency as a live performing art, because that’s where it started. There are some disturbing trends with live hip-hop performances, things you don’t really see in other genres—performers who just play the song with the recorded vocal track and perform their vocals on top of that, which is more like karaoke or lip-syncing than being a real live performer. Everything it means to be a performer and an MC goes against stuff like that.

Why do you think so many hip-hop acts perform that way?

Now everybody just wants to be a star, they want to be famous; they don’t necessarily aspire to be excellent artists. I’d like to contribute to changing that, to bringing it back to the roots of music, things that go along with being a musician or entertainer, period. Things that cross genres and mediums or artistic expression. It’s about the quality and concept of the art being presented, not so much about being famous, cool and standing in the spotlight. A lot of new artists look at it purely like a chance to be in the spotlight, and it’s not necessarily a chance to use the spotlight to highlight your skills and passion. We as Hieroglyphics would like to revitalize that in hip-hop.

A lot of popular music gets labeled hip-hop. Do you think that has blurred the lines of what it means to be a hip-hop artist?

I think a lot of it has to do with pop culture in general—they’ve consigned the title of hip-hop to an R&B record as a marketing tool. They say Chris Brown is hip-hop [laughs]. But, who am I to say that he’s not? There just used to be a more strict interpretation in earlier eras. There’s more to art to than what is promoted through the biggest media outlets.

What’s next for the Hieroglyphics?

The Kitchen is a new project slated to come out soon—it’s a collection of songs that never got on any particular project. The world should look forward to it and hopefully not long after that we’ll have an official Hiero album release.