To Chill for Infinity: A Flipboard Story on a Hip-Hop Classic

Inside Flipboard / March 13, 2014

Tajai Massey had a choice: sell crack or find an escape. This was around 30 years ago, and Massey, a kid growing up on the streets of Oakland, California, was trying to deal with one of the nation’s worst drug epidemics. “It changed fools overnight,” Massey recalled recently. “You went from playing Nerf Ball to looking for bodies.”

Every corner of his life showed symptoms of the burgeoning crack epidemic. On the streets of his community, tiny glass vials crackled like seashells under his feet. Strung-out junkies hassled people for spare change in his neighborhood. And in class, newly rich dealers would show up wearing absurdly expensive clothes. But Massey, who came from a home in which his parents stressed education and discipline, was different. He hung out with a small group of neighborhood kids that bonded over graffiti tagging, then breakdancing and, ultimately, rap music. First they just listened; then they started writing their own rhymes and creating their own beats. “It saved our lives,” Massey says. “It was something we used as an escape, as a therapy and as a common ground.”

Escape came in the form of a hit song. For a brief and shining moment, Massey and his fellow rappers—they dubbed themselves the Souls of Mischief—were at the red-hot center of an improbable hip-hop scene that was born in Oakland, far away from music capitals of Los Angeles and New York. The song that put them on the map and earned them a place in the annals of hip-hop was “93 ’til Infinity,” a catchy fusion of East Coast-style lyrics and West Coast beats. The song, which observed its 20th anniversary not too long ago, is generally considered one of the most emblematic songs of rap’s golden era and made Complex Magazine’s List of Top 100 Hip-Hop Beats of All Time. Elements of it were recently sampled by Grammy-nominated artist Rick Ross in his song “Thug Cry,” featuring Grammy-award winning artist Lil’ Wayne.

Massey and his fellow rappers, now under the collective of the Heiroglyphics, took the stage at this year’s South by Southwest sharing their newest work along with the classics. In the Flipboard Story below, we spoke to Massey about his role in the history of hip-hop and what it was like to be a part of the genre’s early glory days.

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Editor’s Note: Connect your device to a WiFi network for an optimized experience. Tap “play” on the SoundCloud file at the beginning of the magazine. Flip every 4-5 seconds, occasionally tapping an image or GIF that interests you. (The pull quotes in the magazine should help guide you through the narrative, as well.) This format only works in-app, on phones and tablets, not on the Web.

The photos were shot in Oakland. The instrumental cover of “93 ’til Infinity” is performed by YouTube user “Bas Ennen.”

~NajibA is reading “CoffeeGeek’ery