Deltron 3030’s unannounced set at Hiero Day 2014—the annual hip-hop festival presented by Oakland’s long-standing Hieroglyphics crew—began with an exultant gesture. Deltron Zero—the alter-ego of Del the Funky Homosapien—placed a skateboard center stage, then careened his way through the epic “3030,” beats thickened by a live band and busied by dizzying turntablism. Unassuming in a t-shirt and jeans, the consummate presence, incisive rapping, and totemic skateboard of Hieroglyphics’ godfather spoke to the whole of Hiero Day: a homegrown event staged for free on city streets that embraced and transcended its scrappy limitations.
Around three stages on 3rd St. and around Linden St. Brewery, performers waded through a diverse crowd to cheers and impromptu photos, while attendees spilled into artist areas like it was perfectly natural. The festival grounds pivoted around a skate park, which symbolized the proceedings wonderfully. Skateboarding requires rethinking a city. Like Hiero Day, spread between the ivy-covered brick facades of a normally sleepy industrial district, skating opposes the prescribed use of urban space, which lent weight to Deltron Zero’s sole chosen prop.
Of course, Hiero Day was principally about putting local hip-hop on a pedestal. This year, the legacy of Hieroglyphics and its many affiliates felt especially vivid. Souls of Mischief just released a new album, There is Only Now, twenty-one years after the group’s breakthrough record, ’93 til Infinity. Fear Itself, the debut album from founding member Casual, turned twenty. During the last few hours on the main stage, forgetting any of these landmarks was impossible. Souls of Mischief’s producer Adrian Younge concluded an all-vinyl DJ set of breaks and leaden soul grooves by calling Hieroglyphics the “West Coast Wu-Tang,” while the stage banter from hip-hop ambassadors Chuy Gomez and Ed Lover relentlessly hyped the prestige of the artists at hand.
Ed Lover’s grandstanding was particularly intense, as he jeered the crowd to recognize samples and shamed folks who didn’t recognize him (“Google me bitch!”). He nursed an Olde English 40 oz., finished it eventually, and then made a show of saluting the empty bottle. More ace showboating from non-performers arrived via Mayor Jean Quan, who sauntered onto stage in a blue summer dress—to a Wu-Tang Clan track—and presented Hieroglyphics with an honorary award.
But Hiero Day wasn’t all accolades and congratulations for illustrious careers. The rising local artist Queens D. Light graced a side stage with potent lyrics, a cappella at one point, raps rife with political allusion and curious metaphors. Los Rakas dealt vigorous volleys of lyricism in English and Spanish atop reggaeton flourishes. The Panamanian group paced its set perfectly, steadily garnering intensity by inviting flag-bearers and dancers on stage as trains clacked in the background. CJ Fly and Kirk Knight of the formidable, upstart Pro Era crew ensnared the audience with just beats and flow. Their confidence was persuasive enough.
After Deltron 3030’s set and a confused flurry of side-stage activity, Hieroglyphics eventually took stage. Atop seamless segues between beats, the handful of MCs relentlessly cycled through every shade of ferocity, relenting only to introduce Goapele as a guest and request crowd participation on a hook fashioned from the name of Trayvon Martin. It was still light out when Hieroglyphics finished up, a casual hour or so behind schedule, and the audience dispersed into Oakland in all directions, many with skateboards underfoot.