In an era of massively overcrowded and wildly overpriced music festivals (which too often capitalize on the empty allure of fleeting pop stars and IG influencers), Oakland’s Hiero Day stands out as an ode to the community that birthed it. Now entering its second decade, the popular gathering is more rooted than ever in its mission to support local artists while providing real hip-hop heads with a world-class lineup of rappers, authors, and more.
After being scaled down and relocated last year due to COVID restrictions, the festival is returning on Sept. 5 to its Jack London Square site on Third Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. With certified generational icons like Keyshia Cole, Kool G Rap, and Masta Ace on deck—as well as regional favorites like J. Stalin, LaRussell, and Drew Banga—this event promises to be as hyphy (and lyrical) as ever.
“This year is going to be a different excursion, even for those who have been to Hiero Day before,” said DJ Touré, a Hiero crew member and longtime organizer. “We’re providing an experience for fans to see different platforms of artists in their own organic way of performing for the culture. I’m excited to bring all this hip hop back to the Bay with my crew.”
Across the years, a slew of past performances from major players like Talib Kweli, Larry June, E-40, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest have helped to certify Hiero Day as the East Bay’s premier, day-long block party. Don’t get it twisted though: Hiero Day isn’t about blindly clinging to the legacy of some mythic past, or solely promoting the Hieroglyphics—who, with nine members and a history of dopeness, are akin to the West Coast’s version of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Instead, it’s about preserving the collective spirit of hip hop as a space where graffiti artists, community educators, activists, and first-time performers are just as essential as a multi-platinum headliner. Together, the support of legends is given to push forward the next generation of voices. That’s what makes Hiero Day memorable, and why so many hip-hop lovers gravitate towards the yearly celebration like a day of holy reverence.
For emerging artists, performing at the event is a major breakthrough. “Hiero Day means so much to us,” said Andre Mosley, a member of the Tracy rap group, UglyFace. “It’s in the heart of our beloved Bay Area, and being in front of our peers and community to showcase what we’ve been working on is huge.”
As a rap nerd, I’ve studied this year’s lineup like a syllabus, and after speaking with Hieroglyphics crew member DJ Touré about what he’s most looking forward to this year, there are plenty of familiar faces and fresh debuts to rejoice. Here’s a short list of highlights you can expect at Hiero Day 2022:
Ian Kelly, JANE HANDCOCK, D. Bledsoe, Champ Green
Though they will each be performing separately, these individual artists are also a part of the East Bay’s rising Grand Nationxl collective—an agency that is built on the same unifying principles of multi-faceted enterprise and empowerment that the Hieroglyphics are. The group’s spirit is exemplified by co-founding member Brookfield Duece, whose journey has taken him from East Oakland to Amsterdam, while Richmond’s JANE HANDCOCK is among the most velvety R&B singers right now—providing the unit with a smooth balance. Each emcee is lyrically gifted, savvy, and creatively soulful. Together, they are creating a space for independent artists to grow and amplify each other; as solo acts, they each add a dimension to the Bay Area’s expansive sound. Check out Ian Kelly’s album, Kells is D.E.A.D, distributed by 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records, and D. Bledsoe’s latest project, The Rich & Saucy.
A group of four artists (Aaron Temple, Andre Mosley, Aric Jones, and Kevin Farpella), this up-and-coming Bay Area quartet slaps. Their 2022 LP, ‘96, conveys a nostalgic sense of growing up in Northern California, tracing memories of Sega Dreamcast, watching Tim Hardaway on the Golden State Warriors, and having a cousin who was neighbors with Hiero rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (a fortuitous detail that is poetically narrated in the track, “SEGA”). Though Temple never had the chance to meet Del, he will now be sharing a stage with the Oakland rap god. “I was just a kid,” he said. “Now, performing at Hiero Day is a huge milestone.” It doesn’t get more “Full Circle” than that (shout out the 2003 Goapele and Hiero track).
For the first time ever, Hiero Day will include a pop-up skating rink where attendees can groove to the beats while dipping and spinning on wheels. According to the festival’s site, skaters must bring their own roller skates and the rink will cost an additional $15 to use. So if that’s your jam, then roll on in.
Also making a debut at Hiero Day, this year’s offerings will include a first-ever author visit from Chicago rapper, Psalm One. The longtime emcee and teacher will be sharing excerpts from her memoir, Her Word Is Bond, and meeting with fans afterward. Her book explores “navigating hip hop and relationships in a culture of misogyny.”
It has been one year since the Bay Area hip hop community unexpectedly lost one of its pillars, Steven Gaines—better known as Zumbi from the group, Zion I. To commemorate his memory, a special performance has been added to Hiero Day, which will feature Zumbi’s closest friends and collaborating artists: DJ Amp Live, The Grouch, Deuce Eclipse, and D.U.S.T. “Every time he came off the stage he would change his shirt because it was soaking wet,” rapper, The Grouch, recalls about performing with his friend, Zumbi. “He was prolific. I just want to thank Steve for making that creative space. He left us so much.” It’s fitting that Z’s presence be felt among hip hop heads from here ‘til infinity.
If you miss the peak days of Vallejo’s SOB X RBE, then Aon Preme is your remedy. Though lacking a substantial catalog—Spotify shows only a handful of singles and one EP—his songs evoke a mobbish East Bay vibe with themes that navigate trauma, the streets, and collecting riches. His track, “Politics,” references catching cases and Yeezy Boosts with a quick-cadenced and stylishly off-kilter delivery. His music isn’t backed by any corporate record label for mainstream consumption: it’s meant for local ears.
As one of Hiero Imperium Recordings’ newest signees, LXGIT lives up to his billing by delivering legitimate lyricism over buttery instrumentals. He’s a blend of new age cool mixed with old-school soul—representative of Hiero’s mission to embody the past, present, and future of what hip hop can be. His casual flow feels effortless on tracks like “Balance” and “Elevate,” where he breaks down his life of pursuing success, smoking trees, and taking flight “like a drone.” Having traveled outside of the Bay for college, his style is informed by a cerebral and boastful swagger that is reminiscent of his predecessors: Hiero, who built the game on their creative wit and slang. LXGIT’s ascension with Hiero is especially meaningful since his father was once involved with the rap group in former decades. “[LXGIT has] been around us hanging out and working before he was even an artist,” says DJ Touré. “Over time he’s been working on his craft and music, and he adds some unique components to Hiero that we all got behind.”
Other well-loved Bay Area artists performing this year include Los Rakas, Show Banga, AG Club, Barbaydose, D Nas, and Reo 900.
For more, check out The Oaklandside’s playlist featuring local Hiero Day 2022 performers:
Hiero Day 2022 is Monday, Sept. 5, from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. at Jack London Square in Oakland. View ticket info.