I Deed It: The Making of Hieroglyphics’ “You Never Knew”

I Deed It is a new series where David Ma will provide oral histories of some of history's greatest rap songs. Up first is the epochal Oakland crew's 1998 single.
By    February 20, 2019

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Only David Ma sees through the charade you’ve made.

With rapid jet streams of constant new music, it’s easy to forget what went into classic material. I Deed It will seek to explain small yet important oral histories behind the making of revered recordings. What went into Too Short’s “Blowjob Betty” and other important questions will be thoroughly examined.

Some of the tracks here will be older, some new, but all are grounded in their importance to listeners from all regions—backstories from different artists of different eras, all of whom captured the cultural zeitgeist at one point or another during their tenure. Some of these oral histories are from interviews I’ve conducted through two decades of music journalism, but most are newly uncovered stories direct from the makers themselves.

First up is a Bay Area classic from Oakland’s Hieroglyphics crew off their posse album (which soon turns twenty) Third Eye Vision. Here, we hear from the song’s producer, A-Plus, as well as MCs Tajai (from Souls of Mischief) and Del the Funkee Homosapien. Here’s the making of “You Never Knew,” an effusive hit anchored by a lovely Patrice Rushen sample that swept college radio during the summer of 1998.

Del: One thing I remember about “You Never Knew” is that we all were indie at that point; nothing had been released straight from us so it was game time. ‘What would happen without major label support?’ is something we’d ask ourselves a lot during the process. I mean, we were still in the studio recording straight to tape at this point. I personally didn’t really want to be in a studio miles from home, day-by-day, all day and all night. I hated going to the studio. But as soon as we discovered you didn’t need someone like Prince Paul there with you all the time— that was it. I got the equipment and studied engineering along with music theory and never went to the studio again. But “You Never Knew” was cool because we were all pretty tight knit at that moment, coming up with lyrics every time we were in the studio. The energy was all pretty good until Casual and Snupe has issues and fucked up the album progress a bit [laughs].

A-Plus: I told the whole clique this track would be a hit, ask them to be honest! The response at first was apathetic, but I pushed for it because I had a feeling about the beat. Casual even said out loud in the studio, disrespectfully, one day before storming out: ‘This weak ass song ain’t finna be a hit like you think A-Plus!” Facts. Fast forward to when the song came together as it did, and even prior to its release, we knew it’d be a hit. My gangsta homie, Dre 808, had just moved to Hawaii and left the game behind. He said, ‘You gotta come out here to Hawaii. I’ll pay for the trip for you, plus one. Pick one homie to come with you,’ I said, ‘Okay,’ and picked my best friend Tajai to come with. Niggas forget this shit but I don’t. Me and Tajai were out there for over a week, and Tajai said, ‘It’d be dope to film a vid for the new Hiero shit out here huh?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it.” This is where everyone recalls their version of the story. No one else was there for the part of the story stated above. Let them tell the rest.

Tajai: When I heard “You Never Knew” I thought I would be huge. I know this might sound cliché, but it had a very “’93 Til Infinity” vibe and the singing transported us to another place. A-Plus is the master of the melodic anthem so we were in good hands obviously. When we finally did the video, I was very excited because I felt that we truly captured the vibe of the song and what it is like to be in a crew of best friends, living our dreams. Shit was a moment for us, for real.

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