The history of Chicago house has been well documented, but even experts on the subject have trouble knowing exactly where to put – or to how to explain – Hieroglyphic Being. Born Jamal Moss and also producing under the I.B.M. (Insane Black Man) moniker, his earliest mentors during the 1990s were Adonis and Steve Poindexter. With each passing year, however, he’s gone increasingly in his own direction, embracing – and expanding upon – the afro-futurist teachings of Sun Ra while folding in elements of noise, post-punk, free jazz, industrial and other leftfield sounds.
His abstract and singular vision is perhaps most strongly presented via his idiosyncratic Mathematics label, which issues the bulk of his own material, along with scattered efforts from a number of other electronic music outsiders. He has, however, worked with labels such as Planet Mu, RVNG, Spectral Sound and Sounds of the Universe — and has just released a new full-length album, The Disco’s Of Imhotep, via Technicolour/Ninja Tune. In this short excerpt from his Fireside Chat on RBMA Radio, Hieroglyphic Being offers a glimpse into his beginnings and mindset.
How would you describe yourself, as Hieroglyphic Being?
The best way I can try to describe my presence in this physical realm is that every body is fluid and defines themselves. I just happened to choose to do it through the aesthetic of sound. I’ve always done [music] because it’s therapeutic and has allowed me to find direction. Some people do yoga, work out in the gym or have sex. Some people do it through medicinal herbs to stay connected in this reality without burning out. Sound is my form of not burning out.
I never really thought that there would come a time that I would actually make a decent living – not like a glamorous living, but keep a roof over my head. I can have food on my table, and now I'm not necessarily broke in the standard terms that people call “debt.” I guess the lifestyle I’m in is a socialist artistry: I don’t take more than what I need. I get what I need from this in order to subsist. It has a nature within itself. It’s like how human beings treat the physical world: if you take care of it, it gives something back to you. In this music and art world, I give to and it gives back to me just enough that I can live healthy and happily.
When you’re creating music, how do you get into the mindset to create something that goes “beyond”?
I want to try to create heaven on earth as best as possible because I see a lot of madness in the world. When you look at the news, they’re always pushing violence and negativity. It diminishes hope. Of course the revolution is not going to be televised. People are tuning out because the TV is turning them off. It’s not “the idiot box” no more – it’s the “do not enter zone.” People are starting to go out into the world and see again because they know that they’re not getting educated.
Do you remember the first time that you made some music that you wanted to share with the world?
I used to sell casette tapes on the street corner in Chicago, back in ’94 and ’95. I had to make money so I used to go to these raves and sell tapes outside, but nobody was buying them at first. I was like, “Man, I ain’t going to make no money like this. I got 200 cassette tapes here. What am I supposed to do?”
This music culture is where you come to unite, not make others feel disenfranchised, unwanted or unaccepted.
My hustle was that I pulled a Trump. I went out and said stuff like, “Oh, you want to get this cassette tape. It sounds just like Richie Hawtin.” The kids would be candy-flipping and it was going to take them three hours to get back to Iowa, Idaho or Kentucky, so they would spend $7 on the tape [to listen to in the car on the way home]. I was like, “Yeah, I’m a slick, snake oil salesman. I get that money.” Then, all of a sudden, I was making $1,400 a night, these tapes are all over the Midwest and they literally didn’t even realize that it was all made by me. The only tape that ever bled through was this thing called Acid Test that I did in ’97 or ’98. Adonis had a copy of that tape. That was it.
What was the first release that came out in a form that you didn’t have to be the Trump salesman for – the first of a discography, if you will?
I would probably say that the defining moment for me came through Jeff Mills. I stalked that brother for about two years. I used to have a PO Box in the building where his office was – a while ago, in Chicago – and when I found out he was in the building I used to sit around and wait for him. I would always nonchalantly scoot by his office and be like, “Hey, I got a tape for you,” and he would give me a funny look like, “Oh, this is nice. Yeah. I’ll check it out someday.” He probably threw them out the moment I handed them to him.
Then I was like, “Man, you’re going to have to come with a CD or something, because I don’t think the cassette thing is going to work.” I dropped off a CD, months went by and then I got a phone call. “This is Jeff Mills.” I thought somebody was punking me. I was about to curse them the fuck out and then hang the phone up, but then I thought, “Wait a minute. Let me be quiet first and hear what’s going on.”
He said, “I like that demo you left for me. Is it signed? Do you got a c-,”... I was like, “Obviously I sent it around to people,” but he’s like, “Did you sign a contract? Did you get paid for it?” I was like, “No.” He said, “Well, I want it for Axis.” I was a giddy little school girl bitch, up in the crib screaming, “Fuck yes!” Seriously. I went down, he cut me a check and it was good.
You often put ideas of positivity into your music. Is there anything that you want the world to know?
We are not the first. There’s always someone that’s come before you and there are going to be people after you. That’s a mantra that’s going to go on forever. I feel like you should always pay homage to that because whatever sacrifices people made before you got here should not be discarded, diluted and disrespected, no matter from what background you’re from. I’m glad that I’ve been able to work with people and there are others I want to work with in the future, too – different ways of living and feeling, coming together.
We don’t have to be forced to all be the same. We can still do what we do, live respectively and cohesively together and love one another because we’re all that we’ve got. When it’s our time to go, we don’t know what's on the other side, so that alone should make you want to act right. If there is no afterlife, there should be a heaven here for whoever comes into existence next. People really need to sit down and think about that. I just want, through music, to show you that they’ve created this fractured society. They’re breaking us down, but we should be more united.
I’m not saying nobody’s never struggled or felt pain, that nobody’s never felt hurt, racism, sexism, anti-semitism or whatever. But you should come together and fight through all of it because we’re all human. If it’s happening in the music scene, then it’s happening in the work place. If it’s happening in the work place, then it’s happening at home. If it’s happening at home, then it’s happening in your environment and your community.
This music culture is where you come to unite, not make others feel disenfranchised, unwanted or unaccepted. If you’re going to have that fight in this culture, for people to feel free, good and joyous, then you need to have that fight in the real world, too. Don’t walk into this music culture and act like you’re activists, but go to the work place and be quiet when you see injustice. Do your work and your time will come.