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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Moment of Truth: Hieroglyphics' Casual Pens Book on Actual Hieroglyphics

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 10:43 AM

click to enlarge owens.png
Shortly after co-founding Oakland’s legendary Hieroglyphics crew in 1997, Casual helped cement the crew’s role in Bay Area hip-hop history, dropping classic bars on 3rd Eye Vision like:

MC's is like chemicals, watch me dissolve em
Petty individuals infestin hip-hop
I leave em all over the floor like cigar intestines
You better count your blessings, it amounts to less
Than zero, the Hiero hero
Hieroglyphic sequence hittin with rhymes that are regal
And we know…

Nearly 20 years later, Hieroglyphics are still a household name in the Bay, but what keeps the classic hip-hop crew relevant is individual members establishing themselves as a prolific force both within and outside of hip-hop. Casual has been featured on everything from Wu-Tang cuts, to Handsome Boy Modelling School joints, and now he’s taking the crew’s name to the next level by publishing a book on the study of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Madjai: Vanguards of Kemet, A Handbook For The Conscious Community sees Jonathan Owens (aka Casual) exploring the manuscripts of ancient African cultures in relation to the views of Kemeteology (the study of Egypt from an African-centered perspective.) Owens has established himself as a foremost expert in the Egyptian language Medu Netcher. “I consider myself an Egyptian grammarian. I study the ancient Egyptian language and address misinterpretations.”

Madjai does exactly that, as he provides thorough research as to why some of the most widely accepted manuscript translations of these ancient texts might have missed something. The book is densely packed with re-interpretations and Owens comes across as nothing but an established scholar of Egyptian texts. It’s a fine example of how a conscious MC, with a penchant for words, has carried over a meticulous approach to the study of a scholarly interest outside of hip-hop, but still based around language. We had an opportunity to catch up with Owens to ask a bit about the book and his future plans as a writer:

SF Weekly: What initially got you interested in kemetology?

Owens (Casual): Initially my interests were based on ancient knowledge in general, with no focus on Kemet. I started with biblical studies, researching Genesis 6:4, Zachariah Stichin etc... I got tired of looking to secondary sources so I decided to learn to scrutinize primary sources. In doing so we have to refer to the language of the artifact in question. Well, I was most intrigued by Egyptian artifacts so I began learning Medu Netcher and studying Kemet.

So you have said that “the music has influenced these ideas,” but was an actual interest in Egyptian hieroglyphics at the core of when the crew started? Did this interest of yours play into the name of the crew at all?

Actually I purchased my first Egyptian dictionary back when we chose the name Hieroglyphics, but I opened the book and became intimidated. I did not begin studying it till some 16 years later. I still have that book.

What major misinterpretations have you been able to dispel through your research?

Well, some major misinterpretations that are accepted in the "conscious community" would not be accepted in academia. Likewise, some scholarship in academia has been misinterpreted and is not accurate. In my book, there is one chapter called “When Shalom Was Stated by the Cowering Man - Why E.A. Wallis Budge Is Not A Good Source For Neophytes,” where I give plenty of reasons why the Hebrew term "Shalom" was not necessarily an ancient statement of peace as we know it to be now in the "conscious community." Actually, from the Kemetic perspective, "Sharma," which is cognate with "Shalom," meant "to sue for peace.” Like, to beg for it.

Chapter 22 is titled "Sexual Deviance in Egypt" where I work to show the majority of the iconography seen in Egyptian lithography is not pornographic as my opponents would suggest. I have been in correspondence with R.B. Parkinson, author of A Little Gay History, Professor at Oxford University, and former Museum curator at the British Museum, concerning an Ostracon [broken off portion of a broken vase or earthenware vessel, often containing scratched-in words/writing] with supposed male-male relations. First, when I read Parkinson's translation for this ostracon, British Museum EA50714, I was taken back. Already being suspicious of the average Egyptologist's ability to read the Ancient Egyptian language my suspicions were confirmed by trying to reproduce Parkinson's translation. What I found was Parkinson was close but no cigar. He failed to perform an exhaustive search for meanings to the phrase /hr-ib ind/ “her-ab aned”. I contacted Parkinson and pointed him to my analysis and he actually admitted by saying that portion of the text was extremely hard to translate. He also seemed to agree with my interpretation.

There are many more things like this in my book. I even argue that the pre-mosaic god of the patriarchs of the Bible was the Mother Goddess- Nana, known to them as "El Shaddai."  There are plenty sound arguments in this work.

What can hip-hop heads get out of your research and this book?

Hip hop heads are just people. They can get knowledge and inspiration out of my research like everyone else.

You have a second book coming that’ll be published by Hiero?

The second book is about Hiero, titled Hiero, and will be self-published. I felt the need to write a historical autobiography of the esteemed Hiero crew.

Where in the Bay can people go to get involved with the study of hieroglyphs and kemetology?

My Study group is called Madjai. We meet in Oakland and online. Those interested can contact for information. Please leave "Workshop Info" as the subject line. (Also, peep the Madjai Study Facebook Group)

Will you be speaking on the book or doing any local book signings anytime soon?

I will be speaking on the book at Hieroglyphics in Oakland very soon and I will make sure you know!!
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About The Author

Adrian Spinelli

Adrian Spinelli

Hip hop and sandwiches.


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