A dose of honesty, amen

Ambrosia Caprice: not afraid of the pants tent.

Ambrosia Caprice: not afraid of the pants tent.

Photo by nick miller

I honestly don’t want to be mean, but I mean to be honest: Aussie duo Angus and Julia Stone are venturing all the way to Orangevale to play the Boardwalk (9426 Greenback Lane) on Sunday, March 22. The family Stone’s songs on their album A Book Like This are sweet, even (annoyingly) precious. Although well produced by Travis’ Fran Healy, they are difficult to listen to, with songs such as “Hollywood” lamenting lame lessons learned from movies and fairy tales with opening lyrics “I blame you Hollywood / for showing me things you never should show / a young girl in this cruel world” (a.k.a. lyrics that make me want to kill myself). The record tries really hard to be likeable, and they get close, but Julia’s vocals are delivered in a Jolie Hollandesque styling, which is signature for Holland, but on Julia, sounds too contrived.

It’s too bad, because all the vocal contortion and clean production strips their songs of vulnerability, which can make even clichéd lyrics heartbreakingly good, as Marty Anderson of Okay expertly demonstrated on “Only” from the underappreciated Huggable Dust—easily one of 2008’s best releases. Like Julia, Anderson’s got a quirky voice, but his, which manages to somehow squeak and crack in a fluid manner, doesn’t sound modeled on anyone else’s. “Only” opening lyrics: “I want you to know that you’re my only / I want you to know that you’re my life / I want to know that you don’t got to be lonely / I want you to know it’s all right,” with backup vocals brilliantly recorded through a phone. (And that makes me want to live.) (Shoka)

KRS-One, take two: I know, I just wrote that story in the Music section about KRS-One, but there were a few things that rang out in my mind after our conversation (and there were about five pages of unused dialogue). The first mind-wringer is that KRS has remained relevant as one of the key figures in hip-hop since his group Boogie Down Productions dropped Criminal Minded in 1987. That’s not easy to do in the fickle music industry. Nor is it easy to do in such a young culture as hip-hop. But the second conversation piece that stuck out is that KRS is seriously trying to start a new religion, which he explains this way:

“I always ask the question, ‘What exists outside of God?’ If we say God is all, then God created hip-hop, too—influences it, guides it and maybe even will punish it (if you believe in that kind of God). I [also] ask the question, ‘What is the divinity of hip-hop? What is the spiritual lifestyle of a hip-hopper?’ And I’ve been living it for the past 30 years.”

These are the words of a minister—a preacher—and I can’t tell if it’s a fascinating take on a marginalized culture or if it’s just plain creepy. Whatever it is, KRS-One is thinking it through. And he’s one of the few emcees who can teach hip-hop, not just through music, but through philosophy, and sometimes, controversy.

“A true philosopher is never going to sit around and be quiet like a lot of these philosophers today. They want to know what René Descartes said … or try to analyze Francis Bacon or they want to look at Aristotle and try to figure out Socrates and Plato. I’m not interested in all that. In fact, those guys are kind of boring to me,” says KRS. “I’m more interested in truth. A real philosopher is a seeker of truth, a lover of knowledge. I see [truth] just walking outside of my door every day, looking at the state of the world. Yeah, man, I’m always going to urge thought. I mean, all of this is voluntary. We’re not telling anybody you’re not real hip-hop if you don’t believe in it as a spiritual practice, or that you don’t know God unless you’re down with hip-hop. As a matter of fact, that’s the reason why we are suggesting a new approach to God.”

While I’m not sold on the idea of God through hip-hop, it’s comforting to know there’s someone out there stirring the pot of shit, sparking controversy, conversation and dialogue without resorting to a played-out video of some poolside bitches ready to get pimped.

“Hip-hop is expanding … and I’m talking about the whole culture:

B-boying, graffiti writing, deejaying, emceeing, beatboxing, fashion and language.” says KRS. “All of that is expanding.” (Josh Fernandez)

Next week: Speaking of expanding, stay tuned for a full-length review of Flossalini Is My Homeboy from Sacramento’s flossiest figure, Freddy Flossalini. (J.F.)