There is definitely a different kind of feeling going on when you listen to a song and realise that you know the voice on the other end of the track. Music is so powerful because in so many respects it is universal and in others it is faux-personal – we think we know the person signing the song, we think we have some insight into the life experiences that went into those words and that emotion. The stark reality is that, once you scale to a size big enough to get properly recorded and properly airplayed, the vast majority of us don’t know the person on the vocal track, behind the keys, beating the skins at all. You can project an idea of what an artist might be like in conversation, cobble together a diorama of their public behaviours chronicled in the press to make up some vague representation of the person you think penned those lyrics, but music is a performing art as much as dance or theatre. Reality is inevitably distorted. Until you realise you know the voice on the other end of the track.
Jackie Onassis is the perfect moniker for this duo from Sydney’s hip-tastic inner west. Jackie O (aka Mrs JFK) was one of the most popular first lady’s ever and yet, as with the shady borderline-mafia dealings of her allegedly-philandering husband, not much is known about her, a celebrity titan of the early 1960s. Jackie Onassis hip hop is Raph Dixon on beats and Kai Tan on vocals. Raph is unknown to me but Kai, the boyfriend of a uni friend who hung around extensively while we worked feverishly at getting a sub-standard documentary film together a couple of years ago, is someone I would say I know (there might be a bit of Kevin Bacon factor creeping in here). The time I have spent around Kai, however, has not given me the slightest clue that he was capable of something like this. In person he is humble, good-natured, laughs easily and talks crap like the rest of us. On record, Kai is focused, melodic, rapid-fire and witty.
Importantly, with ‘Crystal Balling’, the track didn’t win me over by dint of celebrity-made-familiar factor. There is no more potent hype attached to a song than actually, physically knowing some person involved in its creation. Art becomes inescapably fascinating as you search for hints of personality, elements of phrasing, types of content from the person you’re familiar with. Instead, ‘Crystal Balling’ impressed me with a horn line that could easily overwhelm but is handled capably by Dixon, tuned down to accentuate Kai’s confident but self-aware flow, turned up to its ebullient best in the spaces between verses. The aimless ‘la-da-da-da’ on the chorus is exceedingly lazy, letting down the rest of what is an impassioned, original take on the ‘kids these days’ theme, and irritates me accordingly. But away from that one misdemeanour, it’s hard not to get caught up in the energy of this piece. Kai presents a veritable mix of vulnerable, conscientious, invincible and corruptible rapper – an emcee for all seasons. Inherently unknowable like the real Jackie O. I’ll take my six degrees.
Jackie Onassis – Crystal Balling