It's Easter, the day Christians wake up at an ungodly hour, eat good food and throw mad love up to the skies because the son of their god not only rose from the dead, but within minutes, the Bible reports, that same cat was also pushing 10,000-pound rocks around with his bare hands.
Of course, there's also the whole salvation thing. Easter's less about Herculean rock tossing than it is the few hundred people assembled at San Diego State's Open Air Theatre who believe that the rock-tosser died so that they could have everlasting life. That deserves a little respect, even two thousand and three years later.
As the stagehands prep for sound check, a frail outline of a girl huddled in a tan blanket shakes slightly from the morning cold.
"It's too early, y'all," Rachel Washington says meekly and hoarsely. It's difficult to believe that this is the 18-year-old songbird who, along with her brothers Joshu'a (the slick, all-business elder, 23) and J'ekob (the Lenny Kravitz-looking chillboy, 21), plus DJ Niques, make up San Diego's The Souljahz.
The Souljahz, who came out of nowhere to sign a deal with Warner Brothers Records.
The Souljahz, who recently won two Dove Awards (Christian Grammys) for "Best Urban Album of the Year" and "Best Rap/Hip-Hop/Dance Recorded Song of the Year."
The Souljahz, who didn't win "Best New Artist of the Year," though they were nominated.
The Souljahz, who are being touted as The Fugees for the church-going crowd.
It makes a local music fan wonder: where the hell did the Souljahz come from?
An hour later, Miles McPherson, ex-Charger and present minister of "The Rock" church of San Diego, praises the rock-tosser in the sky.
"I wanna thank you for what you've done for the Souljahz-grown them up," he says, head bowed in the OAT's green room as a gospel choir wakes and warms the congregation in the bowl-shaped venue below. "I've seen them on CNN and on the internet. They've been able to do this all on faith."
Minutes before, McPherson had been reminiscing with Joshu'a and J'ekob about high school basketball-specifically, how Horizon used to beat the tar out of University. Though the Washingtons lived in Mira Mesa, Joshu'a and J'ekob both played for "Uni" and were offered college scholarships. But they had met up with DJ Niques in the early '90s, and what started as an after-school time-killer-the siblings singing over Niques' tracks-evolved into something more serious. So the boys chose harmonies over hoops.
"There was this guy from Germany at The Rock who was into music. We were the only other ones into music," J'ekob explains. "After high school, we went over to Germany to visit him for a few weeks and came back with 17 tracks."
It's at this point that papa Washington becomes integral to the story. He sold his Escondido auto repair business so his kids could pursue music. "[Our parents] had heard us and thought it was special-because they're our parents," Rachel explains. He bought an old tour bus and is currently repairing it so that it's ready for the Souljahz' first national tour this summer. He knew the biz and whose interest needed to be piqued.
"It was crazy. There we were, sitting in a room with Jimmy Iovine (head of Interscope)," J'ekob says, admitting that the trio had never really played a live gig when labels started courting them.
As we speak, Rachel can be heard in the other room warming up her voice as she dresses for the morning's first performance (the first of three services they'll perform today). Her voice is breathy, delicate and full of soul.
Together, they walk down to the backstage area where they pray together as minister McPherson introduces them to the crowd of a few hundred. Josh'ua, who offstage has a sort of detached quietude that borders on distraction, comes alive once introduced, assuming the role of streetwise preacher.
"I saw Miles pull up late-he had a donut," he jokes. "This is our hometown, and I've seen y'all at church. This first song is just a worship song, a song dedicated to god, about god being able to see himself in our faces. It's called "Reflection.'"
They rap, sing and harmonize over DJ Niques' big, hip-hop beats for three songs of praise-three songs that undoubtedly won't fly on MTV because of their overt god-focus.
God just isn't that cool in the mainstream urban market. It's cool to philosophically admit to a higher power in passing. It's not cool to devote entire passages-verses, choruses, refrains-to the rock-tosser in the sky.
For three pretty cool young kids, the Souljahz don't seem to care much about that sort of cool. ©For more info on The Souljahz, visit www.thesouljahz.com.