Krystilez keeps making waves
One of Hawaii hip-hop’s more controversial artists is back on the scene with a new single, new website and a new outlook on his career.
“When I started, I wanted to be rich and famous,” said Kris “Krystilez” Ancheta. “(Now) I just want to be free, man.”
Honolulu’s nightlife landscape was quite different when Ancheta, 31, released “The O” in 2006. Hip-hop reigned supreme in local clubs, and enough people were part of the scene to support frequent MC battles at a variety of different venues.
For the next three years, Ancheta and the crew from his former label, Tiki Entertainment, worked tirelessly to realize a level of success they had only seen on TV and read about in magazines. While the club kids loved Krystilez, he struggled to gain respect for his music in more grown-up environments, like local radio stations or among voters in the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts, the organization behind the annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
Despite their best efforts, “The O” wasn’t as successful as it was projected to be. When other Tiki artists failed to catch on, too, it caused them all to take a step back.
“The music wasn’t working,” said Samson Malani, better known to Hawaii hip-hop fans as the artist Spookahuna and former co-owner of Tiki Entertainment. “Our first drop, we’d sell 6,000 CDs in one crack. Then the whole iPod thing with digital music started happening and people started getting easy access to free music.
“Once that started happening, I left.”
Ancheta, on the other hand, got angry. In 2011, he released “Dear HARA,” a scathing rebuke of the status quo within the Hawaii music scene. His questioning of HARA’s mentality at the time to group hip-hop artists into a single category with other genres helped advance the conversation that eventually led to hip-hop getting its own category at the Hoku Awards.
The same year, he joined forces with Jonah “Big Mox” Moananu, Michael “Mic Tre” Rosales and Jerel “Osna” Ronquilio to form the Angry Locals. The local hip-hop supergroup released “Shaka to da Neck” and “Los Wages” in 2011, followed by “Locals Only” in 2013. They supported the projects with plenty of live performances and multiple tours of the Continental U.S., earning critical acclaim and modest success — just not to the level Ancheta had hoped for.
“I had to come to terms with not being a rap star,” Ancheta said. “That’s not me.”
MOST RECENTLY, he has focused on his career as a local radio personality, working for some of the same stations that didn’t — and still don’t — play his music. He’s come to terms with the idea that more people recognize his name from the radio than his raps. But his front row seat to the shift in Hawaii’s tastes from hip-hop and R&B to all things EDM has only fueled his creative fire even more.
“With ‘Dear HARA,’ a lot of people didn’t know what I was talking about. But when you say things like ‘MayJah RayJah’ or ‘EDM,’ they understand. And then they’re going to pick a side.”
Anyone familiar with current music, local hip-hop or Honolulu’s concert scene will be interested in what he has to say on the track. And then there are the Dole references, which must be heard to be truly appreciated. For someone who used to rap about gold rope chains and slanging dope on the streets, the change in creative focus is a refreshing sign of maturity from the Nanakuli-raised artist.
“I’m doing it because this actually affected me. I have to see a lot of this stuff at events. It’s kind of lame to me.
“I want to be able to do what I want, basically. I don’t have high means. I just want to make music. It’s art. I want to make art.”
Along with the music, Ancheta is branching out with Malani into fashion and art once again. The two have revived Hibred, a clothing line Malani originally launched in 2004. With help from Malani’s cousin, Saint “Malu” Kalama, they hope to regain the momentum the brand had previously built by sharing Hawaii’s modern urban lifestyle online with customers throughout the United States and Polynesia via their website, wearehi.com.
Hibred’s initial salvo was the digital release of “Karma” to go with a T-shirt and hat release (look for the song, plus Hibred's Antipopular shirt and Crabs in a Bucket hat online at wearehi.com) on May 30. The next cultural bomb drops on Wednesday, Kamehameha Day, when Malani will unveil an original — and once again, controversial — piece of artwork featuring the legendary Hawaiian king.
“It shows what Kamehameha would look like if he were around today,” he said, keeping things vague on purpose. “Who would he be right now, today?”
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Google+.