By Neil Drumming
Updated August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Where is the love?” Better to ask, ”Where is the lyricism?” It’s the responsibility of the thoughtful music critic to let folks know that so-called socially conscious rap doesn’t have to be as simple and syrupy as the Black Eyed Peas’ Timberlake-tainted new single. Everybody knows the mainstream thug stuff is exhausting, but the Peas seem more concerned with presenting a preachy-keen ”alt” image than emceeing worth a damn. Perhaps they should take notes from Portland, Ore.’s LIFESAVAS. On SPIRIT IN STONE, Vursatyl and Jumbo the Garbageman state their state-of-the-world concerns fluidly over raw, fractured soul. Like their spiritual brethren Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious, the Lifesavas can wax didactic, but at their best they spit more wit than wishful thinking: ”The streets? The streets can go to hell, I want freedom,” Vursatyl raps on ”Soldierfied.” ”The streets is watchin’ the idiot box and Cops reruns.” Preach on.